China Daily Global Edition (USA)
The move that took a decade
China wasn’t on my radar. My heart was in Europe, the crucible of Western theater that I’ve loved and studied since I was 14 years old. I earned my graduate degree in the United Kingdom and planned to live there. Things didn’t go to plan. I landed a great job back in America, teaching drama. Years passed and I still hadn’t made it back to Europe. I did, however, find myself working at a university. This is when China knocked on my door. The university encouraged employees to audit classes as part of our professional development. They offered two foreign language options: Chinese and Japanese. For no better reason than I liked Chinese food a little more, I decided I’d challenge myself and take the course. Two semesters in, and I was hooked! I co-founded the Chinese Culture Club on campus. We attended the Spring Festival celebration hosted by our local Chinese community center. I learned to make baozi and tried out my fledgling language skills at the local Chinese restaurant.
The club wanted to hold a fundraiser benefiting a charity in China. We decided on a foster home that, among other things, supported orphans with complex medical conditions. We held a toy drive and, a month later, a professor and a group of students from the university delivered the toys and other supplies to the foster home. I was envious as I couldn’t travel with them, but it cemented in me a desire to visit China. After all, if I’m going to put in the work to learn a language, I might as well go to the country itself! I made arrangements with the foster home to volunteer in exchange for lodgings. My stay would last three weeks.
A year of language learning did not prepare me for the culture shock of being in a rural area in the (now developed) outskirts of Beijing. Dirt roads, stray dogs, limited indoor heating combined with the language barrier was, initially, very unsettling. Fortunately, the staff had compassion for me and helped me work through the shift from American suburbia to rural China.
Once the initial shock wore off, I was completely charmed. The street food was incredible, the people were friendly and curious, and the foster children were adorable. My rudimentary Chinese was pushed to its limit, but came in handy as I haggled with vendors at the dirt market. I used my weekends to take in everything from the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Great Wall. I also took an impromptu trip to the Shaolin Temple in Henan province. I was two months into what would become four years of extensive kung fu training and I wanted to see the birthplace of this martial art. My three weeks in China was a whirlwind romance!
And, just as I was getting comfortable, it was time to head home. I knew before I left that I wanted to return, not just for a visit, but to live. Ten long years later, an opportunity presented itself. I left everything except my 16-year-old cat, Darcy, and we are now happily two years into our new lives in Beijing.
It took me a decade to move to China.
It was worth the wait.