“Where are you from?” The dreaded question. I stutter, and blurt out “America,” hoping it’s not too vague of an answer to satisfy this newfound person standing in front of me.
Two continents, two vastly different countries, four different places, five different moves. I’ve actually never lived in a place longer than five years. Despite these numbers, I’ve never been able to label myself as an international kid. I know kids who have lived all over the world, so a mere two countries don’t sound impressive to me.
I’ve moved to Beijing twice, the first time at age 5 for four years, and two years ago when I was 14, we moved back for a second stint. I don’t remember much from my first time here; I was too young to make decisions for myself. Frankly, at that age, you generally rely on your parents to tell you what to do.
I do however precisely remember what it was like to move to Beijing the second time. I had to pack up a life of familiarity: leaving friends, a school, and a home behind. It wasn’t easy for me. Anyone who isn’t used to the atmosphere of Beijing can find it quite jolting. The massive amounts of people, the traffic, even the toilets require some getting used to.
I do, however, wholeheartedly believe that everything in life is meant to teach you something; and it’d be a fib to say that I haven’t learned a thing or two from living here. As the new school year begins and new expat families come in, I hope this list will be of some value to you as you transition.
Sometimes, You Only Need One Word
I’ve been studying Mandarin daily for about two years, and though I’m nowhere near being fluent, I’d like to think I know enough to get around. I’ve had to resort to saying “这个,” (zhège) which translates to ‘this.’ I’ve come to find that this word is very versatile as whenever I have to communicate a desire to someone else, I point to it and say zhège, and people get the hint.
However, this, of course, is not the way to live your life. Learning a new language can be both difficult and frustrating, but in the end, it will all be worth it. It makes living abroad a whole lot more convenient.
Immerse Yourself in Things You Wouldn’t See Yourself Doing
“Sometimes, all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – Matt Damon, We Bought a Zoo
This quote, from the popular family movie We Bought a Zoo, has earned its title as my favorite quote of all time. Whenever I push myself to try new things, this quote has given me the power I need to complete it.
If you’re in school, joining extra-curricular activities in school is a great way to get involved. They take place immediately after class finishes, so it is highly convenient if you’re like me and have a lot of homework to complete. I try to frequently push myself outside my comfort zone. I am a music student, so I gravitate towards activities falling under that category, like the school orchestra and musicals. This year especially, I tried something new and joined the soccer team for the first time. Sure, my foot-eye coordination is not the best, but being on the team ended up being a very enjoyable experience for me that I would have missed out on if I hadn’t taken the chance.
Beijing is a diverse city, featuring a modern twist of the new and old. From the Great Wall to the National Museum of China, you’re bound to find something that interests you. During holidays when I have a lot of free time, I try to check out places that I haven’t been to yet. Adventures await! You never know what you might find.
Meet as Many People as You Can
Over time, you’ll find that many others are in the same situation as you. Lost, confused, and downright dumbfounded by the many wonders this city presents in front of newcomers daily. At my international school especially, people are always coming and going. I was able to find a group of friends who’d had similar experiences to me; people I could relate to and connect with. And it has made all the difference.
Don’t Take Anything Too Seriously
In this crowded and often chaotic city, you’re bound to run into situations that make you think: “What?” It makes you feel alienated like you’re the only one who finds it this one particular thing odd.
Today on my 30-minute journey to the office I came across something strange by the subway station that I get on. It was a man who was calmly perched on the side of the sidewalk, and had a turtle hanging from an elongated stick he was holding. A phrase that my family and I commonly use whenever we see something strange is: “Only in China.” In this situation, I felt like screaming it from the rooftop. I quickly snapped a photo to save the memory. I have a feeling this is a story I will be sharing with my extended family when I return to the States for the summer holidays.
Regardless, the international experience is a unique one that I’m sure you’ll learn to love, as I did. You’ll come to love the complex world that surrounds us, and the many wonders that are just within your grasp. The new, unfamiliar environment around you will create lasting memories that you’ll preserve even as you leave this place.