When I first happened to find myself in China, I was completely unprepared for the huge gap between mine and this culture. I was also very unprepared for my first squaty potty, but I managed.
That’s what you have to do when you encounter something unfamiliar — you have to manage. You can’t fight those changes you will most definitely go through on your journey.
My husband told me the other day that I was very similar to a Chinese girl now. I even had people look at me and not stare cause I was speaking fluently in Chinese. I was very confused how this had happened. My light brown hair with blonde highlights and blue green eyes hadn’t changed color overnight. I had become so comfortable in this new society that somehow I was starting to blend into it. But how did this happen?
From a young age I had become used to moving around as my parents just liked to do that occasionally, so maybe that contributed to my ability to get used to new places easily. I think the biggest contributor to becoming more comfortable in new surroundings is keeping an open mind. Maybe you won’t always agree, but you can still seek to understand. With this kind of thinking, I find myself being more understanding of the people around me. I started to empathize and become very comfortable. I don’t see myself as an outsider no matter how many times I might be called a ‘laowai’ by locals. No matter where you go or what you look like, people are still people. Maybe the Chinese look different than me and sometimes think differently, but they are still human and care about the same things most humans do. They want to get married, start a life with their new families, make money so they can buy nice things, take care of their family. When the difference in culture starts to irritate me or confuse me, I try to remember this. When you have empathy, it’s easy to understand the thought processes of those around you in a new environment. Even though I have been able to change my way of thinking, being an American in China can sometimes be a curse when those around you can’t change their way of thinking.
Maybe I have gotten over the culture shock and have become comfortable here, but with things being what they are with the US-China relationship, I feel like I will never be completely at home here. There will always be people who, when I tell them where I am from, either insult me or my country as soon as I tell them. This is certainly uncalled for, but ignorance is inevitable in a country so closed off from information that the rest of the world can easily access. The best way to cope is not take it to heart — at least this way you can easily distinguish between people worth your time and friendship and those who aren’t. Anyone who thinks insulting someone they just met for nothing they personally did is not worth your anger.
I’ve found staying positive is a big part of what keeps me in China. If I let all the downfalls of the Chinese system regarding foreigners get me down I would have left long ago. I never would have met my husband and would have been back in my own country probably working on getting a teaching certificate. Every day is a struggle but it’s almost an honor to struggle in such a beautiful and vibrant country with the man I love by my side. Life isn’t easy anywhere you go, so might as well make the most of it and experience all it has to offer wherever you happen to find yourself.
- A Strange New Land: How I Adjusted to Life in China - April 8, 2021