There’s a lot that’s hard about right now. It’s hard putting our lives completely on pause and having to rely so much on others. That being said, one thing I am so grateful for is the chance to be back home for fall. This is my favorite time of year in America and the first time I have gotten to be here in autumn in six years. In spite of the pandemic, it has been so nice to enjoy long walks outside among the vibrant trees, indoor festivities with family, and the Halloween spirit. We even got to see snow for the first time since we were in Ukraine two years ago!
It can be easy to dwell on all the things I wish I was doing instead right now. 2020 is a year I think most of us would rather just forget. But I’m trying to remind myself that among the chaos are little moments of beauty that are worth remembering.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything….probably because I’ve been grappling with the nightmare that is COVID-19 for about as much time. Having just stepped out of Turkey, which – although a lovely place- was in the grips of economic downturn and political turmoil, we had hoped China would be an era of stability for us. Turns out we were really, really wrong.
Four months in, at the peak of culture shock and just before a much-anticipated Chinese New Year break, the news of a deadly epidemic was spreading like wildfire. Reluctantly, we went on our scheduled vacation to Japan…just days before we were to return, our school and the American embassy sent out a warning not to come back. What was supposed to be two weeks turned into to three months of e-learning, running out one visa and then another (we stayed in Thailand for about a month and a half and in Cambodia for a month). We were dealing with a school that was giving as little information as possible; one day, they would say “don’t come back to China” and the next they would say “buy a ticket and come back now!” When we did eventually go back, we endured a horrific quarantine, replete with anti-foreigner sentiment, being separated from my husband without being informed in advance, and not being fed or given water consistently for the first several days. The whole experience ruined China for me, frankly, which has been hard to deal with after falling in love with being an expat in Turkey.
To add insult to injury, just two weeks after we finally made it back home to Chongqing, my husband and I were laid off for the following school year, along with several other staff members due to declining enrollment.
I didn’t love the school or Chongqing, but it still felt like a punch to the gut. We really only had two choices: take another job in China, or go back to the U.S. to figure things out and be with our families. In the end, we chose the latter. Neither of us could really take much more of China or its schools.
And now here we are in America…which really can’t seem to get its shit together in this pandemic. We had initially toyed with the idea of teaching here, but seeing how political schools have become in all this -using teachers and students as sacrificial lambs for the economy- we just decided to take a year off and live off of our savings. It isn’t ideal, but we are lucky to have that option.
We’ve been back home in Kansas for about four months now, and it’s been pretty boring for the most part. But boring hasn’t been all bad after over a year of frequent turmoil.
2019 has been a strange year. A year of change, transition, ups, and downs. A year I’m ready to let go, but a year to remember nonetheless. I am hoping 2020 is a little more settled, a little more cheerful, but no less adventurous. Happy New Year.
Yes, we are here and settling in, but before I talk about that, I feel compelled to talk about our hectic, brief summer in the U.S.
We knew this summer would be unpredictable. International moves always are. I’ve learned by now that the visa process is usually one big question mark until it isn’t. It makes it difficult to plan much because everything has to revolve around the visa timeline and (of course!) you can’t make appointments.
Amidst the chaos of moving from Turkey to the U.S. and then packing again for China, 5 weeks of rapid couchsurfing around Kansas, and going to Chicago for our visas, we did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit.
Indulge me as I go through the highlight reel:
Hanging out with my grandma’s adorable cats!
Eating my grandma’s peanut butter pie!
Enjoying a beautiful Chicago summer with my partner in crime while we waited for our visas to be processed
Trying aerial yoga for the first time (loved it!)
Drinking wine in the Flint Hills
Drinking more wine…this time from the wine box we sealed at our wedding. As it was our 5th wedding anniversary, we got to open this bottle and replace it with another (to be opened on our 10th.)
Saying goodbye (for now) to the U.S. and hello (or nihao, rather) to a new adventure.
So there you have it. A very brief recap of an all-too-brief summer. More to come on China soon!
As I type this, I am sitting in my grandmother’s air conditioned house on a hot Kansas afternoon, trying to find the right words. To be honest, I still haven’t processed it all yet. Leaving Turkey felt like stepping through a portal from one universe to another. There is a piece of me that still thinks it will all be there waiting for me exactly as I left it, even though my head knows I won’t be going back for quite some time.
I didn’t sleep the night before I left. The day was filled with tearful goodbyes to students, colleagues, and dear friends, followed by an epic Turkish party at night. We were packing until the very last second. I wouldn’t have left any other way.
I am so tremendously thankful for the memories, the people, and the life-changing experiences.
Her şey için teşekkürler, Türkiye. Sizi özleyeceğim.
Greetings from the U.S. of A. This is my third summer back in the motherland, and for once, I was able to celebrate the 4th of July in all of its smoky, sparkling, fiery glory. The first leg of our whirlwind journey took place at my grandma’s house in the country, complete with family, sweltering heat, a DIY frisbee golf course, and way too much food.
My husband and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary in the nearby town of Yoder, a tiny but thriving Amish community. My dad and stepmom surprised us by renting out a chicken-coop-turned-Airbnb for the night and I think it might be the cutest place we’ve ever stayed.
I visited my sister in Kansas City, where I tried some amazing coffee shops, hung out at a great arcade bar, read books by the pool, and watched some old childhood favorites on Netflix.
I discovered a board game cafe in Wichita, tried my hand at some marketing for my mom’s boutique in Manhattan, relaxed at my grandpa’s lake house, and circled back to the beginning to pack it all up and say goodbye.
It was all really great, but something hit me this summer: I feel more like an outsider in my own culture than I ever have. Perhaps it’s just the stress of the last year or a symptom of the ever-rising political tension. As great as it is to be home with friends and family, I’m realizing more and more each year that it feels less like home. I guess reverse culture shock rears its head at every expat now and again.
A grainy photo of my old passport the day before I moved to Turkey.
Retiring my first passport was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I still remember getting my photo taken at Walgreens, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the prospect of finally seeing the world outside of small-town America. I always found a certain comfort in turning to the first page and seeing my teenage self smiling back at me, full of dreams of faraway places.
My new passport is empty, and thanks to Turkish passport rules, the photographer refused to allow me to smile in my passport photo (in spite of the fact that said rule does not apply to American passports), so I look a bit more like a displeased psychopath than I do an eager world traveler. Still, there is a certain thrill in all of the blank pages of possibility that will inevitably fill up with adventure (hopefully sooner rather than later – I am feeling the itch).
At the very least, I still have my old passport as a souvenir. As I flip through its pages, I like to think that my 16-year-old self would be pleased to know that that passport would carry me to 27 countries, using every last page before it expired. 26-year-old me certainly is.
This year has ended on a really bitter note for me. To be honest, I’m really ready for it to be over. That being said, I don’t want to let the bad overshadow all the good that has come of this year. Here is a look back at my 2017 in pictures: