For the past 5 years I’ve lived in 2 polar opposite places: Ottawa, IL and Hong Kong. These locations could not be any more different. Ottawa with 19,000 people, a whole lotta townies, few restaurants, as well as a Wal-Mart and 2 strip clubs that welcome you into town. Hong Kong has 7,000,000 inhabitants from the world over, more restaurants than you could count, as well as dance clubs and bars galore. Even though these cities are so different, they both helped me to grow into the adult and the person that I am today. Ottawa taught me how to be an adult: renting, bills, utilities, making small talk, being independent, grocery shopping, working, taking care of a car, my own well-being, and making friends. When I moved to Hong Kong, I was already an adult who knew the basics of being an adult, but my life lessons expanded by moving away from every single person I knew. Hong Kong made me, well, me. It helped me figure out who I am as a person; it taught me lessons on how to be happy, how to make genuine friends, find what I consider fun, and how to live on my own (really, really on my own). Ottawa made me an adult, Hong Kong made me Ashley. And to have had both experiences in such a short amount of time, makes me really grateful for both of them. I went to Ottawa today and got misty-eyed about all the things I missed about it and even though that list is short and mostly contains the people I like, Ottawa was good to me. I’m not sad I left there, but glad I took the chance to be me. If I hadn’t left Ottawa, I may have never found out that cosmos are my fave drink, dated a Brit (or 12), gone on a safari, made friends from other countries, danced ‘til 5am, or lived in a shoebox-sized apartment. So, thank you, Ottawa for making me want to leave so that I could find Hong Kong. And, thank you, Hong Kong for making me want to leave to find out what else is out there in the world and to help me keeping finding, well, me.
Home is great—of course it’s great, with its big refrigerators, friendly people, country roads, and my family nearby it was bound to be great. And though the adage always says “Home is where the heart is,” I’ve definitely left a little piece of my heart in Hong Kong.
Living alone in a country 8,000 miles away from my family taught me a good lesson on biting my lip and shoving down the tears. If I’d cried every time I was frustrated, sad, lonely, or upset in Hong Kong, I could have rowed my way back home, but instead I sucked it up and moved on. Thanks to this new-found ability to “cry without crying,” I’ve wiped away only a few tears since hopping on a plane at HKIA. The first time was when I found a card that my friend Jamie had given to me on the morning before I left. I’d tucked it away in my suitcase and forgot to open it until I started unpacking; when I finally slipped it out of the envelope, even the outside made tears spring to my eyes. “Cupcake Queen” the card boasted with a handwritten arrow pointing to it, saying “That’s you!” Inside, Jamie made a list of the top 10 reasons she’ll miss me, including:
“Brother, she’s all country
…to her down home roots
…from the song she plays.
That’s the way she was born and raised.
She ain’t afraid to stay country.”
Lyrics modified from “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean
I’ve been home now for over two weeks and each new day – and sometimes hour – brings about a revelation with something that I love about living in the country. Yes, Sycamore is surrounded by cornfields as far as the eye can see in some places, but with a population of over 17,000 people, we are far from destitute. It is, though, a great little country town with nice people, big houses, yards with grass (!!), and, most importantly, my family.
1. Driving- While public transportation in Hong Kong is world-class, I really just love driving my car. You can turn on the radio (see #2), go at your own speed, and because it’s the country, there is a lot of open road with no one in the way (minus a tractor or two haha).
2. The radio- Country music is what I’ve lived my life by for the last 13 years (when I was 16, I hated listening to the same songs over and over again on the radio, so I forced myself to listen to country stations and I fell in love). I still listen to the pop stations or oldies occasionally, but having the choice of channels, especially in the car…and in English…is great. The best part? Singing in my car at the top of my lungs and grooving to the music. Singing and dancing while listening to my MP3 player and walking through the crowded streets? Not possible!
3. Food- Cookie dough, bacon, frozen pizzas, oh my! Yes, I’ll probably gain a bunch of weight back, but it’ll taste damn good!
4. Laundry- Having a dryer is unexpectedly amazing. Even though my rooftop was a fine place to hang out clothes to dry (and to have a glass of wine), it certainly wasn’t ideal with the rain, sun, and humidity mucking up my plans to do laundry.
5. Refrigerators- Not that my fridge is monster-size or anything, but it’s big enough to hold a gallon of milk and that’s really all I need! Living off of a mini-fridge was hard enough in college when I had a cafeteria to eat in, let alone when I’m an adult who enjoys cooking.
6. The people- Of course my friends and my students in HK were nice, but they were sometimes the only people who would smile at me all day long. Waitresses? No! Taxi drivers? No! Patrons on the MTR? Definitely not! Everyone (okay, the majority) is so nice here. I missed the friendly disposition of the bankers and the waiters in my small town; sure the latter are working for a tip, but at least they smile and act like they want to be bringing me a pineapple margarita.
7. Family- This should probably be at #1, but having my family (and friends) nearby is definitely a perfect reason to be at home in the country.
8. Big houses with big yards- There may be a drought this summer, but when the rain starts pouring and the grass gets greener, I am going to love my yard. Hong Kong is notorious for weedy grass sporting “Do Not Walk” signs at the edge. With luscious, soft grass next to my parents’ 2-story house, there’s almost no need to leave!
Not everything in Sycamore is perfect and there’s definitely stuff I miss about Hong Kong, so stay tuned to find out what has made tears prickle in my eyes and what made my heart sad I’m not in HK anymore.
I vow to be more open-minded when I move back home. Hong Kong has taught me a valuable lesson in opening myself to the possibilities that something else great, better, or even fantastic can be waiting around the corner, if only I’m willing to open my eyes to see the light. Tonight, I went out for drinks with a fellow Sassy blogger whom I’ve known for a few months; besides chatting at our writer events, we’ve never spent time together outside of Sassy. We had a great time sipping on raspberry martinis and chatting about life; now with only 2 weeks left, I’m sad that she and I never agreed to meet up sooner.
I’ve met all of my friends in Hong Kong through a quirky girl with whom I used to work. None of my closest friends are random girls I just went up to and said, “Hi, I’m Ashley, let’s be friends.” Okay, so that’s a ridiculous way to meet people, but how hard is it to go up to someone you’ve never met before and make conversation? Apparently really, really hard because almost no one I know does it…except in Hong Kong.
As mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been having a hard time deciding where my life is headed…then a bit of clarity set in:
My alarm went off at 5:45am in anticipation of having a third interview with a school in Seattle. It wasn’t an ideal job or an ideal place because of its proximity from my family, but it was a job something I am in need of. While waiting for Skype to ring, I opened up my email and lo-and-behold there was an email from my ex-boyfriend—yes, the boyfriend whom I’d fallen in love with, had ideas of future grandeur, and dreamed would email me someday. There it was, unopened, but full of possibilities. Maybe he was emailing to say he was getting married to someone else, maybe he was emailing to say he wanted to marry me, maybe he just wanted to check in on me. The latter proved true (or at least I think so…) and I responded normally, acting as if my heart wasn’t beating out of my chest and as if I didn’t draft the first email begging him to take me back.
6 o’clock rolled around and I continued a conversation I’d been having for a few weeks when the final question was asked: Are you still interested in this position? Unbeknownst to my conscious mind, the answer came out of my mouth without hesitation, “I think the school is great, and the position would be great, but I’m not sure Seattle is for me. I really want to be close to my family and that flight is just too far…but I love your school.” The last bit quickly escapes in a bit of a panic. Even though it’s not the answer she probably wanted to hear, it was the honest truth. Though my hopes did get raised with the email I’d opened 15 minutes earlier, it played no part in my answer…I promise!
On my way to school, I began reading a yoga magazine I’d picked up from the studio and it featured a few articles about yoga in schools. That bubbling feeling you get when something is exciting emerged and it made me start thinking about how wonderful it would be to be a yoga teacher and that maybe in the fall I could do yoga teacher training instead of elementary school teaching.
Later in the day I received a reply to my ex-email asking for a Skype session. And while I was sure he wasn’t going to ask for my hand in marriage over Skype, I was eager to hear what he’d have to say. This enthusiasm bubbled over to me perusing the internet for yoga teacher training; first in Chicago, then opportunities in Spain and Greece came up—how amazing would that be?!
After my answer to the Seattle’s school question and my profoundly good day, the clarity set in about what I want to do when I get back to the States. Maybe someday I’ll go back to teaching, but this school year I’m going to sit it out; I’m going to find out what else can make me happy. I need to take this chance and try it out…it certainly is scary as hell to not have a plan, especially for my Type A personality, but I’m psyched about what else is out there.
Since then, I’ve been offered the Seattle job and turned it down; had a Skype date with my ex-boyfriend and, no, there is no proverbial ring on my finger, but we had a nice time catching up; and I started the search for yoga training institutes in the US. My life is going to work out, even if it isn’t what I’d planned.
“No one really cares about your ‘life-changing’ experiences abroad.”
Wow! Can it be true? Will no one want to know about the last 2 years of my life??
I recently read an article about expats returning to the US and a few lines caught my attention, so I thought I’d share:
Reverse culture shock
The United States you remember has been replaced by its cinematic evil twin.
It’s really just the same old country with a mustache, but that’ll be enough to cause what is widely regarded among the expat community as reverse culture shock: the unexpected difficulty of adjusting to life back home.
According to Mobility magazine, “For many, it takes a full 12-month-cycle of holidays and work-related events before [returning expats] feel fully re-established back home.” Here’s what to expect …