“If it’s that hard, why don’t you just move home?” asked a dear friend.
“Because I don’t want to!” came my exasperated reply.
Most expats have had this conversation or a similar version of it.
My life in China has been filled with plenty of things to bitch and complain about. There’s that guy digging up the street at 7AM on Saturday morning. The bread that pretends to have chocolate chips but is actually filled with red beans. The public healthcare that dictates every sickness and injury be treated in a general hospital rather than a local doctors office.
But after 5 years in China, I don’t even know what my life at home would look like any more. Working 50 hours a week just to pay bills? Struggling to find firewood to keep the house warm over winter? Never taking holidays because I can’t afford the time off?
The problem isn’t that life is too hard in China.
It’s that I’m a completely different person, with completely different priorities and a completely different vision for what I want out of life. And the truth is that living the expat experience has helped guide me towards what I really do – and don’t – want out of life.
The guy doing roadworks has taught me about tolerance. That lying bread has taught me to be more observant. And the hospital system has taught me to take better care of my health.
These are lessons that I couldn’t have learned at home because I wasn’t open to learning them. Jumping off the deep end has opened my eyes in a way that I never thought was possible.
When we deal with these simple daily challenges while faced with an entirely different culture and language, it pushes us to adapt. Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst, sometimes in ways we didn’t even know we could be pushed! However, it is not even the challenges themselves that are what change us, so much as it is the choices we make. Whether to react out of instinct, pause and respond from a place of kindness or to walk away and ignore it.
This is a life of experience. Most of the time, friends and family at home can’t even imagine what life is like here; the same way that you struggle to explain it, they struggle to understand. My dear reader, please remember to treat them with kindness. The courage to live abroad is not something everyone has, the same way that courage to stay home and live a “normal” life isn’t something that you have. There’s nothing wrong or bad with any of it, just different, and that difference is worth celebrating together.
I have built a beautiful life here with friends who share my hobbies and introduce me to new ones, a business where I can use my gifts to serve and help others however I see fit, and a husband and family that loves and supports me unconditionally.
Happiness varies between cultures, people, and even the industries we work in. But the one consistency in this foreign life is that when you just “allow it, bruv”, joy can come from the most unexpected of places.
And that in the end, all any of us wants is to be happy.