On Saturday I’m moving to China. I will be teaching English at a university for a year. I never considered visiting China before this job opportunity came up, much less live there for a year. If you were not exactly sure why exactly I’m doing this you wouldn’t be alone. There are a lot of reasons I could be doing this: I’m bored with my life, I have a pattern of fleeing the country when my life falls apart (like it did at the end of last year), I’ve always thought about teaching overseas, my wanderlust has returned, I really love dumplings.
Because the application process for this job has taken several months, I’ve had a long time to consider the choice to leave. A few times I considered cancelling my trip and staying, Portland is a great city to live in and I’m starting to make some good inroads in the writing scene here. I had a few job opportunities present themselves that were good enough keep me up for a few nights debating over what I should do. What would be the ‘right’ decision? One day I was talking to a friend about this and he asked me, “What to you want to do? Big picture.”
“I want to be a writer,” I said.
“Well I think you should listen to that.”
So I sat with that for a while. Eventually I decided that going to China was the decision I needed to make in my life right now. China will be a great opportunity to challenge myself and focus on writing. It didn’t mean I wouldn’t regret not staying, not taking one of those other opportunities, but when I think about the next few years of my life and what I want to do this seemed like the decision I had to make. Sometimes there aren’t ‘right’ choices because there aren’t any ‘wrong’ choices, whatever you pick is fine as long as you know you are going to make the most of it.
In 2007 I moved to New Zealand; I had a working-holiday visa. I know what I was doing with my life so I figured moving to New Zealand for a while was a good idea. I was temping for the Ministry of Education, doing a job I was slightly unqualified for, but not doing it that poorly. My boss floated the idea of offering me a permanent position, they would sponsor a work visa for me, I could live in Wellington. At the time I shared a two-bedroom apartment with a friend right by the water, I went to a farmers market every weekend for fresh produce, and the city was full of art and culture. But there was this feeling that I wanted to go back to the states, I didn’t have a lot of friends in the city and I wasn’t writing anything. After a few days I declined the offer and decided to head back to the US.
I sometimes think about that other life I could have had in New Zealand. More often I think about how I we don’t recognize how important our choices are until after they are made.
I took a Mandarin class this summer; so far I’ve ‘mastered’ introducing myself, how to order a beer, and counting to twenty. I’ve never taught English before, and I feel ill prepared to start. Fortunately, I’m not expected to make my students fluent, just get them comfortable speaking. I’ll arrive not knowing anyone there and none of the administrators I’ve corresponded with have been amazingly helpful. I know a little of what to expect from talking to a former teacher. Most of my belongings are in boxes now; my entire life barely fills up a cargo van. I bought a guidebook. I've visited my family in Alaska and Seattle. There is no food left in my fridge. I still need to figure out how to pack for a 10-month trip, but I guess I’m ready to go.