Journal Entry: Adapting to Expat Life in China
The other night, I was out to dinner with a friend in a semi-familiar part of the city. We parted ways at the metro and I proceeded to text my husband, check my WeChat, and think about plans for the weekend. Simultaneously, I reloaded my metro card, got on the subway, transferred lines, and walked back to my apartment on autopilot.
Ok, this may not seem like a big deal, but for me it was huge. It’s a milestone in my expat journey. I feel as comfortable getting back to my China apartment as I used to driving home from work in Florida. In just a few short months, I have adapted to a new way of life.
Moving abroad is a bizarre emotional journey that I am still trying to figure out. I have always been a wandering soul and I prepared myself for culture shock, but even so, I am a little unnerved by how seamless the transition has been. In some ways, our lives in Florida seem far away. When I imagine our bedroom or my old morning routine, it feels like trying to remember a dream. I’m not sure how that makes me feel—I guess if I picked at it long enough, it might evoke a feeling of melancholy. It’s startling how quickly we can slip out of our life and adapt to new circumstances.
However, if there is one thing I have gleaned from my experiences in life, it is that humans are an adaptable species. Y’all, we seriously can adjust to just about anything if we need to. Changing careers, moving, personal losses, starting families—these are huge life changes we all have faced. Moving abroad is just another flavor. And like anything, adaptability takes practice. During my life, I have transferred schools, moved to new places, and switched jobs. Each small change was scary, but every leap of faith has given me courage. My mom is (kind of) used to my life leaps and now gives a shrug and offers, “Well, you always land on your feet.” When you have jumped so many times, you start to understand that even if you fall or misstep, you have the capacity to get back up. By taking risks, you gain the confidence to take more risks. So maybe that is why moving abroad has been (relatively) smooth. Like any muscle, the more you flex your capacity to adapt, the stronger you will be.
So I am on an exciting cusp—I feel like life in China has suited us, and together we have navigated the initial difficulties. I feel confident, I feel brave, I feel like I can go forth and do great things (like find the best authentic chao fan). And yet, as comfortable as Shanghai has become, there is still plenty of novelty to keep me on my toes, continuously evolving (because, let’s be honest, I have a high need for novelty, even in China).
We have been in China for almost five months, and away from home for six—putting us squarely in the post-honeymoon phase. But I think I like this new, undefined phase even better. I feel emboldened knowing that we can be pushed into unusual circumstances and still find ways to adapt—even flourish (see above example about getting home like it’s NBD—woop woop!). As we settle into this new life, I know that there will be emotional ups and downs. I still don’t know what the future holds post-China. What will our jobs be? Where will we live? What will our lives look like? I guess that’s all part of the adventure. No matter how daunting or uncertain the next chapter may be, I can take some comfort knowing that however the story unfolds, I will be prepared to face the changes. So don’t worry, Mom; one way or another, I will land on my feet.
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