On August 20th we returned to China for our second year of teaching at our current school. Before that we enjoyed a whole month in the US. We were able to use that time to travel around the East Coast and visit a lot of friends and family. It was great for so many reasons, not the least of which was spending time with our dog.
There was a conversation that we found ourselves in on multiple occasions with different people. Just about everyone we know is really supportive of us and it’s always nice to be able to share some of the stories and experiences with them. So many people say the same thing to us: that this is the best time for us to do something like this because we are young and don’t have children. That’s how we feel about it too and we really love the adventure God has brought us on.
But those conversations got me thinking. This is the 4th school year out of the last 6 in which we are living outside of the US. Over the course of those years I think my feelings towards living abroad have changed. I used to put this lifestyle on a pedestal. I hate to admit it, but I used to think myself to be quite interesting because of the places I had been and the cultures I had experienced.
So what changed my mind?
Well, mostly it was watching all of you. You being my friends and my family. In the last 6 years I’ve seen my best friends have children, buy houses, move up in their careers and eat food that I used to love but can’t eat in my current location, like Chipotle. I’ve seen a lot of you hang out with the same people that you’ve been friends with since college or even HIGH SCHOOL.
Something a lot of you might not know about ‘expat culture’ is the constant ebb and flow of community. It’s been a regular theme everywhere we have lived that people have their hearts broken a lot because friends come and go. There are seasons of loneliness mixed with seasons of very intense closeness with people.
I used to think that traveling gave people a more well-rounded perspective on life. I’m not sure about that anymore. ‘Well-rounded’ implies complete, whole. I have learned so much about the world from traveling, but it’s not complete. Remember, whenever we say ‘yes’ to something we are always saying ‘no’ to something else. We have said ‘no’ to a lot that I wish I was experiencing.
Am I saying I regret the decision to come? Heck no! I thank God often that I’ve been blessed to see so much of the Earth He created. It’s a passion that Toni and I share to see new cultures and new places. Am I saying I would trade it all for a life that involved staying put? Yeah, actually. IF that was God’s calling for me. Laying down roots sounds so interesting to me. I dream about having a coffee shop or a bar ‘where everybody knows my name’. There’s something special about that. Also, I miss my dog a lot.
We can’t have it all. I sense this conflict in a lot of other expats that I meet who are caught in that reality. There is a quote that I’ve read from Daniel Yankelovich, a social analyst, who says, “If you feel it is imperative to fill all your needs, and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those of others, or simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows. To [many people], self-fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting on social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on. The individual is not truly fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous. Indeed, to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy.”
So keep following God’s calling, wherever that leads you. If you live abroad, thank God for that amazing gift but don’t think too highly of yourself. If you live in the town where you were born, hug your family and friends and thank God for that love.