How China Changed My Life

When most people graduate from college, they usually have dream jobs that they want, dreams of seeing the world, or at least dreams of some kind. My dream was nothing more than gray fog hovering over a never ending dark void. For years I had dreamed of being a teacher but due to unexpected circumstances, I didn’t graduate with an education degree. Instead, I had a B.A. in Spanish & was told that I could get a Master’s in education or I couldn’t teach.

Travelling to China & Finding Myself

Long story short, I spent three months looking for a job just about anywhere that paid more than minimum wage. I had $30,000 in college debt to pay back, I couldn’t do that on minimum wage. I graduated in early May, by the beginning of July I still didn’t have a job & my mom had sent me an email titled “Teach in China”. I literally opened it, thought this is a joke, closed it & went back to sleep. A week later, she asked me if I had considered it. I said, “No, it’s China. Why would I want to go there? I don’t speak Chinese, I speak Spanish.”

Fast forward a little, over the next month I had a meeting with some Americans who also worked in China. That was followed by an interview with a woman in China via Skype. Half an hour after the interview, she offered me the job. Three days later, I signed the contract & started the process of applying for a visa & in less than a month from initial contact, I was standing on Chinese soil. & I was terrified!

I grew up in the same house on the same street for my entire life. When I went to college, I decided to stay pretty close to home & go about two hours away, if traffic was bad. I had been out of the country three times when I was in college, twice to Honduras & once to Israel. But my longest time outside of America was for about three months & at least I spoke the language.

Imagine if you will: put yourself in a huge city, surrounded by people who all look very different from you & yet very similar to each other. Everywhere I went, it felt like everyone else had dressed for a black tie event & I showed up for a pool party in a bikini. I ended up teaching in a very small city, at least by Chinese standards. There are about 250,000 people in this city & among those people, less than 10 people are not of Chinese origin. Kind of mind blowing, right?

Within the first week of arriving I quickly learned the words for “foreigner” in Chinese. On a daily basis people would point & stare, or shout “HELLO!” from the other side of the street, or even ask to take pictures with me. Three years later, this still happens regularly. I was a celebrity in this city & only because I was not Chinese.

I hated it, I hated being treated differently. I was raised in a house where we treated people as people, we are all equal. & if I was going to be famous for something, I wanted it to be because I had done something worthwhile, not because I was born in America.

First Six Months

The first six months that I was here were pretty great. I started my teaching job & it was actually pretty easy because I only worked about ten hours a week. That gave me time to study Chinese, make friends, & even start a local English corner for people to come & practice English for free.

What made these first six months even better was an American family who lived in the city with me. Their family made up half of the foreigners in the entire city & they became good friends of mine. We met weekly, & some times even daily. Their two teenage daughters were the same age as my students but since they had spent most of their lives growing up in China, they were very encouraging to me. The whole family helped me make friends, learn my way around the city, but most importantly, they reminded me that I was not alone.

If it hadn’t have been for this family, I don’t think I would have survived the first six months alone in China. But even good things don’t last forever & it came time for them to leave.

Six Months of Darkness

After this family left, I was alone. There were other foreign teachers who I worked with but we were workmates, not close friends. & very quickly I discovered that I had not faced the most difficult part of moving to another country, culture shock. For six months, I was able to escape into the “American bubble” that was that family’s apartment multiple times a week. So, I had an extended stay in the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock.

When they left, it was like someone ripped a bandage off a wound that I didn’t even know I had. It started off small, little things would make me angry. Then everything made me angry. Eventually, I hated everything about being in this city. I slipped into a darkness that began as anger, which led to isolation. Then I became very lonely & depressed for a brief time. & eventually, I decided that I just didn’t care anymore.

But to everyone else, I was the sweet & always smiling foreigner who taught at the No. 1 high school. They didn’t see the dark clouds that loomed above me because I had managed to force myself to shine a bright smile every time I walked outside. 

Around the eighth month of my contract, the school approached me & asked me if I had planned to stay another year. Even to this day, three years later, I don’t know why I agreed. As near as I can tell, I was afraid to leave because I didn’t know what I would do if I went back to America. Working at Walmart was certainly not my dream. I guess I saw that if I stayed in China, at least I could be a teacher. So I stayed.

Choices have Consequences

How did I go from “just ten months” to “please don’t make me leave?” That is a very good question. Sometimes, I am still a little unsure of the answer. But this is what I have come up with. There were three major turning points in my life. Three choices that I made that changed my view of this city & of this country & even my view of my own life forever.

The first choice that I made was to start trying to Fulfil a lifelong dream of mine

I wanted to be a martial artist. I now lived in the land of martial arts, kungfu, Jackie Chan, & Bruce Lee. Before I started, I was a lazy couch potato that didn’t even like walking to the supermarket each day for fresh vegetables, so I ate out all the time. In December 2015, I started studying Chinese Taichi. I quickly fell in love & studied three mornings a week with a teacher who didn’t even speak English. Then in May 2016, he began working with a young Tae Kwon Do instructor & they made arrangements for me to join the children as they studied. This was even better than Taichi for me because it was fast paced, high energy & we were learning not only the basics of combat, but how to apply them to real life situations. On top of that, the kids where great motivation to push myself to grow more every day.

Eventually, my Tae Kwon Do coach became one of my closest friends & in the summer, we began training together for several hours a day six days a week. By the end of summer, I had my green belt & plans to continue working towards my black belt.

In October, my coach began studying a Filipino stick fighting martial art called Eskrima Cacoy Doce Pares & quickly came back & taught me everything he had learned & we have continued to train in this together, even now.

My decision to fulfill a dream of mine lead me to meeting one of my closest friends & it gave me something to do. I had realized that I was so miserable for such a long time because I didn’t do anything. I didn’t go out, I didn’t make friends, I didn’t even go to the supermarket. I just went to eat alone at restaurants & went home. But now, I have martial arts, one of the most important & exciting things that I do on a daily basis.

I also became a volunteer

It took a long time for me to get myself into a position where someone would allow me to help them but eventually, I found a local community center & began holding a free English corner there each week. I became friends with the boss & his sister & eventually, they let me start helping there during the summer of 2016. Helping at the community center gave me a sense of purpose. Prior to helping at the community center, I felt like I was wasting life because no one wanted my help & my job was so limited. I grew up volunteering at food banks, crisis pregnancy centers, & my church. Coming here & having people refuse my help broke my heart.

But this community center changed my life because it restored my sense of purpose. It gave me a reason to stay in China. I would get up every morning & unlock the door, clean up a little, talk with students, & then just be there in case someone needed something. I felt like I had a place that I belonged & a reason to be here in this city. I wanted to serve others & the boss gave me an opportunity to do that & I was happy to do it free of charge.

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The final decision I made was to write a book

That sounds a little crazy & I don’t actually have a published book right now but I did start one. Two things actually came from starting that book.

First, I discovered that I love to write. Growing up, I hated writing because I only wrote what was required of me in school & my father was always very critical of my writing. I guess I can thank him for that now because not long after I started writing in China, I decided to become a freelance writer. I had plenty of free time because my teaching job had limited hours & I couldn’t work anywhere else in China. So I started writing for people on the internet. I am actually in the process of building up my portfolio & working towards freelancing full time. Though I mostly do ghostwriting, because those jobs are a little easier to find, it has allowed me to explore writing in an array of niches from fitness & DIY, shopping & technology, & education & outdoor activities. I did discover that technology is my primary niche & health/fitness is my secondary.

Aside from falling in love with writing, something I once despised, I also found my creative release. Naturally, as a woman, I run on emotions. But I have always had difficulties coping with my emotions that seem to change faster than most women change clothes. Eventually, I started referring to myself as an emotional hurricane. I knew the problem, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I tried everything to be able to release my emotions without exploding on someone. I tried drawing & painting, singing & song writing, & even used marital arts as a way to release some emotions, but nothing seemed to really help me cope.

When I first started writing, I wrote a book about my life in China & the stages of culture shock. It was a terrible book because it was full of self-hate, overemotional nonsense, & it was really just poorly written, more like a rant in write than anything. But what it became was a way for me to see my life & how I had been going through culture shock. & how I had NOT been coping with it emotionally. My book allowed me to release the emotions that had been building up inside of me for more than two years, without having to explode on another human being. While writing the book, I cried about things I didn’t know made me sad & I laughed about things that had happened in the past that were now funny. After I had finished the 15,000-word book, I felt a sense of relief. Almost as though my body had been filling up with air for so long that I was suffocating & someone finally punctured a small hole for the air to release & I could breathe again.

Three Years Strong

In the middle of 2017, almost three years exactly from the day that I landed on Chinese soil, I sit here reflecting on my life since arriving & I can see the changes that have occurred. The lessons that I have learned. The friends that I have made. & all the experiences that I have had. Through the good, the bad, & the terribly ugly times, I made it. I don’t take credit for my strength, I would say my faith in God brought me this far because without Him, I would have quit years ago.

Even now as things in my life are beginning to shift & change again, I don’t want to leave China, & I don’t plan to leave either. As many of the doors that were once very important to me are beginning to close, I sit here waiting for the next doors to open so that I can walk through.

The local people often comment on how I live a “colorful life”. They say because I write, study martial arts, & live in China, my life is special. But I don’t really believe that is true. I could be in America, working at Walmart, & still live a life that is just as exciting as my life is here in China. This is true because I realized that it is our choices that make our lives colorful & exciting, not the places we live or the things we do. 

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About the Author - Amanda Faulkenberry

Amanda Faulkenberry is a 25-year-old freelance writer, ESL teacher, & martial arts enthusiast from America, living in Southern China. She graduated from North Greenville University in May 2014 with a B.A. in Spanish.

She began teaching English as a second language in August 2014 & started working towards a career in freelance writing in September 2016. She is currently working on an action/adventure novel titled “The Unexpected Adventure” which she hopes to have published to ebook format sometime in 2018.

Her favorite topics to write about are technology & health/fitness. But as a diverse writer with excellent research skills, she is capable of writing on almost any topic. When she is not writing for other people, she enjoys writing poetry, short stories & working on her book. She serves in her local community, trains in three different martial arts on a weekly basis & dreams of spending her life in China writing, teaching, & helping the locals in any way that she can.

If you've got a writing project you'd like Amanda's help on, your can hire her on UpWork. Also be sure to check out Amanda's blog.