How do you know when it’s time to move to the next phase in your life? Sometimes you don’t have a choice. You are forced to make a change, which is how I first ended up moving abroad, living in Paris. Explanation here. Then you return to remnants of your old life and discover you kind of liked that phase you just left. You find a way to return to life abroad, which is how I ended up living in China. Next thing you know, 5 months has turned into 4 years. WOW! It’s true, months turn into years and friends turn into family.
My first 5 months started with 2 weeks in Beijing and a “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. China really is “different” from the rest of the world. How different is China? You can check out my blog post. After 2 weeks in Beijing, I was into the next phase in Xiashan. Xiashan is a small rural village considered part of Weifang in Shandong Province. So small, it isn’t named on a map. I was in love with my small country community, but being on a student Visa, I was only able to stay 6 months. I would have to return to the states and apply for a new Visa if I wanted to return to life in China. Although Xiashan had very little in the way of Western amenities and it was an hour and 15-minute bus ride to get to a train station to get to an airport, I really did love living there and would have stayed on. But, once again the decision to move to the next phase of my life was out of my control. I did, however, return to the USA and applied for a new Visa and returned to China. Unfortunately, I could not return to Xiashan because they had to replace me before I was able to return.
On to phase two of life in China. I returned briefly to Xiashan as they had kindly let me leave my things in the apartment. I stayed for a couple weeks and got to meet my replacement which happened to be from a city next to my hometown of Warren, Ohio. Halfway around the world and my replacement is from Cortland, Ohio. I packed up, said my tearful goodbyes to my co-workers and boarded a train 9.5 hours south to Changning in Hunan Provence. Life in Changning……my roommate Yulia was from Moscow and we got along famously. The biggest change here is I went from teaching grades 1 and 2 to teaching grades 5, 6 and 7. A slight adjustment in lessons plans and I survived. I also survived rainy season in Hunan. From the time I arrived at the end of February until leaving mid-June, I think we were lucky if we had 3 straight days without rain. I did love the spicy food in Hunan Province, but at the end of the school term, we had both had our fill of Changning and I was ready to move on to a new part of China and hopefully back to primary students.
August 3, 2016, phase three of my China life found me back in Shandong Province in a large by American standards, not so large by Chinese standards, city of 9 million on the Yellow Sea called Qingdao. Woohooo, I would be at a kindergarten located right at the seaside. I was very excited to be moving on to life in Qingdao, China. Teaching kindergarten, the principal was from the states, the kindergarten was right on the sea, the city had many Western restaurants and supermarkets, life would be good. I arrived in Qingdao and the school put me up at a hotel until they found accommodations for me. It actually took 6 weeks and I ended up living with the principal and his wife which was awesome. I started at the school the day after I arrived as the other foreign teacher had gone on holiday. They had brought in a second teacher (me) because enrollment at the school had increased. Imagine my surprise when I was informed after 2 weeks that the other teacher had decided not to return. Hmmmmm, why? Thank goodness for the helpfulness of the principal and the Chinese teachers. They finally did bring in first Erwin in October and then Erin late November. Without turning this into a bitch session, the owner of the kindergarten made many promises that were not kept and expected more and more unreasonable duties from the staff. I didn’t want to hate my job and I was starting to. Although I would miss my co-workers and the principal, I decided I would not return after Spring Festival. That is how I ended up in Dong’e.
Dong’e County, Shandong Province a countywide population of about 400,000 and located on the left or northern bank of the Yellow River. The county is regionally and nationally renowned for Ejiao, donkey-hide gelatin used in traditional Chinese medicine. The city of Dong’e is surrounded by many small villages and farmland. The closest train station is about an hour away in Liaocheng but doesn’t have the high speed or bullet trains. For high-speed trains and an airport, I travel 2 to 2.5 hours to Jinan, the capital of the Province.
I arrived in Dong’e in February 2017. Again, I stayed in a hotel while Peter (the person who brought me to Dong’e) and I looked for an apartment. After about a week or 10 days, I had a room with a view. I was on the 24th floor overlooking a river, which I later found out was actually a lake. Economic development in the area had cut off a branch of the river and turned it into a lake. I don’t think Peter expected to have a teacher come to this small community so quickly. The first month to 6 weeks, I didn’t have a job. Thankfully, I was still paid. The time was spent having dinners to meet local community leaders and school administrators, giving demo classes at Training Centers and in the schools. My first regularly scheduled teaching job was private lessons/tutoring to two 5-year-old girls. Gradually more students were added to my tutoring and I was teaching 2 days per week in a local kindergarten and 1 afternoon at a primary school. This still gave me about 2.5 days of free time which I enjoyed.
Then I had my accident on September 7, 2018. I ended up in the hospital with a broken back that required surgery. My story is here This put me out of commission for about 2 months. When I was well enough to continue teaching, it was only lessons in my home as I was not well enough to spend days at the kindergarten or primary school. Since November 2018 I have been giving lessons in my home on Saturdays and Sundays.
2 months of which 2 weeks were spent in a hospital bed and then 6 more weeks of minimal “up” time at home, you have a lot of time to think. I have been in Dong’e for nearly 2.5 years. Yes, I love my life here. I have made many friends who treat me like family. But, that simple 3 letter word b.u.t., but I wanted more. Due to the nature of my injury, I thought about how lucky I was….. I wasn’t paralyzed….or worse. I thought about the trip to Paris, I had to cancel. Luckily, I was able to reschedule and just went in May. I thought about my bucket list. I thought about my condo in Warren, Ohio that I haven’t even moved in to. You get the idea. Anyway, I asked myself, “Do you want to be in Dong’e this time next year?”. That answer came fairly easy, as much as I like my life here, no, this time next year I couldn’t picture myself in Dong’e. Next question, “Do you want to be in China?”. That was a little more difficult to answer, I didn’t know.
For the next several weeks I thought about that question. I decided that I would leave Dong’e at the end of the school year which is July 2019. This worked out well. I needed to re-up my Visa by July 20th, which also means I have to leave mainland China to do it. I want to spend the holidays in Warren. I haven’t been in the states for the holidays since 2012.
Okay, I have the start of a plan. Now what to do between leaving Dong’e and being in the states for the holidays? Holidays meaning Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and the grand re-opening of the Robins Theatre. After the Robins opening, I would be free to make a long-term commitment to teaching somewhere. Last time I was in Saigon, I met a young University student. She has often asked me to come to Vietnam and teach English. So, upon leaving China, I decided my first stop would be Vietnam and investigate job opportunities. From Vietnam, Bali is just a hop, skip and a jump. I had friends in the states who had mentioned joining me in Bali in August. So, I then decided to head to Bali after Vietnam. Also, having friends in Bali, I decided to look into an extended stay, meaning teaching/volunteer opportunities. I will spend one month of R&R after which I found a School for Special Needs students where I will work for 8 weeks. A few more weeks of doing nothing and I will head back to Vietnam before returning to the states.
Great, but what about next year? I use a website, https://en.islcollective.com/ as a teaching resource. Sometime last year they added a resource for teaching jobs. I decided to browse the listings. Thinking I would return to SE Asia, I mainly browsed those opportunities. While researching my upcoming trip to Paris, I realized I missed Europe and decided along with SE Asia, to look at opportunities in Europe. After putting in my criteria, a company called English Wizards based in Warsaw kept popping up. It looked interesting, a young company with hopes to expand outside of Poland, so I contacted them. Long story short, I have committed to relocating to Poland end of January 2020.
It will be difficult to leave Dong’e, but the answer to the question, “is this where you want to be this time next year?” was easy. I will miss the friends I have made and my students, but I know it is time to move on. The decision to leave China not so easy and then the decision to leave Asia/SE Asia a little more difficult. Asking myself many questions, forcing myself to answer truthfully and planning to enjoy time in SE Asia before saying goodbye has made the realization a bit easier.
“It’s a difficult thing, but there are times when moving on with your life starts with a goodbye.” unknown
I am excited to move on to the next phase of my journey.