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I know, I’ve been an expat in four different countries, with repeated stays in China.
Of course there are the adventures in new foods, languages, and friends. However, the adventure you take discovering yourself is far more profound than any of the exterior adventures that you may take.
Expat in China
During my time in China, I discovered that I could make it on my own. This adventure has taken me the furthest whether I am at home or in another country. I’d done a little bit of traveling before I moved to China, but nowhere as different or exotic (or as challenging for language).
On my own, I discovered that I was brave. I reached out to six or seven women on Facebook that lived in China and also appeared to be in their mid-twenties. One of them responded and even invited me to a big dinner with a whole bunch of people I never met (including her). I got up my courage and used some very bad Chinese to get the taxi driver to take me across town to a dinner that I was intimidated by. It turns out that 20 Italians and an Ethiopian make a pretty great dinner part and I met my first friend in China.
Learning the Language
I discovered that I could get past my embarrassment. When I arrived in China, my Chinese was pitiful, by the time I left, the only person impressed by my Chinese was my dad. This meant that I said a lot of things with bad grammar, I acted things out, and I did a lot of pointing. Before, I would have been embarrassed to not know everything and just not tried at all. Getting past my embarrassment has been a huge asset as I’ve moved through the rest of the world.
I discovered that if I wanted it enough, I could do it. I started a non-profit while I was in Shanghai, China. It started because I wanted to volunteer on the weekends doing something other than teaching (which was already my full-time job). I started to talk about wanting to do it and other people were interested. My idea went from my head, to paper, to the internet, to 500 people, and eventually to 3,000 people that were touched by BEAN. Being able to start a non-profit from scratch gave me the knowledge that I could do anything if I worked hard enough.
Listening is Powerful
I discovered the power of listening. I met so many amazing Chinese people as well as other expats from around the world. Each one had so much to teach, once I opened my ears and eyes to people that had a different perspective than my own. I learned that European fashion was a lot more exciting than my Gortex from Seattle. I learned that each culture has a reason for doing the things that they do, and those reasons stem from their history. To understand my friends, I had to be open to the way that their history and culture shaped them.
I expanded the world. Before China, my world consisted of North America and a few “safe” countries in Europe. My world grew in China. I have friends on every continent. I no longer judge the safety of a country without having first-hand knowledge. The world looks both larger and smaller… I can recognize all the amazing differences but still share my life with friends from everywhere and we find the ways that we are the same.
Being an Expat is an adventure. It’s just an adventure into yourself.
About the author
Aimee has a flair for the dramatic, a travel bug that she won’t cure, and a big-time job in corporate law. When not following her travel bug or solving her client’s problems, you can find her curled up with a book and her two kittens. You can find out about her real job at www.facebook.com/initiateadvancement or www.initiateadvancement.com.