The long awaited answer to the most frequent question, “How are things going in China?” is not a simple one, nor is it an answer that most people want to hear.
So how are things going in China? By looking at our pictures on facebook, you’d think we’re having the time of our lives. And sometimes we are… but unfortunately things in China aren’t fabulous all the time. Most of our time here has been very difficult. From the moment we stepped on to the last plane from Beijing to Qingdao, life has been a series of obstacles and challenges that have both frustrated us and made us question our decision to move here. There have been momentary times of excitement and adventure and we have enjoyed some aspects of our time here, but when we compare the positives and negatives, the daily “valley lows” seem to far outweigh the “mountain-top highs.”
It has now officially been 2 months since we moved here. When I lived in Costa Rica or in Mexico the adjustment period was so much shorter. I’ve dealt with culture shock before, and I know that it takes time to get used to a new culture; I know that it takes time before you call where you are living “home.” But I thought by this point we’d be in the swing of things, smoothly adjusting to life in Asia. I was wrong. It has taken far more energy and effort to just get through each day than I even have on reserve.
The first major problem we faced was that when we first moved here, nothing was as it had been told to us. Right before we came, China changed some of its tax laws so that when we arrived, we couldn’t get the settlement allowance that was promised to us upon landing. Instead, we had to buy things with our own money, out of our own pockets (a month before we would receive our first paycheck) and wait to turn in our receipts so that we could be reimbursed. Thankfully we had brought American money along so we made it stretch without needing to borrow anything, but it added a lot of extra stress and a lot of questions to our first month in Qingdao.
The second and probably most inconveniencing problem that we have dealt with is the internet. We went to order internet for our apartment on August 2. Through a series of issues, we didn’t have internet for the first 3 weeks of school. Imagine starting a new job where the entire curriculum is online and not having internet. We spent almost every single night at school, weekends too. We had to. It was the only way to do our job. Fast forward to the 23rd of August… 21 days after we had ordered internet for our home… everyone finally figured out what was going on. It still took another 3 days after that until we had wireless working and we could finally use both of our laptops to do work at home. Even still we have connection issues. The internet doesn’t always work. Many times we have to do things multiple times for it to save correctly or upload the way that it is supposed to. Being without facebook for those first few weeks also made us feel even more isolated from the people who we usually looked to for support. I haven’t had time to blog or process any of my thoughts… we have been in survival mode for a long time now.
Our third major obstacle came when our school decided to combine our classes. For anyone who thinks that schools only have issues in the U.S., let me reassure you that problems arise everywhere. At the end of our third week of school, right when things were really starting to go smoothly, Trent and I were both (one at a time) called in to the director’s office for a meeting with him and our lower school Principal. That would probably freak anyone out, ourselves notwithstanding. So I went in and was told that our pre-k teacher was leaving next week and that instead of hiring someone else to teach pre-k, that they thought it best to combine pre-k and kindergarten and also combine some of kindergarten with 1st grade. WHAT??? I felt like I just got hit with a train. It felt like nothing could go right! But what choice did we really have? This was certainly an attitude test. And, quite honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I scored. So, in the fifth week of school, we basically started our year over. It hasn’t been a smooth transition. Teaching two different grades within the same classroom, having to rearrange schedules, adding different dynamics between the kids, and for me- having to entirely rearrange my classrooms has not been easy. All the time we have other things to do, due dates looming, instruction to plan, and still trying to adjust and settle in to our new life in China.
All that being said, I have found it so hard to be a light and to still shine bright for Christ when everything around me seems to be bringing me into darkness. So many times challenges have arisen that have made me feel absolutely defeated. They have broken me of my pride, made me completely dependent on others and on God, and they have driven me to tears (almost daily). I went from being teacher of the year to feeling like I am barely keeping afloat in an unknown ocean surrounded by sharks. Pride- diminished. I know I do a good job with my kids, but no one else has seen that. I try desperately to do a good job at work- I consider it a part of my witness. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all our heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” If I do a good job and keep a good attitude, then Christ is honored by my efforts. But as I have been learning (in the hardest way), I cannot do ANYTHING in and of myself. Every time I try so hard to do something correctly, something goes wrong. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’ve done it right or not, the end result doesn’t work out. It is exhausting. It has shown me again and again that I need to rely on Christ’s strength for everything I do. Thank God that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength! (Phil. 4:13) My prayer and the prayer I hope that you all will pray for me is the same prayer Paul prayed for the Romans- “May the God of HOPE fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you TRUST IN HIM, so that you may OVERFLOW with HOPE by the POWER of the HOLY SPIRIT.” (Romans 15:13) I need to remember to trust in him and to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit for my joy, peace and hope.
Please don’t read this blog by itself. Please read part 2 as well. There is a light in this tunnel and though this was the post about the bad stuff, the accompanying piece is about the good stuff we’ve seen here in China. I hope that you will pray for us and think of us, but also that you would know that we are in good hands. God didn’t bring us here to abandon us or leave us on our own, he is with us walking and guiding our every step. Isaiah 42:16 says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. I will turn the darkness into light before them and I will make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” We are blessed to be on this journey.