Aly Brunson

I couldn't find contact solution anywhere. I tried the convenient store. I tried the grocery store. I tried Watsons and Carrefour. It was nowhere to be found. Unable to find it, I tiptoed over to the HR department, a little embarrassed, and asked for help buying contact solution. One of the ladies had some delivered to the school for me, and explained that contact solution is only sold in eyeglass stores. Oh. Asking for help buying contact solution was a small thing, but I've received a lot more help than that since coming to China.

Receiving that help hasn't always felt easy for me. I've always been proud of my independence. By the time I was six, I set my alarm and got up myself. By eight, I got ready in the morning without help. I even packed my own lunch (mostly peanut butter and jellies, but still!). At sixteen, I started my first job. I was financially independent by the time I was nineteen. I liked to think of myself as a mature and responsible adult long before I actually was one. I no longer feel that way.

I feel like a child.

I expected a language barrier. I was moving to China, after all. I expected to need some help. I just didn't realize how much I would need. Contact solution wasn't the only thing I had trouble finding. Very few of the stores here are the same as back home, and I often had to ask friends and colleagues where they found common things: light bulbs, shoes, and even food. The front desk has a stack of menus, and they help the foreign teachers place their lunch order. I'm twenty-seven years old, and I can no longer get my own lunch.

On one hand, help has always been forthcoming. The HR department goes above and beyond to help the foreign teachers. I feel like I have two moms here in China helping me out, and I'm sure they feel like they've got a roost of helpless foreign children disguised as teachers. They've helped me set up my bank account, find an apartment, move, order things off Taobao, mail my ballot and taxes back to the U.S., and track down a package lost in customs. Ever since coming to China, I've received all of the help I've needed.

On the other hand, I hate needing it. I feel guilty for imposing on their time. I feel embarrassed for needing help doing things a grown woman should be able to do herself, things I've been able to do myself since childhood back home. I feel like I'm growing up all over again.

I'm slowly relearning how to be an adult. I'm becoming more familiar with the stores, and I know where to buy basic necessities. I've learned how to order lunch on Meituan, and I don't panic too much when the delivery person calls to say they've arrived. Just recently, I walked into a pharmacy and purchased cold medicine all by myself. (Medicine isn't sitting out on shelves in the grocery store. You have to ask a pharmacist for what you need.) I even booked my last trip – train tickets, hotel, taxi and all – without help, like a big girl, and it feels like a major victory.

There's a steep learning curve when you move abroad to work. At times it's frustrating. When you finally feel like you've got the hang of this whole living-in-China thing, it's exhilarating. Fortunately, EF provides a pretty sturdy safety net while you figure out how to be an adult all over again.

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