It’s only been one week since we packed up our tiny dorm in China, and returned back home to the US. Since we’ve made it through the culture shock, jet lag, and the Christmas season (Christmas blog will be up soon) I decided to sit down and write out the thoughts I’ve had in the last few days.
First, I want to say that moving across the world for a short amount of time and taking a break from our every day life, was by far the best thing I have ever done. I had more personal growth than I have ever experienced, I learned that’s okay every once in a while to only focus on myself and my happiness, and my love for my husband and my marriage grew more than I ever thought was possible.I know that everyday life is filled with routine, time spent with friends and family, and responsibility, but to take a step back and take a break from everything and everyone we knew at the time changed me in ways that I never expected. A lot of you might be thinking “Wren, you were only gone for four months, there is no way you could have completely changed.” But I am here to tell you that until you immerse yourself into uncomfortable situations everyday for a few months, you will never understand the growth I’ve personally gone through.
I wish I could sit here and give you all a philosophical lesson on the way I think now and explain the feelings and different perspective I’ve had, but since I am not a philosopher or an award winning author, I will tell you the top five lessons I personally learned from temporarily living abroad. And to save myself from boring you with even more reading, this post will only be the first lesson so here it goes…
Everything I thought I knew was, and is, most likely wrong.
I had very many expectations before we went to China. I knew that Chinese people had black hair and spoke mandarin. I knew that we would be eating a lot of rice and that our students would be quite a bit more educated than students in the US. I knew that China was beautiful and that we would be seeing a lot of pandas, Buddhas, dragons, and calligraphy.I also had a lot of new realizations that I did not expect. I had no idea that Chinese people would rather help someone else than be on time to their destination. I had no idea that the elderly people practiced dance in the middle of the street ALL over China to stay healthy and active or that their students go to school 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I never knew that the cities of China would be the most clean cities I’ve been to because they are all so particular about littering and trash. And I never knew how much the Chinese loved and respected Americans and thought of us like gods.
I am not saying that my expectations of China were all completely wrong, or that none of them were met. In fact, they were all met and then some. (a lot) I am saying that we truly don’t understand a culture, or a place, or really….anything until we experience it our self.
Immersing myself in a different culture made me realize that just because we have expectations of something doesn’t mean we know much about it. We can pick up textbooks and study, and watch the news or the media. But experiencing something for our self is the most rewarding way to educate ourselves about it.
This small lesson that I’ve learned doesn’t only apply to experiencing other cultures, or traveling the world. It applies to falling in love, working a certain career, having children of our own, having a certain type of lifestyle, or looking a certain type of way.
My mother always said “put yourself in their shoes” and my father always says “don’t ever judge a book by the cover.” I heard these my whole life and I thought I understood them, and knew them and applied them to my everyday life. But moving to China and having my expectations and judgement of things proven wrong every single day made me realize how little I knew about China, and how little I know about this world.
We can learn about, judge or admire certain things that we haven’t experienced, but until we see it and experience it, we truly don’t know anything about it. Next time you want to judge or admire someone’s lifestyle, habits, or way of living; remind yourself that just because you have certain expectations, or think you know much about what they’re going through, doesn’t mean you do. In fact, the only person who truly knows what you’re going through or can relate to your outlook on things is yourself. Here’s to new lessons, personal growth, and attempting to write out the thoughts that constantly fill my head. And here’s to being back to my comfort zone, back home, with a completely different outlook on life. Even though this beautiful chapter of my life is over, I know that I will carry these life changing experiences with me forever. Onto the next adventure, Wren