Alyssa’s Expat Life—Crap, I’m an Expat

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So now that my time here is winding down to just nine short weeks, everything that haunted me about leaving in the first place is coming back. In addition, I don’t have a car. I don’t have a place to live. I don’t want to go back to the same routine I had before. I know that everything will fall into place as it always does. I’m resourceful and stronger than I’ve ever been. I will make it work as I’ve always done, with a new outlook on everything I’ve ever known while venturing more into the totally unknown.

My freelance career is taking off like never before, yet I’m still waiting for that one stable place to say “yes” so I can stay home, bar, coffee shop full-time and save enough to not be a poor old person. Even though Jinan is not a place I will ever have a yankering to come back to, the idea of what this whole thing was based on in the first place is what’s giving me pause about coming back stateside.

In Jinan, minus having to go far to get anywhere decent, I can afford the luxuries of life, travel and pretty much live like a queen by my standards, which in China aren’t that high. Money is not a worry here. Converting back to USD and logistics is. Even though I work 17-hour weekends, the rest of the week I’m essentially free. I’m free. I don’t have to live for my weekends or the next vacation anymore. For instance right now I’m drinking a Captain at 2 o’clock in the afternoon at a restaurant by the mall and writing. On a Monday. And getting paid for it. It’s such a freeing and comforting feeling, and one that I don’t care to change.

However, in order to have this life I have to give up the one thing in life I’ve ever loved more than myself. And I just can’t do the tradeoff. If it weren’t for Maddux I would country hop every six months to a year, only to return possibly for holidays or special events. I’d see even more of the world and all that it has to offer. However, I can’t Skype with him like a human being. I can’t explain to him why I’m gone. And I took on the very welcoming responsibility to be his mommy for life. I can not and will not shirk that responsibility. Six months of being away from him was definitely tough enough.

However, as I’m watching the e-bikers fly by with children and no helmets and listening to and watching the worst socially unacceptable hygiene I’ve ever experienced and drowning out every conversation around me, I see the joy and absurdity in it. I will not miss Jinan one bit. But, I will look back on how I’ve grown from it with a smile on my face and a renewed focus to my life.

Alyssa’s Expat Life—Preparing for Reverse Culture Shock

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I have started and stopped the blog about my trip to Beijing/Xian about five times, and just last night I realized why I couldn’t write it—because the day one fiasco was so wild that it’s just impossible to describe. It overshadows the rest of the trip, and I don’t want that.

Life in China is a crazy ride. And, now I’m used to it. It took almost four months, but I’m used to having every single thing, down to ordering food, or getting to my final destination, be a painstaking process. While I saw some amazing things on my trip and feel extremely fortunate to have seen them, I worked for that experience. I worked damn hard for it. And the day-to-day anxiety of the way things are done here made the trip almost not worth it. And, that’s all I’m going to write about it as to not fill my head with the anxiety the travel company put me through down to puking in my hotel bushes. If you’d like to hear the whole story, that’ll be another time in another day once I can laugh about it down the road. I stood on the Great Wall of China. That is what I want the memory to be, and I’m not there yet.

I recently read an outstanding blog from another expat living in South Korea. It centered on our five senses and how they change when living in a foreign country. And, it’s very true. I particularly liked the hearing and seeing explanations. Since you can’t understand anything anyone is saying, every conversation in the background becomes white noise. I’m now used to drowning out everything going on around me, with minimal phrases sounding familiar. The same goes for sight. I’m now used to not being able to read anything or having to rely on charades or photos to get by. Even then, you never know what you’re going to get or where you’re going to end up either via taxi or restaurant menu.

Finally, after all this time, I understand why people return to live the expat life time and time again. Everything I felt previously to coming here is bubbling to the surface now that my return to the States is imminent. It’s going to be sensory overload. In the course of a day, I will be able to read everything and understand everything everyone is saying around me. Everything will come so easily and be at the tip of my fingers—perhaps too easy? It sounds overwhelming at first, but I’m sure I’ll get back into it within a matter of days.

What is going to be the hardest to get used to is how I’ve changed. If this experience doesn’t change a person, I don’t know what will. I’m now part of a rare group of people who have chosen this life, albeit for a short period of time, over “normalcy” in the United States. How can I ever go back to “normal” life after this and be satisfied? I know with God’s help and the help of my friends, I can. But there’s something from within I have to find to be OK with heading back to the States in just two short months. And, even though I don’t agree with China’s cultural ways, I’m used to expecting the extreme unexpected. I’m comfortable in the confines, the isolation, of expat life. While I love traveling independently, there are moments I stop the tears from coming because I’m so lost without someone to share it all with. I’m worried that I’ll never be able to explain what it’s like, or that I’ll harbor my needs and wants in my own crazy mind and have no one to relate to on that level.

I look at the amazing experiences I’ve had and the places around the world that I’ve been. No one else on earth has shared these things with me. It’s an empowering, yet lonely, terrifying thought.

Alyssa’s Expat Life Chapter 1

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Professionally I have always been an overachiever. I was the sole participant in my own reading group in kindergarten and only one of seven in the gifted program until junior high; I was singing on stage by age 8. I wrote, directed and starred in my own musical at age 10. I got a full-time job in my field before college graduation and was picked as a managing editor for my first “big” job out of college over hundreds of other applicants due to one line on my resume: Maintained a 4.0 major GPA while working a full-time job in college. It showed that I was an extreme multi-tasker, according to my boss. I’ve always had more than one job at a time for my entire adult life, sometimes upwards of six to seven jobs at a time, more for boredom’s sake than the paycheck (even though that’s nice).

I had always been the best. Until I wasn’t anymore.

After a string of jobs that looked good on paper but left me feeling slightly unfulfilled in my career, over a gradual course of about five years I started to lose my purpose. For someone who has dedicated her life to work, work naturally filters into your very being.

Then two years ago I took a work-from-home local editor position that was a breath of fresh air. I absolutely loved it. I had responsibility, autonomy and the freedom of not being stuck in an absolutely suffocating cube while the clock ticked by. I swore to never have an office job again and to stick with this company forever. And then … they didn’t stick with me. I was working 80-hour weeks, was having chest pains and heart palpitations due to anxiety and stress and endured bronchitis, mono, pneumonia and a hospitalization all in the course of a year. And they let me go. I ended up being the first in a long line of people getting the axe, but it made me realize something that I don’t think I ever realized before. I’m just like everybody else and hard work doesn’t always pay off. The normalcy of that feeling ate at me like nothing ever had in my life.

After a painstaking six months and ego deflation, I finally accepted a position at home in St. Louis. It was the perfect job for me, even with an office being involved, and I loved it. I was so thankful to have this new breath of fresh air creatively and to mean something to the outside world again. But, outside of work the normalcy of being a day-to-day average person still was tearing at my soul. Some said it was due to my current mental status. Some said it was because I was a Sagittarius—we are never at rest. Others just chalked it up to “that’s life” and pretty much told me to deal with it. But, life isn’t meant to just be dealt with, is it? Shouldn’t we always strive to be and do better and be our best selves?

I thought about volunteering, about singing in an acoustic duo, even about singing on a cruise ship for a while. Over the course of several months my either my networking efforts didn’t pan out or someone didn’t return my call—either way it was enough for me to give up trying.

In addition to this weird gut feeling, my personal life, at least in my own mind, was in the toilet. I had two failed marriages, a failed engagement and a line of failed relationships. I couldn’t handle the pressures of being in a relationship, but not having a support system at home and watching my friends happily marry off one-by-one in typical Midwestern fashion served three nagging-my-mind roles:

  1. Shouldn’t I be like everybody else and have 2.2 kids and a garage by now?
  2. Wait, I had that (minus the kids) 10 years ago and that’s not what I wanted. I felt trapped in that situation and got out. Was something wrong with me?
  3. None of my friends can/want to hang out as often as I want to. I see their “one big happy family photos” on Facebook and I tear up. I’m completely alone.

Even though I had great friends and sporadic time with them, it wasn’t enough. They had their own lives and their own families. My new “friends” were bartenders and my time out on the town by myself usually ended up with me crying, yelling at someone or just passing out in order not to feel the pain I was going through. I felt like I was living on another planet compared to my friends. I started to become my own best friend, going to dinner and movies by myself. My dog became my complete world. It’s not like I didn’t have exciting times or a life that others may want. I had plenty of things to be thankful for, and I knew that.

However, about a year into my new job and almost two years after my last relationship—I made a tough decision. I finally had force myself to make a change.