It was late in the afternoon, a friend called me on skype so we could play a video game together. For him- twelve time zones away- the city’s bars had just closed their doors. He was with a friend that I had met once before, the fact that they were floating from one side of my screen to the other was a good indication of their level of inebriation. The details of that call are irrelevant, so silly I don’t even remember. One sentence stayed embed in my mind, “At least I’m not stuck living in China..” It was not a mean statement and because of the circumstances, there was no point for me to react. I hung up not too long after.
A year later and I’m still trying to make sense of it. Why someone would feel like living abroad is a negative experience. How do you describe to someone who has never been anywhere other than the closest beach, how rewarding it can be is to live abroad. I understand everyone has their own level of curiosity and ambition and some people just prefer the comfort and security of what’s known. Living abroad after all, is far from perfect, I myself am no stranger to those wistful nights. Nights, where I’ve considered running back to my carefree lifestyle and the security of my Mother’s basement, the comfort of my own bed ( the Chinese enjoy sleeping on planks of wood), having a shower that’s not bipolar, an everlasting pantry and a bottomless fridge. Most of all, I miss my family and friends.
Not speaking the language
Loneliness becomes second nature when you live somewhere 98% of the population doesn’t speak your language. If you can take it though, there is everything to gain from it. There’s no better way to know yourself, to discover what you really want from life, than changing every aspect of your reality and seeing how you adapt. There is no better test of will than getting away from your mother tongue. I got to practice my English and started to learn Mandarin. You’ll be surprised by your capabilities and resourcefulness when thrust outside of your own comfort zone.
Making New Friends
Whilst you get on with living life abroad, you’ll meet a lot of new people, at a pace you would never have back home. Most come from all over the globe (cause expats tend to find each other) and these friendships will traverse age, race and social status,unlike those back home. Hopefully, some of these friendships will be with locals. With expats, you’ll have an amazing time. They think like you do, they also left home to get out of their comfort zone, just like you did and because of this there will be a lot of hilarious stories ahead. The locals however, will show you their traditions, their ethics and all aspects of their culture. They’ll often surprise you with random acts of kindness which you will learn a lot from. One that was remarkable for me was the fact that Chinese people always bring fruit and snacks to everyone at work. These acts of generosity are something you will scarcely encounter back home.
Everything moves so fast
China, like many other Asian country, is like a fluid painting. It’s full of characters, behaviors, smells that blend everything together; you break that composition by bringing yourself into that painting. You become the focal point of the painting. Sometimes they’ll want a picture with you, children will stare at you wide eyed because they’ve never seen a face like yours. For the first time instead of blending in, you stand out. You become consciously aware of your existence, you are seen. Cultural shock will become customary, you wont even notice the guttural growls of the old guy clearing his throat and spitting next to you. In Shanghai, everything around you moves so fast it all becomes a blur, people walk with their faces riveted to their phones. Thousands of electric scooters zip around you frantically. So, you just get used to things, you keep on moving and by losing yourself in all the noise you find yourself, you become self aware.
That is why moving here was the best decision of my life.