Hopping on a flight to a new city halfway across the world, starting a brand-new life with endless possibilities… it's every travelers' dream, right? Well, the reality is a little different. It didn't hit me until I was boarding the plane that I had just packed my life into a suitcase and traded in my sense of familiarity for a life that had to be started from scratch. Suddenly, I felt intimidated by this experience for the first time; but after settling in and having time to reflect on my first month in China, I realized that my expectations were far from reality.
Expectation: Chinese apartments would be tiny and unlike anything I was used to back home in the US. The journey to and from work every day would be long and daunting for someone like me (a native southerner with little to no experience in public transportation). I would fall horribly homesick within my first few weeks.
Reality: I was delighted to see that my apartment had a modern, open floorplan, flat screen TV and large, open windows allowing for lots of natural light. My trek to work is not nearly as arduous as I expected; a mere 10-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride is all it takes. To my surprise, I haven't been homesick. Challenging myself to work harder and build a new life keeps my mind satisfied.
Expectation: As EF is my first full-time job, the idea of working 40-hours a week was unsettling. I would be exhausted and overwhelmed. The office would be huge, and I would be the weird newbie lost in a sea of talented colleagues, much more qualified than me.
Reality: Luckily, the workload was much lighter than I had anticipated. Most days require just a few hours of work and only 2 long days, broken up by meal breaks long enough to be relaxing. As it turns out, I am much more experienced than I thought I was. Although most teachers do have a little background in education, a few are brand new; and in some cases, those make for the best teachers. Aside from my co-workers being such talented educators, I was so thankful to be placed into a group of warm, welcoming people who didn't treat me like the strange new American but took me in as one of their own.
Expectations: *Disclaimer* Honestly, I had no idea what to expect from the lifestyle change. I think as Westerners, we are guilty of having an extremely vague idea of what Eastern life is like. To me, China was a dreamy fairytale land that didn't really exist. Apart from the touristy nightlife cities like Shanghai or the luxury beach spots like Hainan, I couldn't create a concrete vision of what Chinese lifestyle was.
Reality: I've tried many times to think of a right answer to this question, “What is China like?”; and the only response I can conjure is it's different. It's not better or worse, it's just vastly different from everything I've known. It's a rich culture, saturated with colorful religion, ancient history, and some of the best food you've ever had in your life. Through all the skepticisms I once had about living in China, I am so glad I had the courage to start a new life here and experience firsthand once of the greatest civilizations of all time.