Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014!


2014 was a difficult year for me and I'm eager to start 2015 off right! This year I won't be setting any new goals for myself, but I will continue on my path of discovering the things that truly make me happy. On that note, I leave in mid-January for a 40 day solo adventure through China and Southeast Asia. I look forward to sharing it with you.    

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday. See you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How I Survived 2014

I am pretty certain that 2014 was the most difficult year of my adult life. I've made some huge life changes and I am ending the year 2014 in a way that I never would have imagined back in January. I wanted to do a recap of sorts of my life this year, but to be honest, the first four months are a complete blur. I looked back at my blog posts from the beginning of the year and I found that I didn't share any of the chaos that was my life. I don't think I was ready then, but I own my story and I'm ready to tell it. Spoiler Alert: It all ends on a good note!

January - mid May
Like I mentioned, the first few months of this year are a complete blur. I don't really recall any of it. I was desperately trying to finish out the last semester of my master's degree and pass my comprehensive exams. My marriage had been on the rocks for quite some time, we'd been in counseling and finally decided to separate in February. My husband moved out of our house the first of March. Anyone who has ever experienced divorce before probably knows that you experience every single emotion possible, often all in the same day. Sometimes even more than once a day. Some days are good, some bad and some awful. The desire to find happiness again, the sadness at what is lost and the anxiety over what's to come usually roll together into one big knot and are difficult to handle at times. I'm not entirely sure how I got through grad school, but I'm pretty sure my brain was on auto pilot.

With all of the stress and anxiety I had over my divorce, I can honestly say I didn't put my best effort into my degree. I did the best I could under the circumstances I had, but I know I'm capable of much more. That I didn't struggle and find a way to do better is one of my biggest regrets. Fortunately though, I passed my exams and final classes and received my diploma. Other than meeting one of my very best friends in grad school and working with one of the best professors I've ever had, I'd much rather forget my time there. 

Graduation Day
Yes, my husband was with me on my graduation day. Part of me thinks that we are the weirdest divorcing couple ever, the other part of me is glad we are able to remain friends on some level. We both had sacrificed so much for my diploma that he wouldn't miss seeing me walk across the stage to accept it.

After graduation I needed to find a full time job. As ridiculous as it sounds I was feeling incredibly insecure about my ability to find a well paying job that I loved. I had also dreamed of studying abroad or living abroad some day, but those dreams would never have come true if I stayed in my marriage. So I enrolled in an Oxford Seminars course to earn an ESL Teaching Certificate to help me find a job teaching abroad and explore my options. This was a six week course that cost $1200 but the selling point for me was that they helped you find a job in your country of choice through their many contacts. To me it felt safer knowing they were all schools that had been vetted for me. 

I really wanted to teach in Oman because of my love of Middle Eastern history and the country is relatively safe, but there were no open positions at that time. Due to my level of education I received dozens of interviews and offers all over China and some in South Korea as well. I considered Japan, but the application process was longer and I wasn't sure it would fit my time frame. Plus I had a lot of other offers at my feet. Ultimately I chose a job teaching at a university because it aligned more closely with my recent goals and I thought it would provide good experience for my future. You can read more on my big announcement here

As I prepared to leave for China in August I needed to tie up loose ends and I wanted to visit as many local sites over the summer as possible before I left the area I lived in, possibly forever. You can read more about my summer adventures here, here and here. My husband and I spent several weekends checking places off my list. I know, we were separated and still spending time together, weird right? It was often difficult and sometimes tense, but I think we both wanted to have a few good memories together before our marriage finally ended. Here is a brief look at the places we visited:

Volo Bog

Volo Auto Museum


Black Pointe Estate, Lake Geneva, WI

Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio, Oak Park, IL

And if that still wasn't enough...I ended up having surgery at the beginning of August. A mere three weeks before I moved to China. I had an outpatient surgery to remove my tonsils which can easily be called the most horrifying five hours of my entire adult life! The nurses and staff were so condescending and just plain rude. They treated me like I wasn't even a person and my requests or concerns didn't matter. They had their own agenda and they were sticking to it regardless of what I wanted. I was in physical pain and they told me to deal with it (exact words, in a mean tone) and I was often told 'no one likes being here'. As if that were permission for them to treat me heartlessly. Here's a tip, if you treated people like actual human beings maybe they wouldn't hate it so much! Just a thought. As if I hadn't had a rough enough year, I had to suffer that indignity as well. The rest of the month was spent recovering from my surgery and a final round of packing before I left Illinois for good.

When I arrived in China I had an initial feeling of buyers remorse. You can read more about my first experiences here. Thankfully, all I needed was to allow myself time to adjust and settle into my new life. I've had some amazing new experiences that I wouldn't have had if I stayed back home. I need to give myself credit for refusing to accept less than the best for myself and forcing myself to open up to new possibilities. As terrifying as it is to make such a huge move while still processing the end of my marriage, the end of my graduate degree and determining my life's direction, I still would have struggled with each of these steps. Instead of settling and taking an easier route, I forced myself to imagine a different life by living out one of my dreams. In the end, it was completely worth it.  

Since arriving in China I've visited several cities:


Grand Epoch City







I still have moments of loneliness and insecurity, I wouldn't be human if I didn't. Overall though, my experience in China has been wonderful. There are good and bad things about living here, just like anywhere else, but I have experienced such kindness and compassion from new friends and complete strangers. It really reaffirms all of the decisions I made this year. If I hadn't experienced the awful things I did, I wouldn't be here now. And this place that I'm in is pretty good.  

It is one of my firmly held beliefs that you can not truly appreciate the good things in life without experiencing the bad things that come your way. Having suffered through the pain and sadness makes us appreciate the blessings so much more. I hope that 2015 is full of blessings for each and every one of you!








Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas in China Recap

I know many expats struggle with feelings of homesickness around the holidays each year. While I've had my own feelings of loneliness at times, the holidays this year were actually quite enjoyable for me. I've met some wonderful people in China and they made me feel welcome and appreciated. I am fortunate that my new friends want to learn all about my holidays and traditions and were excited to celebrate with me. I can honestly say that over both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays I didn't miss being in the states one bit!

On Christmas eve and Christmas day I made plans with friends to have dinner and do a gift exchange. You can read about my plans here. On Christmas day I had to teach two classes, but it was final exams week so I really just had to sit back and listen to student presentations. 

On Wednesday evening (Christmas eve) I received a call that the dean and a few other people from the English department wanted to host a special lunch for me and the other two foreign teachers on Thursday in honor of Christmas for us. We had a formal Chinese meal and it was delicious. It was a really nice gesture and I was even more surprised when they presented us with gifts to celebrate as well. I received a lovely scarf and a snuff bottle that is painted from the inside. It was presented in a wooden box. One side has a beautiful Chinese image and the other side is painted with the school logo.

I was also delighted to receive fruit and small gifts of candy from several of my students and my teaching assistant. The Chinese Christmas tradition is to give apples or oranges on Christmas eve. They do not really celebrate the holiday although you will see Christmas trees and other decorations around the malls and shopping centers. It appears to be more of a commercial celebration than anything else. The apples and oranges were beautifully wrapped and presented. My students told me that apples mean 'safety' and oranges mean 'may your dreams come true'. Tucked inside the folds of paper were little pieces of chocolate. I'm told that means 'may there be sweetness in your heart'. It was all very unexpected and heartwarming. I was expecting Christmas to feel pretty much like a normal day here in China and I felt extremely honored that so many people went out of their way to celebrate a holiday with me that they don't typically acknowledge. From the meals, to the gifts, to the flood of social media messages on QQ and WeChat, everyone really made me feel very blessed this Christmas.

Decorative Fruit

Apple in a Gift Box

I hope you had the same joy on your Christmas day! 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Photo Friday: Chicago

Art Institute
Chicago, Illinois
December 2013

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday filled with joy surrounded by your loved ones!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Christmas Celebration

This year I will be celebrating Christmas in China. I found out way too late from the school that I could end my classes early so that I could return to the states for Christmas. This wasn't really a problem for me since I had no intentions of going back home anyway. My plan is to make the most of my time in China and see everything I came here to see, plus a whole lot more. Not to mention, I don't have a home in the states to return to. I haven't spent Christmas with my family in years and spending Christmas with my soon-to-be-ex-in-laws always caused me great anxiety (and I'm not generally an anxious person). 

I didn't do a special Thanksgiving post this year, but I spent my day teaching and in the evening I had a special dinner with my adult evening students. I teach English to eight working adults on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Our Thursday evening class coincided with Thanksgiving, and I'm allowed to be creative with my teachings for the class. So I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner to teach them all about our traditions and I was able to prepare a dinner very similar to what I would have had at home even with my limited kitchen appliances and no oven. Oh yeah, and no turkey either. As far as I can tell, they just don't have turkeys here. By the end of the evening, I had so much fun with my new group of friends that I didn't even miss being home for Thanksgiving at all.

So this week for Christmas I decided to do the same thing. We could have ended our classes early, but the class and I wanted to share a special Christmas party together. We are even doing a gift exchange game and everyone is bringing a gift. The school has generously scheduled a special lunch for the foreign teachers as well so I will be celebrating much of the day. On Christmas Eve, I will be having dinner and exchanging gifts with some friends I've made during my short stay here. They don't celebrate, but they know I do and want to experience the Christmas traditions with me. We'll be dining out at our local Pizza Hut and I'm really excited for it! It sounds really weird to have Pizza Hut for Christmas Eve dinner, but I love pizza and rarely eat it here because all of the western restaurants are really expensive. The Pizza Hut in China has a wide variety of menu items, including steak. I'll of course be sticking to the pizza. With all the stress I've had over the holidays during my marriage, I'm really looking forward to enjoying a fun Christmas party with new friends. I hope you all enjoy the same!

What are your holiday plans?   

Friday, December 19, 2014

Photo Friday: Jumieges Abbey

Jumieges Abbey
Normandy, France
May 2007

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekly Highlight Reel

Transitions are hard and my year has been lived in transition. It took me a little while to adjust to living in China, but over the past month or so I really feel like I'm settling down into a routine. Of course there are good weeks, bad weeks, great days and crummy days (just like back home), but I am really comfortable with calling China my home. I've made connections and expanded my network of people and acquainted myself with my local city. I'm finally finishing my first semester of teaching and looking forward to my upcoming vacation. Even though I have a terrible cold that I just can't kick, this week has been very productive and rewarding.    

Forbidden City

Here's a look at the highlights from my week:
  1. Booked my airplane ticket to Cambodia for winter break
  2. Ate hotpot for the first time
  3. Woke up to the first snowfall of the season
  4. Took a day trip to Beijing with a visit to the National Museum and Forbidden City
  5. Had a traditional Chinese dinner at Jasmine Restaurant
  6. Bought my train ticket to Chengdu in January
  7. Dinner out with a friend on Friday night
  8. Leaving today to spend the weekend in the countryside
What made your week memorable?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Photo Friday: Madison

Madison, Wisconsin
March 2014 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Traditional Chinese Dinner

This semester, in addition to my normal classes, I also teach a group of eight working adults in the evenings at my university. Tonight the school hosted a meal for us at a restaurant so that we could eat a traditional Chinese meal and learn the traditional dining etiquette rules. Each of the students shared a different aspect of the culture.  We covered everything from different types of tea, rules of using chopsticks, a story on birthday noodles, how to host a meal and other dining tips.

For a Chinese meal, the food is all placed in the middle of the table and the center spins so you can easily pass the food around. When something comes by that you want, you reach your chopsticks out and take a piece. Some tables are motorized and move on their own and you place your fingers on the table to pause the motion. The table we had today was not motorized so we would spin it to pass the dishes around. Etiquette dictates that you check to make sure that no one is taking food from a dish before you spin the table. If someone is selecting something from a dish, you wait until they are finished and then rotate the table to get what you want.     

Traditional style chair

In addition to the presentations on Chinese culture we had a variety of dishes to try. I liked almost every one of them. Many of the foods area similar to what I eat back home, but they are cooked in different ways and with different sauces or ingredients. 

Here is a look at the dishes I ate:




Pork Meatballs (aka Lion's heads)

Chinese Pizza


White Carrot

Wild Goose






Have you had an experience learning the etiquette rules of another culture?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

National Museum of China

Living in China for a year gives me a chance to explore the history of a culture that I know little about.  I've studied various types of histories throughout my years of education and travel though I never had the opportunity until now to study China. I love reading about history and visiting local museums and there are a lot of museums in China. One of the best is the National Museum of China in Beijing located just east of Tian'an Men Square. There is a variety of items on display ranging from art, sculpture, pottery and bronze work.   

Song Dynasty Stone Carvings

During the recent APEC meetings in Beijing, the National Museum of China opened a new exhibit on the Silk Road in China. I honestly get so excited to see pieces that people created and used in their daily lives over a thousand years ago. In all of my years of visiting historic sites and museums, I don't think I've ever viewed anything in person that was dated b.c. However there are a few pieces in this collection that are. Here are a few of my favorite treasures from the Silk Road exhibit:

Bronze Vessel (beginning of 3rd century - 221 B.C.)

Brocade Pillow, Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.)

Brocade Armlet, Han-Jin Dynasty (202 B.C.- 420 A.D.)

Lacquer Sewing Box, Qing Dynasty

This museum has a lot of great items and I can't wait to explore more of the collections on display. Best of all, the museum is free to visit.

Do you have a favorite museum? What did you enjoy seeing lately?