Yes, you, the one who just turned her life upside down to move to China. Standing on a bus as it careens through the city, feeling a dark panic not from traffic but from the culture shock settling in. The air is crowded with noise and lights and people, so many people, and you feel more alone than ever before.
You think you signed up for a 2-3 year stint, but I've got a surprise for you. Here it is nine years later with no leaving in sight. But even more surprising - you really like it here! I wish you could see that now, how accustomed you will become to life here.
But sometimes it's best that you can't see the future, because it's actually going to get a lot harder before it gets easier. That darkness that is going to get deeper. I wish I could tell you to reach out and get help, to recognize the depression this time, and for goodness sakes to turn on some lights in your apartment! And I especially wish I could tell you - it won't always be this way. One day you will realize that happiness comes almost naturally.
Some things won't change much. You will always be surrounded by a lot of people, and many will continue to stare (although the shouts of "laowai" will become fewer over time). You'll never quite feel like you belong, but you'll get a lot closer. You will have friendly conversations with neighbors who will start seeing you as a real person. American supermarkets will become more overwhelming than Chinese ones. You will get to know so many students and friends who will treat you with such warmth and respect. You will make a decision to stay here, first because you feel you are called, and then because you really don't want to leave.
It's going to get easier. You will go through more moves and transitions than you really want to know about, but you won't do it alone. Remember that one guy you met at training, the one who seemed so much older than you. Two more years and you're going to be married to him! Fast-forward to 2014 and you have two adorable little girls, your own family to stay with you no matter what.
So right now, I know it's hard. There's really no way around that. Please give yourself some grace. You don't have to do it all. You don't have to handle it on your own. You don't have to love it all. But treasure the moments that you can. Those endearing little freshmen filling your home. The late night bike rides with your teammate. The silly photo booth pictures. The wonderful varieties of Yangzhou doufu. The incredible quiet and alone time you're going to long for later.
Years from now, you will remember the difficulty, but mostly you will remember those first years with fondness. Enjoy what you can. And go start photo-stalking that Kevin guy.
Older, wiser (??), tired-er Ruth
Linking up with Velvet Ashes today, considering hindsight.
|Romantic photo shoot by Stinky River and the overflowing garbage can|