Welcome back one and all to the August edition of Fact or Fiction. Those of you who read any or all of the last seven will know, every edition I will have a guest and we will discuss a few of the big issues in China of the day. Every answer will have a “Fact” or a “Fiction” and some justification to go along with it.
My guest today is fellow Lost Laowai blogger, Travis. Travis recently turned heads, and opened up tear ducts with his post titled “There and Back“, a look at the journey back home for the summer and how things changed from when he first left. Judging by the response to the post, I certainly wasn’t the only one who was touched by his descriptions of the complicated place that we call “home”.
In keeping with the themes of his most recent post, and the fact that the summer is the most likely time for many of us to head back to the land of our birth, our topic today is going to be one that is both simple and complicated, happy and sad: home. Join us today for Fact or Fiction IX: Homecoming!
1. Homesickness is one of the biggest challenges of living in China.
Absolutely! As much as I want to explore new things and learn about a culture that’s very new to me, it’s hard not to long for home sometimes. Every now and then I just get a craving for some maple syrup or Tim Horton’s Coffee, or I ache to watch hockey with people who appreciate it (also: I realize that I am a walking Canadian stereotype). I find the lack of peers who understand the eccentricities of my own culture to be something that I find alienating at times.
Yes. No matter who you are, this will be a problem. You go into a place with customs you don’t understand, a language you cannot speak, an alien writing system, and you get to the point where you realize: I’m alone here. All alone.
But you overcome that. You have students to help you, you make friends, you maybe get a girlfriend and then you find yourself missing certain comforts. Breathable air. Sane westerners. And after awhile, you find new comforts. You find how exciting everything is, how novel such ordinary occurrences are to you.
Then you hate everything. You hate the guy who intercepts the taxi you just spent an hour waiting to flag down, you hate the people who reschedule your classes and don’t tell you until the night before, you don’t understand why they just cannot be normal, for Christ’s sake.
If you manage to overcome all that, then a day comes when you jaywalk unafraid and are okay with last-minute dinner invitations. Holy shit! I can tell the taxi driver where to go and chat with him on the way! That’s when you know everything’s going to be okay.
A nice, family style agreement from the get go. 1 for 1.
2. Your time in China has been very different than you originally imagined it to be.
I was fully expecting to spend two years teaching in Suzhou before moving to some other continent for a new adventure. Now I have moved to Guangzhou recently, but I did not expect myself to stay in China, or to find leaving Suzhou to be so difficult. I have set up far more roots than I had originally expected to.
Oh God yes. I was supposed to spend a year teaching before going home for grad school, but before even that, I was supposed to go teach in France through the ‘assistant d’anglais’ program. I was devastated when it didn’t work out, but look where I am now: married, with an opportunity to study Chinese that I never would have had otherwise, and I’m happy with what I do. With everything that’s happened, I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had gone to France as planned.
As for staying here one year…well, what did I know? I was the same guy who was going to France, then grad school. For my wife and I, me going home was an issue from the get-go. What happened was that I found that I was happy here, happy with her, and I loved her too much just to go back home and do what I am “supposed” to do. I stayed on for another year, and another, and I do not regret it at all.
It’s been a growing experience. It has to be, or else, what use was it? Just to have something to do for a year or two?
Things may not have gone according to plan for these two, but this post is goign according to plan. 2 for 2.
3. The culture shock of going home is harder than the culture shock when you first arrived in China.
…but not a strong fact. I think that “Reverse Culture Shock” is an incredibly understated problem for expats. Of course mannerisms and customs that take place back home are familiar to you, and it is rarely that hard to get back into the swing of things. However, that being said, I feel like when I moved to China the newness excited me, and I hada large support group of people to help me with any difficulties or shocks. However, whenever I go home I don’t have that kind of support. Sure my family and friends are there for me, but they don’t seem to understand any sort of difficulties I experience with the unfamiliar familiarities of home.
You’re dead on about the lack of a support group to help overcome reverse culture shock. And once the novelty of going on Facebook to see so-and-so’s photos of her latest trip to the grocery store wore off, I found myself wondering why I even came back in the first place.
My family cares about me, they were curious about my time in China, and if I was having problems, I could talk to them about it…but at the same time, it would be hard for them to understand where I’m coming from.
What makes it hard, I think, is that all of you have changed in your time away from home, but they (understandably) think of you as the same person you were when you left.
Still good. Let’s switch things up. 3 for 3.
4. You do not feel as close to your family anymore.
For me, yes. We talk off and on by telephone while another teacher spoke to his family everyday on Skype. It made me feel a little ashamed. I don’t keep in touch with them as much as I should. Sometimes I find it hard. I’m doing my own thing, they’re doing theirs, and so weeks will pass without us speaking. But in the end, we’re family. So the distance doesn’t mean as much.
I think it’s much worse when it comes to friends. They’ve started grad school, their careers. They have grudging responsibilities now. The common ground we had in college and high school has been shrinking for a long time now, to the point where there’s barely anything left. I think though, that it does say a lot about the strength of your friendship, if you can reconnect easily despite how far apart you’ve grown or if there’s nothing there but experiences two years old or older. Sometimes you just have to move on.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my family dearly, probably more now than I did when I lived in Canada. But that being said, things felt a little…off this past summer. I have spent a great deal of my life coming and going from the people I love. In the past, I’ve felt like my arrival and departure were sort of…well events, big gatherings, big dinners, the whole shebang.
This time though it felt a bit more subtle and expected. Of course my family drove to the airport to get me, my sisters were waiting at my dad’s house to see me, everything was great. But there were no tears when I left, it was expected, another fact of life. The consequences others had to deal with for my own decisions. I know that they were sad to see me go (as I hope they know that I was sad to leave) but it felt natural this time. I know it’s my fault for not calling or e-mailing as much as I should, or filling my summer with all sorts of different things, but I still felt a strange distance this time that I hadn’t felt in the past.
Wow, 4 for 4. We agree more than I do with my actual family!
5. You get homesick for China more than you do for “home”
This is a difficult question to answer. Right now, I’d say ‘no’, based on my limited experience. While there were things I missed about China, I don’t think it compares to living in China for the first time.
Of course, I was only in the United States for a month, so this might change when I go back on a more long-term basis, but for now, I’m saying this: going to China is an adjustment while returning home is a readjustment. Difficult, but I don’t think anything close to the first year in China.
At least, I hope it isn’t…
I have found that the last two summers I’ve been very “China Sick”, but not compared to how much I miss home. I think a year ago, when I came back to China the first time, I would have answered “Fact”. However, I think that it was more that I missed adventure and excitement. But I suppose now that I’m a year wiser and a year more Chinafied, I miss the comfort and warmth of home. China provides me with some of that, but like many things here, it’s an inferior copy.
5 for 5. Can we have our first perfect showing?
6. You feel more at home in China than you do back “home”.
… for me, it is a fact. I left the States the summer after I graduated college. I left single, ten pounds lighter, decades younger. Fast forward to now, and you see that I simply have more of a home here than I do in America.
It is what you take with you. When I return Stateside next time, my wife will be with me. She is the crucial piece that makes China my “home”. I see China as my home because we’re together here, we have a life here. It’s not that I prefer one place over another…I just like the life I have with her.
…although it’s a mild fiction, if that helps.
While I’ve made a nice life for myself here, surrounded myself with wonderful people (including my wonderful girlfriend, of course), it’s still not quite the same as home. To be honest though, I don’t want it to be. While I crave the comforts of home at times, I still want to have a bit more excitement in my life. In my current state of mind, if China ever becomes more home than home to me, then I think it will be time for me to go.
But that day doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon, thankfully.
Well Glen had to go and ruin it! 5 for 6. Record is tied.
For Travis, I’m Glen, thanks for reading! We hope that you find a welcome home, wherever that is. As always, we welcome comments/concerns/criticisms. Let us have it