It didn’t take long for me to discover the best and worst aspects of living life abroad. Six months feel more like two years. We have managed to settle in relatively quickly and have already traveled an extensive amount. It is crazy to think of all we have accomplished in such a short amount of time. Our house feels like home, we have become comfortable in our surroundings, and have begun to create routines. Friendships have formed quickly, which leads me to the worst part of living abroad. People leave.
Friends who become an important part of your life find it is their time to move onto a new phase of their life. The best part of living abroad is simply the opposite. People come. Not just any people, but our family..the most important people to have share a bit of our lives with us in a new land. People come and people go. Simply the best, and the worst aspects of living life abroad.
As we all discovered quickly, friendship is practically formed instantly. In the expat community, friends become family. We all know we live a transient lifestyle, therefore quickly form deep bonds, unlike any back home. We all “do” life abroad together. Far from our homes, families, and friends. We are all thrown into the same mixing pot of challenges and emotions. Most are eager to take a new expat under their wing and help them through the difficult trials of settling in. This was certainly the case for me. I met many wonderful seasoned expats who did not hesitate to take me to unfamiliar stores, show me around, or just listen to my thoughts and challenges as I made the transition. It was not easy, but these new friends walked alongside me and held my hand until I gained the confidence I needed to set off on my own.
The end of the school year approached quickly. That meant some families would be ending their contracts and returning home. Although I knew this would happen from the beginning, I still found myself grieving their departure. One friend in particular, was also a neighbor. We spent many mornings walking home from the bus stop deep in conversation about this or that. She became part of my routine. A sweet, familiarity that I truly enjoyed and gave me comfort. Yet, the end of the school year took their family home for good. The first time I passed her house after she left, I felt a strong sense of loss. I know I will see her again (she lives close to me in Michigan), but it won’t be the same. She will have her life and new routines, and I will have mine. Before we know it, we will be meeting twice a year for coffee in between crazy schedules. I know this is reality and it saddens me. Another friend announced unexpectedly that her family was moving. Another knife in my heart. This angel of a woman answered all one million of my questions prior to our move with the patience of a saint. When we moved here, she took the boys and I to lunch and gave us an introduction to life in Shanghai. We shared Easter dinner with her family and had many fun times. Yet, it is also her time to go.
Although you realize from the beginning, living overseas will bring with it a life of transition, especially with people, the reality of that life still stings. Goodbye is always the hardest word. I hope in time it will get easier, but knowing myself, it won’t. It will always be painful. I had the privilege of attending a farewell luncheon for five ladies who were repatriating. I only knew two of them but bawled my eyes out hearing how deeply these women had touched the lives of those being left behind. Deep connections had been formed that would never leave any of the women the same. What a blessing, but also such a difficult emotional hurdle to overcome. Grief with a sense of loss.
From the depths to the surface. The day I attended the farewell luncheon, I had to leave early (a fact I did not mind since I couldn’t stop crying my crocodile tears), so I could go pick up my kids who were coming to visit. What joy! What excitement! I dried my tears and headed off to the airport, where I could hardly stand to wait for them to emerge from baggage claim. The entire time we have been here, I have felt happy and satisfied, but also never complete. Experiencing all this new life has to offer without part of our family has been very difficult. I want more than anything to include all the Bunch in everything we do. It is all so new and exciting, but so difficult to explain over the phone, or through pictures. Now it was finally time for all of us to come together and experience it as one.
From the time the kids got off the plane, we hit the ground running. I tried to ease them into life in China slowly, as I had done. Perhaps taking them to a local grocery store the first day was not the best choice. Live (and dead) fish, eels, turtles, and chickens are always a sight to see. The kids were mortified, just as I had been my first time. It was great! I loved sharing my crazy, weird daily life with them and having the opportunity for them to see how differently we live now. After they got over the sick to their stomach feeling of the grocery store, we went on tours, explored the city, and went on an insane amount of trips exploring our new country. We accomplished more in one month than many do their entire overseas tour. It was crazy and exhausting, but also wonderful and so special.
The best part of life abroad is living it with your family. One on one. No distractions. Nothing else that forces us to share our time. No chores or obligations. Just us. Exploring and reconnecting. I suppose, as many parents, I am selfish this way. Wanting my kids all to myself, especially as they grow older. How could I possibly ask for anything more? It was such a special opportunity and I will be forever grateful. Autumn and Jackson have now graduated from college. They will begin their careers and start their family. It is likely we will not have another opportunity to share time like this again. I held onto every moment and savored its rarity. After all, how many people can say they hiked with their family of seven on the Great Wall of China? Wow! I certainly wouldn’t have thought it possible one year ago.
As I have found time and time again since we moved abroad, life is in a constant state of fluctuation. Highs and lows. Awesome with awful. I am learning to be grateful for it all. I would not become a stronger woman if it weren’t for the resiliency I am learning through adapting to life abroad. The constant change, including hello’s and goodbye’s, keeps me growing and learning. The enormous blessings, like having my family here and living life with them is one I will never take lightly. The lifestyle we have been given the opportunity to live is not one I would have ever thought possible. God is good. He is shaping and molding all of us through this experience. Although I have my highs and lows, I am learning to be grateful for it all. I look forward to seeing who we all become after our years abroad. If the rest of our time is like the first six months, we are in for quite a ride!