China Daily Global Edition (USA)

The move that took a decade

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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.

 ??  ?? Stephanie Stone Second Thoughts
Stephanie Stone Second Thoughts

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