Tag Archives: culture shock

10 things x 6 months – part 2

Things I like about being in America Things I miss about being in America in no particular order

(I had to edit the title of this list seeing that I’m actually back in Shanghai from now until the middle of August.)

1) Reuniting with family and friends
2) Trees, lots of trees
3) Not having to plan for/deal with crowds of people when going most places
4) Church community
5) That no-smoking signs actually mean no smoking
6) The luxury of not having to bring your own TP
7) Home cooking (besides my own … and well this trip I have to eat out every meal, so I might as well also say cooking at home)
8) Avocados, vegetables fresh from the garden, and blueberries
9) Internet (though I admit, I think it’s a good thing to be forced to disconnect from it from time to time)
10) That is so much easier to go on hikes, walks in the woods, & cross country skiing (I do like exploring cities, but I’d take the woods over a city most days)


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10 things x 6 months

Just over 6 months ago, I moved back to America. They day before I left, a good friend of mine helped me write a list of things that I thought I would miss about living in China and a list of things that I thought I would like about living in America again.

I thought I’d share these lists and my reflections now that I little time has passed. Here’s the first list.

10 Things I miss about living in China (in no particular order):

1. My roommate and other good friends. (I really do miss you all so much!)

2. The international community. (There is something special about being a 外国人 “foreigner” that brings people together.)

3. Good rice. (I remember I found myself craving a bowl of steaming white rice my second day in America.)

4. Good Chinese food. (Thankfully, I’ve had some good Chinese meals since I’ve been back.)

5. Not feeling like your clothes have to match. (Perhaps this was just a result of living in a place where you have to wear so many layers, it doesn’t matter what you wear, just that you stay warm.)

6. Communicating in Chinglish. (I don’t have to miss this one, I do this at my job and at church!)

7. Walking arm in arm – in China it’s culturally appropriate for good girl friends to walk around linked arms, and it was sometimes necessary to navigate the icy streets of Harbin. (So far, I’ve remembered I was in America and stopped myself every time I’ve thought to do this.)

8. The sounds of the city – like the door-to-door peddlers, knife-sharpeners, and recycling collectors who peddle around on bikes singing their advertisements early in the morning. (Now I can wake up to the sound of birds, an equally enjoyable sound.)

9. Public transportation. (Despite the crowding, I’d still choose this over having to drive everywhere.)

10. I actually didn’t have a ten on my original list, I think I’d written down “Food 2x” because my friend and I were waiting hungrily for our 大盘鸡 (a chicken dish from Western China) served, and because I really do love most Chinese cuisine. Now, after a few months of reflection, I have a real number ten: I realized I miss teaching. This is something I thought I wouldn’t miss because I felt it was time to do something else. Yet now, I do miss it. I miss the feeling of a lesson going well and actually having taught something to someone. And I miss the interaction with students.


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For every year…

A good friend in China once told me:

“For every year abroad, it takes 6 months back home to re-adjust.”

She herself had gone through this same transition, of moving back from China to America, and so I’ll take her word for it.  It’s going to be a long process.

By this logic, I am only about 10% done that re-adjustment.

But what happens now, when I find myself getting ready to fly back to China to tomorrow?!?  And what happens when for the next three weeks I find myself again a foreigner in that foreign land?

I’ll be the first to admit, I did hope to back to China someday, somehow, but I never thought (or wanted) this someday to be this soon.  When I left, the earliest the idea of returning to China that seem possible was half a year or so, when I’d at least re-adjusted more than 25% … but even those plans were and are contingent on so many other things that they can only be considered an “I don’t know, maybe, perhaps” kind of plan.

But this plan? Who thought this one up? … Certainly not I!  I imagined myself sitting in coffee shops for the next few weeks or even months sipping the cheapest thing on the menu, as I searched for jobs and re-adjusted to America.  I was content with that.

Somehow, a chain of events, of decisions, and of prayers has lead me to let go of life at home once again, and accept this job (actually, it’s a pretty great job).  A job where I can use Chinese and also learn some business skills.  A job close to home … except for the next three weeks that I’ll be in Shanghai.

Maybe China will feel more familiar than home… I am, after all, only 10% re-adjusted to America.

No, actually, I think that after these two months at home with family and friends, China will feel foreign again.

Perhaps it’ll give me more things to blog about … 🙂


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Xinjiang Part 1: Getting There

I leave Harbin Thursday AM. It’s a slow ride to the airport. The van driver’s license plate is even, but today only odd numbers can drive on the main thoroughfares, so we wind through back streets and get stuck in traffic. No problem though, when I get to the airport my flight is delayed about half an hour.

It’s mid-afternoon, I look at my watch as we land in Beijing. I have about thirty minutes to get to the gate of my next flight before it closes. It takes at least fifteen minutes to get off the plane. I don’t know where my gate is. Terminal 3 is HUGE. I run. I find my gate, only to discover … it’s also delayed. They haven’t started boarding.

Twenty minutes later, we board the plane. And we sit and wait and sit and wait and sit and wait and eat a meal and sit and wait. We don’t even move away from the gate. Three hours later, at 7:30 they let us get off the plane. The airport is completely packed. Bad weather they say – but the skies only look a misty gray; there’s no storm here … yet.

Standing around the gate overhear some other passengers speaking English, so I join in the conversation. Charlie is a high school junior from Xinjiang and he’s returning home for the summer from Virginia (USA) where’s he’s been studying this past year. Leonard and Carol are from Belgium. It’s their first time to China.

We pass the time eating chocolate cookies and talking about high school in America. Charlie shows us his yearbook, and his football team photo, and it makes me remember how different American high school is from that in China.

An hour later we board the plane again. This time it’s more promising because we actually leave the gate and taxi out to the runway. We taxi and turn and circle for an hour; people are getting pretty fed up. Two hours go by and the stewardesses are so stressed and fed up with having to give answers to questions that they really can’t answer that they start to cry. They feed us a second meal, which calms people for a bit, but at three hours, people start to call the airline, the airport, news agencies, and the police. By now there’s quite a bit of lightning, so there’s little chance we’ll take off. At four hours, we pull up to a gate (still at Terminal 3). Five hours after our second time to board the plane we finally are let off into the pouring rain and massive thunderstorm. We jump a puddle to board a bus and are taken to luggage claim.

Where to go? What to do next? No one is making any clear announcements. Some on the plane put up such a fuss with the guards that they go together to find some airline official. I didn’t want to go that route. Looking around, it seemed everyone else in the airport was in the same situation. I ask some other workers and they tell us to claim our bags and go to the 3rd floor to re-check-in for a new flight. I find Charlie. We find our bags and look for Leonard and Carol. They don’t know any Chinese – and since we’re all going to the same place, might as well stick together. By now it’s past midnight.

Upstairs on the 3rd floor, it’s worse than a train station at Chinese New Year. All the flights from 2 PM onwards have been canceled. People are sleeping on benches, their luggage, and on towels on the floor. Massively long and wide lines stretch out from all the counters. Those at the front of the line are so squeezed in that they can’t get out even if they are finished getting a new ticket. The lines don’t seem to move except for a few people weaving through. Once and a while these line cutters are stopped by glares and elbows.

Leonard and Carol give up on the line after a few minutes. They haven’t slept since they left Belgium and would much rather go back home rather than face this line. Charlie and I decide to stick it out. We wait for an hour. As we wait, every once and a while we hear groups shouting in protest and sometimes a few large bangs like people are fighting. I can’t see what’s going on, but people pull out there cell phones to record the action.

Some people make their way out of the line and as they pass, others ask if they got a flight? “No, there’s no flights to Chongqing.” “No Guilin.” “No Nanjing.” We don’t here anyone mention the city we’re going to – Urumqi, so that leaves me with a glimmer of hope, but I start to wonder … will I make it in time? I send a message to my friends who will meet me in Urumqi. Charlie starts to think about backup plans. He says he might take the train to Xi’an and could fly from there. That would cost me too much time and I’d miss the backpacking trip!

The line doesn’t seem to be moving, and we’ve also realized we don’t see anyone else from our flight, so I send Charlie to go ask around while I watch our stuff and spot in the line and pray desperately that there’d be a way for me to get there in time. He comes back a few minutes later with good news! He saw some people from our flight and they’ve got tickets from another counter for a flight leaving at 6 AM. We grab our stuff and move one aisle over to stand in a much shorter line. Finally, at 4 AM, 12 hours after our first flight was to leave, we’re checked in for a flight leaving at 9:30AM.

“What’s next?” Charlie asks. “Coffee,” I say, knowing that there’s no chance I’ll be able to get any sleep after such an ordeal. We pass the time sipping our coffee, exchanging bits of life stories, and talking with another Chinese girl on her way home after a semester in Illinois.

Later, as we were leaving the coffee shop to go to the gate, we run into Leonard and Carol. They’d slept for a few hours in Burger King and still didn’t have a flight to where they were going. We told them where we’d got our tickets, but at that point it’s all we could do. I sure hope they managed to get where they needed – what an experience for first time to China!

Looking back, that was probably one of the worst travel experiences I’ve had while in Asia (aside from a 26 hour journey by pick-up truck, train, bus, and another pick-up truck the northern Thailand to the beach in the south). But at the same time, it was one of the most meaningful travel ordeals. Normally when I travel alone, I don’t interact with the other passengers. Maybe a polite hello or nod to the person sitting next to me, but beyond that, as an introvert – I travel in a shell. This trip I didn’t. I couldn’t. We were strangers, but we were looking out for one another, making sure we got to the place we were going. Somehow in the midst of chaos, I found blessing. I’m not sure if I’d have made it otherwise.


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Recently, I’ve had a few students and friends tell me “You should put on more clothes.” No, I am not dressing indecently! It is probably the first thing you’d think of if someone said that to you in America, but here in China I know that is not what they mean. They are merely expressing their concern for me and my health.

One text message I got said: “the weather forecast reported that it will reduce the temperature recently. so put on more clothes. please.” She’s so sweet! And tonight, a girl was walking with me back to my apartment from English Corner (a club for speaking English) and told me, as we both shivered against the wind, “You should wear more clothes.” I kindly replied to her “You should wear more clothes too!” “Oh, yes, I will,” she replied. … I will, too, though right now I’m holding off on the down coat. 30 degrees seems balmy when compared to what it’s going to be later on this winter!


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