Lessons I Learned from Living Abroad-#5

 

232131hhThis post will be the fifth and final lesson I learned while living abroad. But I can promise you that it won’t be the last time I post about China. I mean, will I ever stop posting about China?…probably not.

I saved this certain lesson for last because all of the lessons I wrote about before this one helped me to learn this one.

  1. We think we know a lot, until we are proven wrong.
  2. Our happiness can not depend on other people.
  3. Everyone’s outlook on everything is defined differently.
  4. We don’t realize how comfortable we are, until we’re not.
(if you’re interested in reading about any of these, they are all under the lifestyle tab)

And last but not least,

Happiness does not come from things.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wow Wren you did it again, typed another cliche phrase that we all already knew.”

But, do you know? I didn’t. Like most of the lessons I learned, I thought I understood what it meant. I thought I was living my day to day life knowing that our happiness can not be defined by things and stuff. I’ve never been one to care about fancy clothes or having a new car. I’ve always been a pretty happy person without them.

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What I didn’t realize is how much my happiness was dependent on other certain things. And like lesson number 2, I learned very quickly that once these things were taken away from me, I had to learn to be happy without them.

Driving my car, having an income, being able to have a variety of food options (including mexican food), indoor heating and AC, a soft bed, good coffee, puppy cuddles, cooking a meal, my bath tub, being able to see the moon and stars..and sunsets, reading signs, billboards, and menus, knowing my way around my home town, and when I didn’t being able to ask for directions. I could go on, but you get the point.

All of these things are the most simple things. And that’s just what they are, little simple things that I once took advantage of. I used to say “oh I would DIE without Mexican food or a good cup of coffee” but guess what? I lived. And guess what else? I found happiness with out them.

It’s funny how happiness works. Once one thing that makes us happy is taken away, we search for, and usually find, happiness in something else. I found it in the feeling of being uncomfortable, in the compliments I constantly got from locals, and in constantly expanding my knowledge on the beautiful culture I was living in. I found it in the kids I taught, in the beautiful places I traveled to, and in the strangers who quickly became friends. Even though just about everything and everyone that once made me happy was gone, I learned to find happiness in other things and most importantly, I learned to find happiness within myself.

And that is the lesson here.

You can think, “oh I will be happy when I have a new house, when I find the love of my life, when I can save money to travel, when I finally have the body I want.”

You can also think “oh I would never be happy if I didn’t have all of this money, or all of these clothes, or this perfect body, or these certain friends.”

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But, none of that is true. Because when it comes to happiness, none of those things contribute to it. Yes, they may affect our happiness to a certain extent and having them or not can alter our happiness at the time, but happiness comes from a different place. I am sorry I can’t give you instructions on how to find it, but I know it’s somewhere between your head and your heart, and even when you have the bare minimum; food, water, shelter, and someone who cares about you, you can find it.

And I know that for a fact now.

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So, continue to search for that place. Appreciate the little simple things that make you happy at the moment. Try not to compare your happiness to anyone else’s or think about the things that could possibly make you happier. Because even though you think they matter, they don’t contribute to your over all happiness and it is possible to be completely happy with out them. I promise.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

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Lessons I Learned from Living Abroad-#4

I always thought I knew what being uncomfortable felt like. It was that feeling I felt before I had to talk in front of a large group of people. It was that thought of what if I said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. It was the phobia I experienced when I was in a crowded room full of other bodies and couldn’t see any open air, resulting in my lungs almost collapsing.  It was those days when my hair just didn’t lie the way I wanted it to or none of my clothes hugged my body correctly. I felt it on long days when my contacts were in too long resulting in them sticking to my eyes, or the nights when I was too hot and just couldn’t sleep.

I thought I knew what being uncomfortable felt like, and then…We moved to China.

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So here’s to lesson #4-

You don’t realize how comfortable you are, until you’re not.

Moving across the world showed me a whole new kind of uncomfortable. The second we stepped on our international plane, with four months worth of stuff squished into 5 suit cases, I was uncomfortable. If there was such thing as a comfort zone level between 1-10, and knowing what I know now, I would put my comfort level at a 8 on that 16 hour flight to our new home. (If you were to ask me that day, I would probably tell you a solid 3.)

Arriving in China, and realizing that this was home for the next 104 days, my comfort level dropped even more. Comfort level: 5

After our 3 hour bus ride with a Chinese stranger named “Kimmy”, we arrived at our school at 1:00am. Kimmy handed us our luggage, and in his broken English he said “room 507, fifth floor.”

I looked around and back at Derek, and sighed “no elevator??” Being jet lagged, carrying our luggage up five floors and arriving in our room to find that our bed was literally a piece of plywood, my comfort level was now at an all time low.

Comfort level: 0

Or so I thought.

The next morning, Derek and I were bright eyed, ready to take on the new day at 5:00am. We decided to walk around campus and try to figure out what time breakfast was, and what building it was in. Because on top of feeling WAY out of our comfort zone, we were starving and extremely thirsty since we didn’t have water in our room and it was against the “health code of China” to drink tap water. We never did find breakfast, so we went back up to our room.

Comfort level: 0- Still

At about 7:00am, we finally heard other English speaking voices in the hall way. We shyly snuck out and introduced ourselves as the “new, confused, and starving” people. Wynn and Jacob introduced themselves and invited us to walk to breakfast with them. They seemed nice, and food sounded great, so we followed. After meeting more volunteers, and being showed around campus by friendly faces, my comfort level grew.

Comfort level: 5

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I wish I could tell you that after the first week in China, we adjusted to the strange food, culture shock, and jet lag. I wish I could tell you that my comfort level eventually grew back up to a 10, but I would be lying. The truth is, my comfort level never grew back up to a 10 for the whole 104 days we were there. It adjusted a lot and things that once were very uncomfortable and unfamiliar started to feel more comfortable. I would have rated all of these things at a 0 on  my comfort  zone level before I experienced them, but after learning to live with being uncomfortable for a straight 104 days, I wouldn’t even consider these things uncomfortable or unfamiliar anymore.

Walking around campus and teaching our students everyday.

Befriending 30 other uncomfortable strangers, since they were the only friends and family interaction we had.

Ordering food at a restaurant, hoping we used the translator right or pointed to the right picture, and if we didn’t…having to eat it anyways.

Walking down the streets in the dark to the night market or our favorite noodle shop.

Constantly being a center of attention for photos and laughs anytime we went out.

Having to walk and use stairs- EVERYWHERE.

Witnessing people using the streets as their toilet, cars driving down the sidewalks, and hearing car horns every time someone turned, braked, or hit their gas pedal.

Not being able to understand ANYONE’S conversations.

Getting into a car with nice English speaking locals that told us they would take us to our destination for free. -This happened more than once.

Having to wear 8 layers of clothing to go anywhere since most commercial buildings didn’t have AC or heat.

Getting completely lost and realizing that we couldn’t ask any one for directions, because they simply doesn’t understand what we’re saying.

Having to change and sleep in a hostel room with 6 strangers from all different cultures.

Making our way all over China by bus, trains, and planes without being able to read directions or tickets, or ask for help.

Having to use the restroom and finding out I only had the option of a squatter, with no toilet paper, paper towels, or soap.

Adjusting to the fact that I had to face my claustrophobia in subways, on escalators, and just walking down the street…because I was now in some of the most populated cities in the world. 

Over time, all of these things started to feel more comfortable. The thing about living in a new culture is, once you think your comfort zone level is close to a 10, something else is there to make it drop again. And for 104 days straight, that low comfort zone level will change you. It will test your patience, it will laugh at everything you think you know, it will destroy your plans, it will teach you lessons, and it will make you grow.3

My comfort level wasn’t completely back up to a 10 until I was in Utah, in a town that I knew like the back of my hand, with English speaking people, tap water I could drink, a soft bed, and food that I wasn’t concerned with putting into my mouth.

Adjusting to being completely comfortable again was difficult. While we were in China, we were constantly learning and growing and “making things work”. This lesson taught me that the things that used to make me feel uncomfortable aren’t even close to being at a level of 0. Next time I have a bad hair day, or am in a “uncomfortable” social situation, I am going to laugh and think back to the whole four months I survived feeling uncomfortable.b01bcdeb597b5676791398781e0440fa

So, don’t stay in your comfort zone, things don’t grow there. Face your fears, throw yourself into those uncomfortable situations. Learn, change and grow as you do it. And when you find yourself comfortable again, be proud of the person you’ve become.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

 

 

Highlights of China Video

Today marks one month since we’ve been back from China, and the fact that my days once looked like this still feel like a dream. Even though it’s been bittersweet readjusting back to reality, I know that I will always feel a sense of happiness and gratitude when I reflect on these life changing experiences, memories, and people who filled the most rewarding four months of my life.

Thanks for watching!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

Lessons I Learned From Living Abroad-#3

 

UntitledAs you all know, I learned a lot of lessons while living on the other side of the world for a short period of time, but I think this is my favorite lesson I learned. I always heard people say this, and I always thought I knew exactly what they meant. But like most of the things I learned, I didn’t actually grasp the lesson and realize the truth behind it until I lived in China and got to witness other people’s opinions every single day.

Everyone’s outlook on everything is different and I mean extremely different.

Beauty:

In China, I was treated like a celebrity goddess just because I have curly blonde hair and blue eyes. The amount of heads turned, photos taken of me, and guys hitting their friends’ shoulder to point at me made me feel like I looked like Margot Robbie or Megan Fox.

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I would leave campus to go to the store, or travel and constantly see locals pointing and hear “ohhh piàoliang.”  (Which means beautiful.) We had a lady at the bargain market say to Derek “oh yes, I remember you two because your girlfriend is sooo beautiful, look at her, you are a lucky man” as she smiled at me. Mind you, she hadn’t seen us for a couple months. LIKE WHAT?! Apparently my appearance is above average on the attractive level in China. (Thank you kind Chinese people for a self confidence boost)

This was a hard thing to get used to when we first moved to China. I didn’t hate all of the attention, but I was so confused as to why I was getting so much. And then it hit me. I may be average looking in America. I may have blonde hair and blue eyes like 1 out of every 20 people here. But in China, my appearance was rare. And to them, I was so beautiful.

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Success:

Just like beauty, success is perceived differently by everyone. We got really close with the other 30 volunteers that we were with 24/7 (since they were the only people we could have conversations with for four months.) I learned a lot about them individually. We all came from different backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common; a passion for travel.

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A lot of them would talk about going home back to school, and work. Some of them would say things like “when I am successful” or “when I graduate from college and become successful” or “China was a great break, but I am excited to get home and work towards success and my goals.”

One day one of them asked Derek and I for help while signing up for her college classes. She said “you guys are very successful adults, will you help me?” I laughed and said “I am not the person to ask, I never went to college.” And she said “What really? Well you guys own a house and have a happy marriage, so you must be successful.” And then it hit me.

Most of the people we were with had a completely different definition of success than I had. In fact, the whole world has a different definition of success than anyone else has. Success to me is complete mental and physical happiness. That doesn’t mean I have to own a house, have a college degree, or even a steady income. Moving to China was the most successful thing I have ever done for myself.

It was always my dream to experience other cultures with the person I love, and I had finally reached that goal. To other volunteers or to anyone else, traveling might have been a break or a set back to them from their success, but to me it was my end goal, and I have never felt more successful.

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Beauty and success are only two examples of different outlooks, but they are the two that I realized the most while living in China. Since being home, I have noticed more that people are constantly talking about what is beautiful and what is successful. And that is fine, we should share our opinions, but we need to remember that is all that they are, opinions. And we should never compare our beauty or success to anyone else’s.

So here is a nice little reminder to myself and whoever needs it. Even if you feel like the least beautiful or least successful person in the world, remind yourself that you are “sooo” piàoliang” in China, or a “very successful adult” to a younger person. 

Here’s to being beautiful and successful, no matter what that means to you!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

How We Spent a Semester in China

I’ve had quite a few people reach out to me, while we were overseas, and especially since being home with a lot of different questions. Most people ask “How was it?” “Was it what you expected?” “How was the food?” etc. But a few people have said “I want to do something like that, so how did you do it?”

So hello adventurous dreamer who wants to experience the other side of the world. This post is for you.

I’ve been trying to leave this town since the day I graduated high school. I always felt like I needed to get out of here, and was constantly researching programs like nannying in New York, studying abroad in Italy, rebuilding homes in south America, etc. I was researching similar things one day, and I found the program ILP. (International language programs) After reading about who they were, what they did, and realizing that this program was based right out of my home state, I had an overwhelming feeling that I just had to apply.

I talked to Derek that night about this program, told him the details of what it was, how much it cost, and then told him…So….that’s what I am going to do next year, do you want to join me? Without hesitation and to my surprise, he said “of course.” We looked more into it together, researched a little about the countries we could choose from, and talked to a few of our friends who were previously part of the program. A month later, we were accepted into the program and looking forward to our next adventure.

So, how does ILP work?

ILP is a volunteer program based out of Provo, Utah. It is for young adults, ages 18-25, to experience another country and culture while teaching English to kids.

Do I have to know the local language to teach the kids English?

No, before going to China the only thing I knew how to say in mandarin was “hello.” We would teach the kids our lesson plans that we prepared for that week, but the kids were not allowed to speak Chinese to us, so we did not need to know any Chinese to teach our lessons. Our “English class” was an immersion program and the point of the program was for the students to communicate in English to native English speakers that don’t have accents.

How much did you get paid?

Since ILP is a volunteer program, we were just volunteers. Which means, no salary. Since we were not paid teachers, this means that no certification or teaching experience is needed. We actually paid ILP a fee to be in the program, and that fee included our visas, flights, house, and food for the semester.

If you don’t get paid, how do you afford it?

Everyone pays for and affords ILP differently. Some people are lucky with giving parents. Some people had garage sales, go fund mes, or bake sales to raise money before they left. And some people were saving their money and making monthly payments for a year in advance. Personally, Derek and I saved our money for nine months before we left. We also had income every month from renting our house out. AND since we went to China, the tuition was buy one get one free for married couples. (SCORE.)  For four months of housing, food, adventure, and an experience we will never forget, we paid $2500. We also had to pay for all of our travel, shopping, and going out to eat (and that number is different for everyone).

How do I sign up?

If you’re interested in learning more about ILP  or signing up, you can click this link.

http://www.ilp.org

And if you are still wondering about certain details or need answers to certain questions, go ahead and message me or leave a comment below. I am so happy for this amazing program and the opportunities it offers to young people who just want to see and experience more, while making a difference in the life of others. (The fact that they’re cute kids is just a bonus.)

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

Lessons I Learned From Living Abroad-#2

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions. Most of them great, some of them anxious to get back on the track of life, and some of them nostalgic for the care free life we were living in China.

We’ve been doing our best to get back into the swing of things and back to our day to day routine but things around here still feel different. It’s because we’re different, and I love it.We had a Happy New Year, and I hope you all did as well. We made our way up to Zion on Saturday with Derek’s siblings. It was nice to enjoy the red rocks that we’ve missed so much, and to be able to breathe the clean air quality while we hiked our 8 miles. We met Derek’s parents for a late lunch in Springdale as well.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with a few friends. A lot of our friends were out of town this year, so it wasn’t anything too exciting, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t special. Like I’ve said before; a holiday is for time spent with the people you love, and that’s exactly what we did.

Speaking of people I love, I am excited to share the second lesson I learned from living abroad.

Our happiness can not depend on other people, especially people who don’t value who we are.

I’ve always been a big believer in loving and accepting people for who they are, and to love them in any form and any way that they are. I’ve always loved to make the effort with my friends and reach out to them when I know that they need it, and even when they don’t. This quality of mine has resulted in me having many friends and very close family members with many different personalities. And I have always enjoyed it.

Leaving to China was hard for me. I knew I was going to miss the life I was currently living so much… My weekly dinners with my in laws, my girl nights with my mom and sisters, my coffee dates with Marie or Jamie. My dance parties with my boys, and my wine nights with my girls. My grandma’s cooking and my grandpa’s jokes, and of course my cuddle puddles with Harvey.I knew that all of these things were little parts of my life that contributed to my overall happiness. What I didn’t know is that I could be completely happy without them. When all of those things were temporarily taken away from my life, I had to learn how to be happy completely on my own and to put all of my focus on myself and my husband.

I didn’t realize how dependent my happiness was on the people I love, and how much effort and energy I was putting into these relationships, until I didn’t constantly have them around. I am not saying the energy I was putting towards these people was a bad thing, but I didn’t realize how much energy I wasn’t spending on myself until it was the only option I had. 

I have learned to love myself in a way I never thought I would. I am more in touch with my emotions, I enjoy alone time more than I ever have, and I have accepted who I am mentally. The highly sensitive, emotionally expressive person that I have always been. Even it comes off as weird, or “too deep” for others. 

With all of this, my connections with others have changed since being home. I now know that I am happier putting my energy towards myself and my alone time instead of putting that energy towards people who don’t value every part of me. I now know that no matter how far I leave, the people who I am connected to, will always be connected to me. My family and my best friends, who know every piece of me and who still love me. And to the people who don’t value every single piece of me, well I know now that I can be completely happy without them, so I am not wasting my time or energy anymore.

Sometimes it takes taking everything and everyone you have ever known away from you, to feel 100% complete genuine happiness. I know have a sense of happiness with myself that I have never had, and all of these people who I surround myself with are just a bonus.

Here’s to self love, self acceptance, self improvement, and complete happiness. And everyone who not only add to it, but accept and value it as well.

Onto the next adventure, Wren