Tonight while I was sitting at a roadside “restaurant” in small town China, I found myself pondering how I came to be where I am right now. A solo mother of 51 years of age, two of my four kids in tow and I couldn’t help smiling and thinking how lucky I am.
This is not the first time I have been to China. After the breakup of a violent marriage, I decided that I was going to get out and explore the world. I had 3 kids at the time but my two eldest wanted to stay with their grandparents, so it was myself and a 1 year old baby, boarding the flight to Northeastern China and not knowing what to expect. All I knew was that I was going to teach at a university in a place I had never heard of.
When we got off the plane it actually hit me what I had done. My 1 year old baby was totally dependent on me and here I was among thousands of shouting people with no way of communicating . I was struck by the thought that I had quite possibly gone mad.
The first month was hard, the culture shock was intense. Everything was just so different and the hygiene standards were not what I was used to and using a squat toilet was something that traumatized me every time! This changed soon enough as I had no choice but to just “get on with it”. I grew to love most things about the culture and learned not to ask what I was eating and generally it was amazing. By opening my heart to the people and the country I learned to adapt and totally embrace my new life here.
I needn’t have worried about my daughter, people fawned over her constantly and by the time we left her native language was Mandarin – I used to have to get a friend to translate what she was saying!
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My contract was signed for a year and then my plan was to go back home, it wasn’t meant to be a permanent move, but somehow China got under my skin . The friends I had were such beautiful human beings that I had grown to love and depend on and never knowing what each day would bring, the only thing I was sure of is that it would be a whole new adventure, made it such a precious time. It wasn’t all rosy – there were many difficult and frustrating times, but that just added to the whole experience. I had never felt so alive as I did during this time.
I ended up staying in Asia for five wonderfully frustrating years and only returned back home – New Zealand – in 2007.
That was back in 2002. Fast forward to today and here I am again, albeit in a different province. This time though, I have two kids with me, my 13 year old son and 16 year old daughter. By April 2014 things were difficult again, another broken marriage and few job prospects or housing opportunities; returning to China felt like the right thing to do.
Thanks to my wonderful, loving parents – who passed away within 18 hours of each other in 2016 – I was able to return to China, where I knew that there would be a job for me as well as reasonably comfortable housing. The first 24 months was spent in a city that I probably would not go back to. We stayed there due to the kids having friends and me wanting stability for them.
The decision was made to move because we all ended up not being as happy as we should have been – an attempted kidnapping of my then 14 year old daughter didn’t add to the city’s’ allure either. We moved on to a small town in Sichuan Province, and it is truly a magical spot. We have settled in perfectly and being school holidays, have had chance to get out and explore our city and it’s stunning surroundings.
Many women are quite anxious about taking the plunge and heading off into the unknown. I believe that it is something that every woman should do at least once in their life as it can be the most interesting, frustrating and often healing experience there is.
I never thought that after 8 long hours at a police station, arguing with a non English speaking office over visa issues, I would come out stronger and end up feeling like I had won a gold medal at the Olympics. Since that day I have realized that I can do anything!
Knowing when to go abroad – whether temporarily or permanently – can be a mix of conscious and subconscious things. Here are a few things that may make you realize it is time to make a fresh start.
You Need To Heal
Going abroad can be such a hugely healing experience. Needing time to think and work through your thoughts after a major life event is something we all need to do. Going overseas gives you a completely fresh new outlook away from the grind of everyday life. Being away from everything familiar gives you an opportunity to look at your circumstances from a totally different perspective.
You Crave Adventure
The crushing tedium of every day life or when you have been through a breakup or divorce for example, you can be left feeling utterly deflated , emotionally and physically. You may feel that you have been missing out on something or just finding yourself needing adventure. This does not necessarily mean whitewater rafting or skydiving but getting out of your comfort zone.
Going to a foreign country is definitely an adventure. Finding yourself in a strange place and dealing with culture shock, language barriers, new surroundings, different people is an adventure in itself and should be enjoyed.
You Need to Have No Regrets
One day you realize that you haven’t done any of those things you dreamed of when you were younger; backpacking through South America, sipping coffee a French café or hiring a car and just driving through New Zealand. When you feel like you want to live your life to the fullest and have no regrets, it is time to make the move and head off overseas.
More To Life Than Money
We seem to spend all our time making sure that we have money for this and money for that while not gaining anything meaningful. Deciding that there is more to life than money is actually very empowering, and deciding to head off – whether it be for a year volunteering at a school in Tanzania or taking your dream holiday will change your whole outlook on life. Seeing the way other people live helps you to see that there are so many people worse off than us who manage on so much less.
Time For A Change
When you find yourself spending more time daydreaming about drinking wine in a Tuscan villa than you do thinking about real life, it is time to go! You may just need to get away from it all, not for any reason in particular, just an inexplicable urge to get up and go. It may be just for a short while or a more permanent move but either way you will feel much happier and fulfilled as a result.
Travelling will make you stronger mentally, it will open your eyes to things of such beauty that they take your breath away and give you time to reflect on where you are now and what you want out of life.
On my travels I have struggled with incredible language barriers, come up against unbelievable bureaucracy, gave birth to a very sick baby in central China and got food poisoning so bad that I honestly believed that I was dying.
Despite all of this, I would not change a thing. The wonderful – and some not so wonderful people – I have met, the different food that I have eaten, the wonderful students who I have seen grow so much and the mind-boggling sights and scenery that I have seen have made my life so much better.