My experience living in China mattered. While I did not grow up there or spend a decade living there as my dear friend Rosie did, the year and half I spent in the Middle Kingdom influenced me.
It wasn’t just that I got to see first-hand how another culture operates. It wasn’t just that I tried new foods and actually liked them. It wasn’t just that I made friends that I now miss. There’s something more…
I have difficultly pinpointing exactly how I was changed, but I was…
In China, it was normal for me to carry toilet paper in my purse. I drank hot water. I used phrase such as, “take a rest.” I was called “teacher” as a sign of respect. My white skin was considered beautiful. Crowded buses were the norm. Being pushed and shoved in line at the supermarket was to be expected. We called the school cafeteria the “canteen.”
I ate more dumplings than I can count, slurped noodles like the best of them, and danced outside in the square on cool weekend nights. Most importantly, I truly loved people like I was never going to leave.
I realized early on that in order for me to make the most of the experience, I had to say “yes” a lot. I had to accept invitations while fighting the urge to retreat to my apartment with a book and a blanket. Experiencing the fullness of what God had for me in China meant being bold enough to try new things and be willing to look silly.
China helped me come alive in a way I desperately needed.
I needed to step away from expectations of both others and myself. I could be me.
Amidst the chaos that comes with a country of 1.4 billion people, I learned a lot about patience. I started to see greater value in diversity, recognizing that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. God showed me unconditional love.
I bring up China tonight as I write this post because I just got off WeChat (essentially, the Chinese version of Facebook) and was reminiscing. When I get excited about China and think back on my experiences there, I realize how few people in my life can relate. Even those who do relate had different experiences than I.
Sometimes when I look back, it feels like a dream. Was that really my life for two different seasons? It was. And I loved it.
Do I miss China? Absolutely.
Even though I miss the overall experience and the individual people and places, I also see that time as a beautiful gift. God gave me the opportunity to step away from the status quo of American life and see the world from a different vantage point. In that time He ignited in me a greater love for Him, His word and His people.
I am forever grateful.