Sunday, January 8, 2012

Starting Over

In my imagination I write this blog for some person out there who will be experiencing expat life in China soon after my experiences. I record things to help this fictional person get through. In reality I know this person does not exist, but I continue to have this inkling to record things that would help someone exactly like me.

 I was not prepared, emotionally, for what going home for the first time would entail.

I just returned after spending three weeks in the United States. This was my first trip back, after spending almost five months in Beijing. I arrived a week earlier than the rest of my family. Of course it was a whirlwind of family, friends, food and fun! More posts about that later. 
WARNING: this post is very dramatic (partly because it is 2:49am due to jet lag, partly because I am just dramatic).

When I arrived for my layover in Chicago I was overcome with clarity. Forgive my sappiness but everything was beautiful. Uniformed military soldiers were everywhere and I was overcome with pride and patriotism. People thought I was strange, I am sure, because I was grinning from ear to ear constantly. 

Then I arrived in California, the Bay Area, my home. It did not feel like a mere five months has past. It felt like years. I thought of our brave missionaries who go out into foreign land for two years with limited communication back home and how they must feel when they come back. Immediately the roads seemed wider and I felt order as a result of drivers obeying traffic laws. Once again details were clear and abundant.

I continued to have these observations. What I had not predicted was that whenever I made these comparisons a negative feeling about China grew within me. Instead of appreciating the differences, I resented my new home far away and I let it show to anyone who asked. For me, these two homes cannot share a place in my heart for some reason. And so the anxiety began about my return.

I have always been the type of person who does not sugar coat negative emotions. I regret this in many ways, especially now that I am back in China. Looking back I can clearly see the affects of my opinions on my children and others around me. I am sure that I dissuaded several from ever coming to visit China and I could hear my children slowly change their opinion about China based on my negativity. As I said, I regret this. If I were in therapy this is where I would have my "ah-ha" moment of...I am scared to be even remotely positive about anything here because I don't want anyone to think I want to stay.

The anxiety about coming back was almost unbearable. Luckily our flight from SFO to Chicago was cancelled and it resulted in an extra 24 hours in Chicago. The kids and I had not ever been there and we had a lot of fun. However I felt the suffocating feeling build up inside of me. The daily things I had concurred in Beijing were scary once again. I yearned to stay inside my bubble and not go out. These emotions freaked me out because I had come so far once before. Will every trip home set me back like this?

Now that I am home...I am dealing with things one step at a time. Like always, it is not as bad as the anxiety of it. I went to church yesterday...and survived. And now that I am here, the greatness of home is just a memory. 


Heather said...

I most definitely have mixed emotions about China on every visit to the US. And they change every time. Sometimes I have great experiences and I don't want to leave. Other times, I cherish the return to China (and my own bed!) Many times when I'm home, I balance the negative and positive of China in the stories I share. Other times, no one wants to hear my stories at all. Still other times, I find myself being very negative. I suppose that could be a real concern if your family members are being influenced by your attitudes.

All of that said, I don't think you should compare your experiences too much to others. Many expats come to Beijing and think they need to have a enthralling, enriching experience in China, mingling with the locals, learning the language, haggling in the markets, etc. I don't think all of that is necessary in order to be successful here. The great thing about Beijing is that we can all choose our level of involvement in the Chinese world AND the foreign world, according to our own needs, wants and comfort zone. There's far too much judgement out there about whether or not we are having a "real" China experience.

I've been in China now 6.5 years, only 1.5 of those in Beijing. I'm only just now coming to terms with my lukewarm relationship with the country, culture, language, etc. It's kind of like I had to admit to myself that I don't love China (and nor do I hate it) in order to allow myself to find my place - and peace - here. Does that make any sense?

Catherine said...

We are currently waiting for the okay from USF in order for my husband to begin research for his doctoral thesis on China's education methods. I have been pouring over the computer for the past few months in an effort to prepare myself and my family for a move to China. I have found plenty of websites that have been able to answer the questions that I had but do little to provide the comfort that comes from reading someone's personal experiences.
Late last night I thought that I would give it one more try and this time, once I googled the LDS church in China, I kept looking until about page 10 of suggestions and found your blog. I began reading and kept reading through the night. This entry made me bawl my eyes out because I felt that somehow you were talking to me. You addressed all of my fears, comforted me by sharing experiences each step of the way, and most comforting to me is the picture that you provided of the church and it’s members in China. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so willing to pour your heart out for those of us who will follow behind you.
I’m hoping that the day will come that I’ll be able to introduce myself and my family and thank you in person.