Standing at the school bus stop in these frigid January temperatures, watching all the new families find their way brings back a flood of memories for me. We were one of those mid-year families when we moved to Beijing three years ago. The buses weren’t bright yellow; instead, they were posh looking “tour” buses complete with seat belts and bus monitors! And there wasn’t just one bus for the neighborhood, but five or six all lined up along a strip of sidewalk the length of a city block. A little overwhelming.
Starting in a new school at the beginning of the year is hard enough. You want to get the lay of the land, meet new people and fit in. But arriving mid-year is really difficult. Routines are set, and everybody knows them. Friends, and dare I say cliques, are not easy to break into no matter the age. Factor in the cold weather when nobody is just hanging around outside, it’s downright depressing.
Our arrival to Beijing was the very first move for my girls. Bad timing on our part as parents, we actually arrived the day after the winter break began — just before Christmas — so nobody was around to meet for nearly three weeks! And, just to get all of the “badness” out of the way, this was the winter declared as the worst pollution season in x-many years. Some ridiculous index number warned all to stay indoors no matter what. Unaware, we went sightseeing (cough, cough) and then bought air purifiers. It was not the best introduction to our new home, and we were immediately homesick.
We were eager to get to school and meet people, and get into a regular routine we all desperately needed. The girls had first-day/first-week/first-month jitters, and so did I. Would they settle? Would they be happy? Would they thrive?
They did, they are, and all turned out fine – just as it will be for other families arriving in Beijing now. However, I know that first impressions can have a permanent mark on how one gets settled. I remind my daughters of how it felt when we arrived, and now my girls are empathetic towards new kids in their classroom, offering help and friendship to them. I try to do the same. So for the new bus-dad at the stop – a bit more rare in and of itself – I was sure to point out other 2nd grade boys who live near his twins. And for that worried high school boy from Vancouver who got lost in the elementary school today, I escorted him back to the high school area where he could find his class and chatted with him casually along the way.
Gosh, sometimes it feels like yesterday when we were new here. I do remember the helping hands that reached out to us then, and I can only hope that our family repays that kindness toward new families to whom I would like to say: Welcome to Beijing!