Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chapter 48: On Target Parking Lots and Living as an Expat

It's been awhile since I've been this homesick - since my first few months of Nigeria.

It might stem from the fact that I'm not going home to Minnesota for the first summer in my life. It might be that I'm starting to realize that I'm in China (not three minutes ago I could be heard saying, "Holy cow! How did I get to China!? When did that happen?!?"). It could be that I'm just now finding myself not quite so mind-numbingly-busy-with-school-and-drama-and-fellowship-and-spring-trips-and-living-in-CHINA busy that I am actually having time to process the fact that I am not home.

It's easy, here in Qingdao, to deceive myself - to feel almost as though I'm in America. The ease of transportation, the sense of community in the fellowship that I attend, the amenities that are available here. . . much of it feels familiar, and much of it takes the place of the things I have left behind.


Under a Western facade, the city of Qingdao is still very much China. There are manifold differences from the U.S. in mindset, liberties, culture, language, and values. And while I love being here, I am also beginning to enter a time of longing for the familiarity of America.

It's interesting the things you miss when you move overseas. It's not so much the big changes that shock you. It's not the drastically different mindsets or the gigantic shift in language or the new and sometimes challenging foods. What you miss are the smaller things that you take for granted when you are in your home country: that I can't go out in a kayak whenever I want to; that I can't drive here; that Target is an awesome store; that the smells here are different than the smells there; that no one here has known me for more than a year.

So I find myself being homesick for stupid things - the parking lot of a Target, the smell of the neighbors having a barbecue, the satisfaction of mowing the lawn, music that I can understand in the stores. Things that would not satisfy if I were to get them. Who wants to spend time in a Target parking lot, after all.

There is one possible explanation for the homesickness that I'm feeling which I did not include in the list above. And I think it's the most important one. This is now the longest I've been away from the people I know and love the most. Ever.        
Skype is great. Facebook is wonderful. Blogs are insightful, and email is a blessing. But none of it is the same as getting a hug from my dad. Or smelling my mom's perfume. Or driving on a bumpy farm road with my sister. Or playing with my nephews on the floor. Or sitting down for coffee with my friends.

I don't want things to change here. I love Qingdao, and I'm planning on staying for quite awhile still.

But I wish, in vain, that there was a way to have both.

EDIT:  A good friend here just posted about a similar topic on his blog, and I thought I would link it in case you are interested. Definitely worth a read. 


  1. I wrote this while I was in Singapore.

    The world is round
    And from youth, this we have known
    But it isn’t until you circle it
    That the dimensions
    And implications
    of this become clear

    The world is round
    And thus, is has two sides, or maybe three
    This, that and the other
    And two means choosing
    And I stand between heaven and earth
    On one side and not the other

    There are two sides of the world, so we’ve been told
    And two sides to every story
    And I stand on one page and not the other
    Ready to jump when it turns, to land hard
    And wake up wondering where I am
    And why half of me is missing

    For what can I say to these things?
    Is it better to depart and be with you
    Or to remain
    To live is loss, to die the same

    So flip a coin and heads or tails
    I will fall and stain this page with tears
    Then rise and stand on one side of a reeling two sided world
    But not the other

  2. The stupidest thing I missed in LT was convenience food. Now that we've been back for a couple years, I miss a lot of things about LT. Such is the life, I guess, when your heart lives in more than one place. Anyway, hope you have a superb summer, and that there are unexpected familiar things that pop up here and there for you.

  3. "that no one here has known me for more than a year."

    This is a sucky thing. A really sucky thing. That I've managed to avoid, mostly. Maybe why I found it so sad to read...

    My good friend since 7th grade was living in Qingdao when I moved here. Though now she's been gone for almost three years. And every Sunday, I sit around at fellowship and glance across the room at a quilt my mom made for faces I remember from the Sundays of my childhood. Then Rose talks about Matty and Peggy and Sarah and while she hasn't known me for more than a year, she knows them.

    Still, my heart jumps when faces from home take a trip to China. My youth leader has come two or three times now because of his current role at the fellowship. Back last spring, only days after Tim's accident, the main guy who spoke each week of my childhood came for a visit. Of course, his visit had nothing to do with me, but in a time of tears, heartbreak, and questions, I couldn't think of a more comforting person to be there and help me process. Just this past Sunday, another familiar face was in town and spoke, making reference to people and places that are my upbringing.

    I wish everyone had people here that knew them, that knew their history. That let their worlds meet. It's why visitors to China are so important and why visitors FROM China when you're back in the states (even just during a summer home) are equally important. It's so much better than a tour on Google Earth.

  4. I completely related to this blog post! I never thought I would miss the smells of America like I did when I was in Africa. Thank God for Yankee Candles.


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