Growing up I ticked all the boxes. I got good grades in school, was a student leader throughout my entire primary to college years and volunteered regularly. I had a zeal for learning and I wanted to change the world. Somewhere along the way however that zeal slowly diminished and I think the world started changing me. I continued to tick the boxes by graduating University with Honors, traveled a bit, got a job but it all lost its meaning. That child-like innocence and zest for life was gone; seemingly stomped out by the seriousness of life. I knew something had to change. That change for me was China.
Coming here was the Universe’s way of reconnecting me to what I had lost. Life gained new meaning as I realized that not only was I teaching and imparting knowledge to these little humans but they were doing the same to me. The way they view the world, their perception, their innocence is something I yearned to recapture and perhaps even emulate.
When I made the decision to move to China I did it just like I would do everything else, I made my to-do lists and ticked them off methodically. I don’t think the seriousness of what I was doing hit me until my cousin was driving me to the John F.Kennedy airport in New York and she asked me why wasn’t I eating my Chipotle (American Mexican restaurant) because I absolutely loved Chipotle. I responded to her question with another question of mine “Do you think this is crazy? What am I even doing?”. She then proceeded to remind me of the little girl who was unafraid, who faced bullies at school without batting a lash, who would always dare to stand out and be different. I needed that reminder. However I soon forgot it.
I’m sure most of you went through a similar process to get here. If you’re a student you probably recognized the opportunities that studying in a country like China could provide you with. Likewise, if you’re employed here the low cost of living affords us the opportunity, to live in a way that may not have been possible in your home country due to the expenses and bills you’d have to be footing. Knowing all of this however, still doesn’t make living here any easier. There are days in life when we wake up feeling on top of the world and then there are others where it feels as if the world is on top of you. Personally, that is life for me in China. There are some moments which stuns me into silence as I reflect on my journey to getting here. I think about how scared I was but excited at the same time. I think about the fact that I’m living halfway across the world and not only surviving but thriving. I think about how I’m such an inspiration to my family and friends. I think about the fact that I’m in a country, rich with culture and adventure where I can learn and grow.
Then there are the days when I wonder if I’m stupid for staying here. Those days where you go outside and experience a rude national or just a process that should be simple yet they’ve made it ridiculously difficult. In those moments it so easy to throw in the towel and quit. But that is when we have to remember our “Why?”
If you’ve ever had any conversation with a Chinese child and asked them “How are you?” The automatic response would be I’m fine and you? If you should ever take it a step further and ask them “Why are you fine?” or “Why are you happy?” you’re met with a blank stare. Similarly isn’t that us in our personal life sometimes? We do all these things without even knowing the reason “why”. Most of the activities that fill up our days has nothing to do with our purpose. Most of the thoughts that fill our mind has nothing to do with our goals. So why do we entertain them? Or do the action? Why are we still in China in spite of feeling like a zoo animal most of the time?
I’ll tell you why.
Over the past 71 years we have seen China grow from strength to strength with no intention of stopping. During the National Holiday there was a popular Wechat article which documented China’s journey over the past 71 years from the founding ceremony, welcoming President Nixon in 1972, accessing the internet in 1994 and in 2019 surpassing the United States on the Fortune’s list of the world top 500 companies. Additionally, for those of us presently living in China we have seen the meticulous handling of Covid-19 and how much the country is rooted in nationalistic pride despite the obstacles that may present themselves. This is why in-spite of how most of us may not like some of the things that happen here or how we are treated, without a doubt in 2020 this is one of the best countries to live in.
So how do we separate our feelings from it all? We don’t. We survive by remembering our why. We think about those back home cheering us on, we think about our families and friends who can dare to dream because they’ve seen us do something firsthand that many cannot. We learn as much as we can from these people. We grab every opportunity that may come our way and run with it as fast as we can. We recognize that what makes us great and different from them is our own self-expression, something that if we’re completely honest is grossly lacking here. Know that what you have within you is more than enough. Sure, it may take a while for you to optimize it but it is possible and if its one thing this country has taught me is that everything is possible here.
This is our opportunity to learn, develop and to grow into ourselves. A favourite quote of mine says “A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”. So yes some days are tough but I truly believe that something beautiful is blooming, we just have to wait and see what that is. In the meantime, never forget where you’re from and why you’re here. That is the fuel you need to push through. Jiayou!
Shauna Reeves is a Jamaican native currently living and teaching in China creating her own version of "eat, pray, love". A young woman with a curious mind as well as a passionate reader; this is Shauna's first foray into writing. The gift of gab and storytelling is one of those skills passed down from her dad, who used to regale the family with many lores.