Well, okay, we didn’t decide to make this international move quite that spontaneously, but someone told me recently that I had made it look so easy —as if I just decided one day, and then did it! I appreciated the compliment, but that’s not quite the case. It had been on our minds for awhile, but this was the time to make it a reality. And so, we jumped…all the way to America!
Long story short—we took our 3 kiddos and left a city of 15 million, our home for 10 years, to a small town of 15 thousand. Goal? Give our kids that “American Dream” filled with new, vibrant experiences. Get them out of their comfort zones, try new things, embrace a new culture (yes, America and Utah are new cultures in many, many ways), and basically, live life to the fullest. Grow and stretch. Serve. Contribute. Learn. Have a change.
We’ve had a wonderful life abroad! So many unique experiences just living in China, obviously. I love that our kids have that as their upbringing. Our travel, though, was extensive and life-changing, filled with memories never to be forgotten. Because of the proximity to various places and the relative affordability of travel, we were able to see the world—not only the beauty of China, but beyond. I’ll never forget the sunsets and blue skies of Denmark, or the mouth-watering breakfasts in Austria. We explored castles in Germany, swam in Mallorca, and yes, visited the Louvre, ate crepes, and had a picnic at the base of the Eiffel tower. We ate pizza in Venice as we navigated the canals and admired the gorgeous street art. We’ve experienced all the exoticism of Bali. We’ve been up close with the orangutans in Borneo, held baby koalas in Australia, zip-lined in Chiang Mai, rock climbed in Krabi, and swam in countless beaches in Thailand. Mango pancakes in the Philipines! Abraham and I built homes with Habitat for Humanity in Nepal. My kids played at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, yes, but also in Osaka, and Singapore. And Disneyland in California, yes, but also in Hong Kong and Tokyo. They climbed ancient ruins in Siam Reap Cambodia, went sledding on gigantic, colorful ice castles in Harbin, and enjoyed eating Pho in Vietnam. The list goes on and on. I wouldn’t trade those experiences, during that era in our family, for anything.
Lest you think this is a boastful list, understand—-we are trading that in, for now, for what we see as equally amazing. Horses, orchards, yards, gardens, friends who gather on the cul-de-sac and chat at sunset. Going to church with our neighbors. Being given zucchini from a neighbor’s garden. Being known by name at the local bank. Backyard pools and trampolines. Mountains and gorgeous hikes just minutes from our backyard, hometown parades, ridiculously organized and effective programs for youth, the ease of going anywhere or doing anything, neighborhood shaved ice stands, service projects, numerous choices for education. Quiet evenings on my deck. As I list these things, it occurs to me that it’s more than all of this. It’s just a feeling—of openness, of calm, of achievement, of high standards, of warmth. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s positive, and that’s why we are here.
Our experience in China was unique in many ways and we had the privilege of being a part of many sub-sets of culture. We were part of the expatriate culture, where kids go to the international schools, people are from all over the world, and many of the faces change every few years. We were part of the local Chinese culture since we were essentially local in many ways and we spoke enough Chinese to fit in there. We were also part of the Overseas Chinese culture, where most of my daughter’s friends, for example, were of Chinese descent, but whose parents had spent time abroad and who traveled and at times, lived internationally, as well. We had our church group friends, our consulate friends, and our colleague friends. All of these groups contributed to our experience over the ten year span that we raised our kids in Guangzhou.
Where we felt most grounded, though, were in our own family traditions. We blended our cultures—American and Chinese and celebrated the best of all of them. From Halloween and Thanksgiving to Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year. Our Chinese New Year celebrations were some of the most powerful and consistent as we always did a road trip back to my husband’s hometown to participate in the festivities there. These are precious memories, which defined a large part of our children’s lives.
China was our home for many years and we loved it. I have only beautiful feelings about our time there. We could have stayed and continued to be happy and learn there. But, we are choosing a different path, making our own way, carving-out our own reality, and embracing a new chapter. I don’t think I’ve ever done much exactly by the book, and I’ve always been willing to jump in and try something new. This is no different, just on a larger, international scale. But here’s hoping for good things.