Two years ago, a year of teaching English in China seemed like a really long time. I’d have an entire year to explore China, to learn Chinese, and to settle in. Two years later, I feel like two years was too short a time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve explored a lot. I loved the days I spent hiking through the Avatar Mountains at Zhangjiajie. The old river town of Fenghuang was charming and unlike any town I’ve seen in the United States. I didn’t neglect Beijing, of course. You can’t come to China without walking on the Great Wall and seeing the many attractions in the capital. I didn’t plan to visit the volcanic lake beds at Wudalianchi, but why would I say no when the Harbin school invited all of the staff to go for free? There are still so many more places I want to see, but I can’t help but feel I’ve neglected my own city, Harbin, the most.
Harbin is famous for its Ice and Snow World, and I went twice. There are a lot of other attractions here, though. I haven’t even visited them once. I was always so sure there would be time to see them another day. I’m now struck with the realization that I won’t have another day. I won’t have time to see the parts of Harbin that I’ve overlooked, and I won’t have more time with the Harbin I see every day.
Two years seems short, but they gave me plenty of time to get attached. I have a favorite café that doesn’t even bother to bring me a menu anymore. I’ll probably make it there one or two more times. I’ve got exactly two Chinese lessons left with a teacher who’s become a friend. We never got past the third chapter of my textbook, but I’ve had plenty of practice gossiping in Chinese. Then there are my own students.
A lot of families are out of town for the summer, so I’ve already said goodbye to some students who I’ve been teaching for nearly two years. I only have a few weeks left with the others, and it’s hard realizing that I’ll never see any of them again. I’ve even gotten teary-eyed over the student who likes to call me a trashcan every class. It’s something you’d have to teach four-year-olds to understand. I think the students will be the hardest to let go of, but they’re not all I’ll miss.
Besides the people and the physical places in Harbin, I’ll miss the lifestyle I have here. I’ll miss having lunch delivered to work for about 3 USD. I’ll miss the fruit venders on the sidewalks. I can go weeks without entering a grocery store because I can buy boxes of blueberries, ripe avocados, and exotic fruits I don’t know English names for on my way home. I usually pay with my phone, like everyone does in China.
I’ve been increasingly homesick over the past few months. I’ve been looking forward to seeing my family, eating proper western food (I love you, Harbin, but fruit and sweet mayonnaise do not belong on pizza), and being able to have conversations that aren’t interrupted to lookup words in a dictionary. Then I think about everything I’ll miss once I leave, and I realize that Harbin has become home, too.
What will your memories of China be like?
Teach English, travel and work abroad with EF English First
Aly is an avid reader and language learner. She spends her free time devouring books at her favourite coffee shop, puzzling out Chinese, and stuffing her hard drive full of pictures of China.