July 30: Returning Home Anxiety

I’ve lived in China for over 11 months and in less than 1 month, I’ll be leaving. It’s weird to think that I’ve been outside of the “West” for 1 full year. So much has changed in that time.
I’m so excited to come back, but I have so much anxiety about what my return will look like. In the time that I have been gone, my friends have gotten jobs, gotten married, gone through major life changes, and I’ve missed all of it. I’ve also gone through so many different experiences, and you have all missed them.

Before I came to China, I:

  • was not in grad school
  • didn’t know what I wanted my future to look like
  • didn’t have a cat
  • hadn’t learned any Mandarin
  • knew how to eat pasta by twirling it on a fork (which is a skill I have now forgotten and replaced by using chopsticks and putting my face really close to the bowl)
  • didn’t have an “adult” job
  • enjoyed cooking, which I hardly ever do now
  • loved bubble tea, but I wasn’t addicted…yet.

When I get back, know that I’m going to be facing reverse culture shock. I’ve been living in a culture that’s extremely different from Midwestern culture for a full calendar year, and I might not always remember how to assimilate. I might forget how to pay for something, or I might say something in Chinese. I might crave Chinese food (and believe me, it’s nothing like ‘American Chinese food’). I might forget how to use the internet. Honestly, who knows. I can guarantee that I will forget what things are readily available and what things are not available though.

I can also guarantee that I will be really sad to leave.

My real fear coming home is that I won’t be able to talk about living in China properly. I can’t begin to explain what it’s like walking through the alleyways, or how they all seem to smell like stinky tofu. I won’t ever be able to tell you what it’s like to walk into an expat bar and know that everyone around you is experiencing the same things. Waking up early to watch live TV and sports. Going somewhere and knowing that you will not be able to communicate with someone, and then having that experience every single day. Having to make so many friends because everyone is constantly leaving. Going to a goodbye party at least once or twice a month, knowing that you probably won’t ever see that person again. Ordering eleme in the rain and knowing it might take an extra 30 minutes for the food to arrive. Being able to get bubble tea at all times of the day and night. There are so many things that are normal to me now. All of these new normals will end as soon as I leave, and adjusting once again will be difficult. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t dreading being asked, but also hoping to be able to tell so many stories.

So, here’s how you can help. Don’t ask “How was China?” Ask specific questions. Ask about my favorite foods or my favorite places to hang out. Ask about my limited Mandarin skills or the students that I taught. Ask about my friends, my roommates, my coworkers. Basically, anything that’s even moderately specific. I’m not going to be able to answer the “How was China?” question as it has been a full year, and a lot has happened this year. You now have 20 days to come up with some good questions!

Other questions to avoid asking for the time being:

  • “Where are you going to live?”
  • “Do you have a job?”
  • “What’s your plan?”
  • “How much school do you have left?”

These questions stress me out more than you could all know as I have no idea how to answer any of them. I’m coming back to the US with almost no plan, but I have been applying for jobs, so hopefully, I can find something!

I’ll be back before you know it!


P.S. If you want to read another post I’ve written about the realities of coming home, check it out here.

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