I’ve recently been thinking considerably about my almost four years of experiences in living and working in Xi’an. What have I really gained or innately improved about myself? Here’s what I hope is a comprehensive, if not thorough list with commentary interspersed where I see fit.
Unexpectedly, a husband. I honestly never expected to marry, especially at the ripe age of 25. I just somehow managed to meet the right person, at the right time. I couldn’t be happier, and after hosting our Chinese ceremony on February 5, I feel being married, both on paper and in a ceremony, has brought us closer together, communicating better, and supporting each other more. People I meet in China, whether they belong to the expat or Chinese community, generally overemphasize my intercultural marriage, however, for me, it’s more about the “marriage” part and less about the “intercultural” angle of that expression. I married my husband for who he is as a person and human being; the fact that he comes from a culture other than mine provides ample advantages and disadvantages (but let’s save that for another post!).
Limited Chinese-language skills. I’m realistic about the fact that they are still limited, but I’ll certainly embrace the notion that it’s a lifelong pursuit. It won’t matter where we are living, as the language will always be an integral part of my life. Although I certainly feel my Chinese is abysmal as of late, I tend to have weeks where I am more successful in reviewing or having ZJ teach me a handful of new phrases. Furthermore, I may not necessarily be studying in a formal setting, but I am practicing on a daily basis and using 日常汉语。I may not accept every opportunity to practice, but I am able to manage on my own at the supermarket, cafe, restaurant, or wherever I am out and about. I also find myself using more Chinese when we vacation or travel; I somehow perceive that it draws less attention to ourselves than when speaking English.
Expanded worldview. This goes without saying, as I’ve lived in another culture as well as taught students of a different culture. I felt I’ve learned a lot about myself, including my views, thoughts, biases, opinions, preconceived notions and the like. I’ve also realized that I am far more tolerant than I ever imagined, viewing tolerance from both a positive and negative light. My worldview continues to expand with the help of my husband, but I do know my limitations in this department (and I will elaborate in the second half of this entry).
Improved philosophy on life. This one isn’t as easy to explain, because it mostly has to do with ideas that aren’t always immediately noticeable. Some of my husband’s advantages have rubbed off on me. He’s more of an optimist, and I’m a half-empty glass kind of gal. I’ve noticed that although I can’t always see everything in the most optimistic light, I am far less pessimistic about our future and the big picture. My husband suggests I add that I am also more accepting and thoughtful. I am not so quick to say “no,” especially when he puts forth a suggestion, idea, or thought.
On a more silly note, I am an exceptional packer thanks mostly to my husband. Our trip to Thailand and Laos two summers ago is a true testament to the fact that I have revolutionized my packing methods plus my most recent travels with ZJ, Dee, and friends to Lijiang and Dali; Deanna, my sister, commented on the fact that she couldn’t believe I wasn’t packing very much. I am also less wasteful or more careful about how and when I spend my money.
Although I’ve managed to list several improvements I’ve made, in many ways I haven’t changed or in other ways I’ve regressed. Let me explain before you take issue with what I’ve just said.
I still possess limited patience, stubbornness, and generally I am dogmatic. Teaching has given me a considerable amount of patience, yet I still have an incredibly short fuse. I do not lose my temper or cool, but on several occasions, both inside and outside the classroom, I have been very close to losing it. There are still many things about logistics and the ways in which anything and everything is done in China that drives me bonkers. Hence, why I say stubbornness, or unwillingness to always, or more accurately, easily embrace new situations, including people. On a similar note, I feel I trust people a whole lot less, as I sometimes think people have an ulterior motive. Lastly, I state dogmatic because in certain situations, I must defend American values, culture and the like, and thus, I am cornered and feel I have no other choice than to claw my way out of the proverbial corner.
I also feel socially incapacitated. This is causally linked to generally distrusting people, having a hard time creating and maintaining meaningful friendships outside a small circle of expats and Chinese I already consider friends. I don’t know whether to chalk up this problem to something intrinsically faulty with me, differences in creating and maintaining cross-cultural friendships, and a certain amount of content with the friendships I’ve already formed.
I don’t think this list nearly exhausts the subject. In what ways has China changed you, for better or for worse? What have you gained from your experience of living, working, or just visiting China?
Xiananigans would love to hear from you!