Living Small in a Big World

From time to time during our expat journey, I find myself stepping back to look at the reality of the opportunity we’ve been given. I pause and realize just how big our world has become. It’s certainly a far cry from that time four years ago when we lived in our little town in Michigan and didn’t even own passports!

Recently, I had one of these epiphany moments and thought I’d share with you some thoughts on the juxtaposition of how living life as expats causes us to realize how, although our world has become bigger, many of those who live abroad tend to run in similar circles. In other words, we live small in a big world.

Sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? Let me try to explain…

Two of us just returned from Beijing. Now Beijing in February is not the nicest place in the world to be. It’s cold, brown, and pretty polluted. However, this visit wasn’t for pleasure. I was my 16-year-old Elijah’s chaperone for AMIS, a three-day honors choir festival. 

Being a school chaperone is a pretty big deal no matter what the event may be. However, this chaperone gig was one on a much grander scale. Thankfully, Elijah was the only person from his school who was selected to attend AMIS so he was my only responsibility.

Proud mama moment!

On the other hand, there were chaperones attending who were solely in charge of four, five, six or more teenagers. The thought of this alone is terrifying. Imagine being in charge of a gaggle of hormonal teens in a hotel, in a foreign country, and who are all pretty darn excited about being out from under their parent’s watchful eye. I don’t think those poor chaperones got any sleep during the entire three days we were there. 

Now don’t get me wrong, these are, for the most part, really good kids who had worked very hard to get where they were. The AMIS honor choir festival is no joke. Prospective students record an audition piece and submit it to a panel of judges who listen blindly, then select only the top singers in each category. After that, these kids put in months of practice to learn the pieces they will sing during the festival concert. During the festival itself, they work tirelessly with world-renowned conductors for three days perfecting the pieces they will sing at the final concert.

Concordia International School Shanghai (+Elijah) with their amazing conductor Dr. Barrett

On top of that, they have to pay their own way, which is not cheap considering there are usually international flights, a hotel stay, festival fees, food, and perhaps visas to pay for. In the three years Elijah has been selected for AMIS, he has gone to Abu Dhabi, Berlin, and Beijing so you can see these are not necessarily easy local school trips.

In years past, my friend Diane and I accompanied Elijah on his AMIS trips. Now I must confess, when I say accompanied, I mean we flew on the same flight, stayed in the same hotel, and watched the concert. I wasn’t involved in any other way. Diane and I would be there in case of emergency but used these trips as more of an opportunity to take a mini vacation and see a new part of the world.

Well, that wasn’t the case this year. No, I was a full-on chaperone. No sightseeing would be happening for me this time. Instead, I was on the inside with all the other people who made this huge event possible.

Here’s where my epiphany happened…

Day after day I talked with music directors and chaperones from international schools all over the world. From London, Manila, Dubai, China, Kuala Lumpur, Korea, etc. We all came together in Beijing with the common interest of giving our children this incredible opportunity. Talk about your world getting bigger! It was fascinating to talk to these people and hear about their expat journey. I quickly discovered many of us had a common thread no matter where we lived in the world. That thread was that we are brave, adventurous, and excited to experience all the world has to offer. Although we came from different backgrounds, we could talk easily over our bond of living abroad. 

So, we came together from all over the world (big), but realized we had many common stories and experiences (smaller), and the more we talked the more we realized we even knew some of the same people (smallest)!

I talked to a man named Royce from Korea who had worked in Maryland with one of our son’s current teachers in Bangkok. Were you able to follow all of that? Another woman I talked to lives in Kuala Lumpur but is originally from Scotland so of course, I latched onto her instantly 😉 (love you, Katie!). But as we talked, we came to the realization that one of my friends back in Bangkok had also been Katie’s friend when she lived in Kuala Lumpur a few years back. Talk about a big world getting really small really fast, and imagine our mutual friend’s surprise when we sent her a selfie of the two of us together in Beijing!

As for Elijah, his story is the coolest of them all! At the festival, he was able to join two of his best friends from his old school in Shanghai. They picked right up where they left off.

In addition, there was another boy attending from Kuala Lumpur who was also in their “squad” (is that still cool to say?), and who had sung with them at AMIS for the past three years. The four of them talked and bonded like they had known each other forever. It was amazing to watch! So here we had a group of four boys coming together from three different countries hanging out in Beijing like it was just another weekend. Except instead of talking about playing video games and whatnot, they were reminiscing about “that festival in Abu Dhabi two years ago”, or “how cold it was this time last year in Berlin”. If that’s not Elijah’s version of a big yet small world, I don’t know what is.

4 goofballs together again!

As our time in Beijing came to an end, I told Elijah that once a year he should schedule a date and place to meet with his rag-tag AMIS group of boys. Who knows, perhaps they will be friends for life, meeting up in London or Scotland, or Michigan every June. How cool would that be? I hope someday he will look back on this time and see the huge amount of growth this time in our lives has afforded him. 

Although the world can seem big at times, we’ve learned through our expat experience that it can actually be pretty small. Globally, people have more in common than we could ever imagine. Perhaps our life paths may look a bit different, but we’re all on a similar journey. Whether it be in Bangkok, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, or even in your own home country, there are connections to be made anywhere. 

If you’ve ever been to Disneyland and rode the “It’s A Small World” ride, you’ve inevitably left with this song stuck in your head. But Walt Disney had it right, even all those years ago!

It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s
time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all

There is just one moon And one golden sun
And a smile means
Friendship to ev’ryone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all

It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

Yes, sometimes when your world gets bigger, it gets smaller too. As weird as it sounds, it’s true!


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