Dear Anne-Marie in 2012,
Right now you are sitting in the Lufthansa lounge waiting to board a 747 headed to Frankfurt, and then you will fly to Shanghai. You are excited, scared, and completely overwhelmed. You are wondering if you made the right choice of leaving your home, friends, and family in search of a little adventure abroad. What you don’t know is you are about to embark on a 1189-day journey that will change your life forever.
From the minute you step off the plane, life will be an adventure. You will travel to places that you have only seen in geography textbooks. You will eat exotic foods, learn a new language, and hold animals that you only have seen in zoos. You will meet interesting, innovative, adventurous people from all around the world and get an education that can only come from living abroad. Best of all, you will get to share these experiences with your best friend!
The journey won’t be all fun and games. There will be days where you are completely frustrated because you can’t ask a simple question because you don’t know how to speak the language. You will have miserable times where you are forced to wait for a cab for 45 minutes in the cold rain. You will think the natives are trying to kill you with their erratic driving styles, unsafe food, and China’s horrible air pollution. You will pay upwards of $5 for a can of tomato soup. Things that were once simple, like checking Facebook or watching videos on YouTube, will be a hassle. Learning Mandarin will bring you to tears. In spite of these difficulties, you will survive.
You will learn what it feels like to completely rely on others. You will experience extreme kindness from strangers who will help you assimilate in your new country, and local folks will perform small, random acts of kindness that will make your life infinitely easier. You will have an expat and local support system that will help you live very comfortably in your new environment. Eventually, you will feel a responsibility to help others who are new to Shanghai get settled, and will do so via the blog.
I know you are sad to have left your job, and are worried about your professional future. Your first year of teaching will be rough. You will spend your time carting materials between three schools. You will need to set up your “community center” (police station) classroom daily, grumpy old men will throw cards in the window while you teach, and a drunkard or two will stumble in your room in the middle of your lesson. The schools will keep the windows open year round, so you will be teaching in coats, gloves, and even a pm 2.5 mask. You will learn to teach like MacGyver.
After you get over the initial shock of the Chinese school culture, you will love returning to the classroom. Students from five different continents will quickly become your kids. You will learn so much from each other and your kids will touch your life in ways you never imagined. Your heart and soul will be filled!
During the past few months, you have prayed for a group of friends who will make this journey with you. Many new friends will come and go. That is the nature of expat life. Fortunately, you will have a family of friends who will be with you during your entire stay. They will be up for all kinds of shenanigans and adventures around town. You will explore together, laugh together, and take care of each other when you have your down days.
Yes, you will have a few dark, down days. Many of them will include a touch of homesickness. You will miss births, weddings, and even funerals of dear friends. Your heart will ache because life in the US will go on without you. You will keep in contact with the motherland via Facebook and Facetime, but it won’t be the same as being home. These feelings will pass. Chris, your friends, and your job will help you emerge from the darkness.
Savor this time abroad; the months will fly by. Before you know it, you will be saying goodbye to your eastern home. While you knew that this adventure wouldn’t last forever, saying goodbye will be the most difficult part of the journey. You will be very sad, but you will return home with a new sense of adventure and wanderlust that hopefully won’t wane after you leave.
Have fun in Shanghai, and don’t forget to keep an open mind and heart! Bon Voyage!
Anne-Marie in 2015