JS: Tell us about what you do in China.
Amy: In order to provide a bit of context for your tribe, I have an MA in education and another one in counseling, so over the years I have done various jobs including teaching English. Currently I am the Member Care Director for the company I work with (and I teach Chinese junior high students one morning a week to help maintain my sanity).
In a nutshell, anything that is non-work related might cross my desk or computer screen. Medical situations, family members dying back home, not getting on with a co-worker, concerns that someone might be depressed, those kind of situations.
JS: What first attracted you to China?
Amy: Oddly enough it was the Hallmark Hall-of-fame special Sarah: Plain and Tall. I was in my early 20′s and I understood why she’d pack up and leave a life she’d known to move from Boston to Kansas. She was responding to the pull to invest in something MORE.
I didn’t want to get to the end of my working career and look back with regrets.
I was also fairly clueless and didn’t know how to get from point A, where I was, to point B, the meaningful life I wanted. Attending a conference that had a teacher track helped broaden the options and move them from a dream to a plan. I attended that conference almost 22 years ago. Yikes !
JS: What were the biggest obstacles, either internal or external, you needed to overcome to move or stay there?
Amy: This question comes with a two-pronged answer. I was in China for nine years and then returned to the States to earn the MA in counseling (leaving/staying round one). After being in the US for three years, I returned to China and have been here for the last five years (leaving/staying round two).
The two rounds couldn’t be more different, which I didn’t expect, so it kind of jumped up and bit me in the behind.
In round one, I was in my mid-to-late 20′s, my sister hadn’t started having children yet, and my parents were still working, young-ish, and healthy. I also thought I was “only going for two years.” It was the stage of life for doing young and semi-reckless things that would look good on a resume, and heck, maybe bring some glory to God!
It wasn’t that hard initially to stay. I missed the usual things, being at weddings, funerals, the Broncos winning the Superbowl (twice! Seriously? Can’t you win when I’m in the States!), driving. And back in “those days” there was no internet, so talking to family maybe once every six weeks or so wasn’t easy.
But that stuff pales when you have a deep sense of investing and being used. The main internal struggle was “how long is this going to be?”
I think it was around year seven or eight I had to admit to myself, that some how it seemed like a commitment had been made whether or not I was comfortable using that label.
JS: And round 2 was different?
Amy: Completely. Being back for three years was so rich.
I loved studying. I loved raking leaves in my parents yard. I loved going to Broncos games with my dad. I loved knowing and being known by my nieces and spending holidays with family and having inside jokes with my sisters and getting a cell phone and driving a car and eating pizza and drinking beer and watching TV live. Even now as I type this tears are forming and I’ve been back for five years(!).
The hardest thing I have ever done was return to China. This time I wasn’t an idealistic young person who didn’t really know what she was getting into; no, I knew the cost and I felt the loss. I still do.
Is it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again, knowing what I know. Yes. But is it hard? Yes.
JS: Since it was so hard to go back, how do you make that decision? How do you step into something that is very difficult, but important to do?
Wow, that’s a great question. I read a book by Bill Hybel in college (the title escapes me), but he talked about not waiting to decide if he wanted to go jogging when it was time to go because the answer would almost always be no. Using this approach, I made the decision before there was much emotion or resistance.
Prior to returning to America I spoke openly that my intention was to return to China yet life doesn’t come with no guarantees and plans might change. For me, change meant possibly marrying or a health crisis in my family.
It was a late November night when my boss from China called and we finalized the position that I would return to. In those days we used phone cards to call America and mid-way through our call the line went dead when the card ran out of money. It hit me that I was really going back and how I had completely underestimated what that meant. I started to cry and knew that I only had about one minute until my boss would call back and I would have to decide for sure.
The new position was supposed to be good news, right? It was, but good doesn’t mean easy. I pulled it together. He called, and we continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.
I wasn’t deciding, I was living out a decision.
I wanted to avoid the pain of the decision, but here’s the thing: it will hunt you down if you try to run from it. Stuff it, and eventually it leaks out. I knew the only way through the pain was to turn and face it, letting it wash over me. If I had waited until the awful waves of grief came to decide, I would never have gone back.
JS: Is there one thing about the culture in China that you prefer over typical Western culture?
Amy: Chinese food! What you have in the west is no more Chinese food than McDonalds is a real hamburger.
But I also I prefer street life in China to street life in Western culture. As a single woman, I am safe to walk the streets at almost any time of day or night. Part of the reason is that there is so much going on, that there are lots of witnesses.
But one of the up-sides of a communal culture is all of the living that goes on communally. There are street vendors, public games of chess or mahjong, early morning exercise clubs, walking to and from public transportation, grandma’s out walking their grandkids. There is always something going on or something to see.
JS: I have to agree with you. On our trip to China, anytime we visited a park or public square there would be people playing games or exercising together. Thanks for sharing, Amy.
Amy: Thanks for the chance to share! Is there a question you wished Jeremy had asked? I’m game for answering!
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