Saturday, August 30, 2014

To stay or go?

Me with the kids

 Leaving China, the time comes for it sooner or later for most expats and for us it may be quickly approaching. Ming and I had planned to marry and stay in the US back in 2007, but due to a number of issues, we returned to China. I don't regret the decision, but I think in the back of my mind I knew that the PRC wasn't where we'd settle permanently. I figured that we would, in all likelihood, eventually move back to America and it looks like we will be, perhaps as soon as next summer.

Some people ask why we want to move back while others ask why we didn't move back sooner. Recently, when I've been asked such questions by a number of Chinese friends and acquaintances; I've answered openly and honestly. I have a number of concerns and most Chinese people I talk to share in them. While venting frustrations about life in China is inevitable for most of us living here, I don't like nor want to bash China. This post is meant to be an honest reflection on our reasons for wanting to return to the US and not meant to be about why China sucks and why the US is awesome.

Living anywhere comes with pros and cons. There are certainly a lot of great things about living in China—a rich language and culture, myriad opportunities for travel, little violent crime, and the ease of making friends. For better or worse, as a foreigner, I also get to live a more relaxed and “sheltered” life compared to locals. Many Chinese people expect less out of me than they might from each other and I sometimes receive special treatment and attention simply for being foreign. Recently, an elderly lady tried you yield her seat to me on the bus. I was afraid she had mistaken me for being pregnant (at three months postpartum, the horror!) but Ming explained she was most likely trying to show kindness to a “visitor.” For the most part, I have indeed been very fortunate in my life here. In fact, I might even be willing to stay forever, but with two kids I want what is best for them more what is good for me. In the end, I think life in the US would be better for them, mostly due to the following:

The Environment. Before I came to China I didn't really know what smog was. Really, I didn't. It seems unbelievable now as many of my days are filled with it—sometimes I even have to break out a face mask. I spent most of my time growing up in small town America and unless it was raining, the sky was usually blue. The air quality in most of China is alarming bad. I've heard claims that breathing the air in large cities is no different than smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I don't know if there's truth to such claims, but having lived two years choking on the air and exhaust fumes in Beijing, I just might believe it. Smog aside, I want my kids to have a childhood like a did. . . simple things like running through the yard with bare feet, jumping in puddles, and make snow angels.

Food Safety. This topic is not for the faint of heart. Since living in China I've heard numerous gut-wrenching stories regarding unsafe food, to name a few: rat meat disguised as lamb, melamine-tainted pet food and infant formula, dyed watermelons, and gutter oil. I used to brush these stories off, but once I became pregnant I was more conscientious about what I ate. Gone are the days of eating street food and at cheap restaurants. I clean meat, veggies, and fruits with great care. But I am a realist, I know I'm still ingesting plenty of dirt, chemicals, and toxins. I also know America doesn't have a perfect record when it comes to food safety, but at least there I don't have to worry about my dog or baby dying from melamine poisoning. Unfortunately, this is a real fear many people have to live with, such a great fear that some Chinese have taken to smuggling infant formula from neighboring Hong Kong.

Want the best for this little guy.
Education. Having worked both worked in a Chinese high school and with Chinese kids of all ages, I know the rigors of being a student in China. Kids here have it tough compared to their American counterparts. Chinese students are packed 60-70 deep in a very basic classroom, often without out heat. Homework, especially for high school students, piles mountain high. Everyone, pretty much from birth, has their eye on the final prize—acing the gao kao (college entrance exams) so that they can apply to a good university which will ultimately lead to a stable and secure job. I like the idea of kids having goals and working hard, but I don't want my children to sacrifice the bulk of their childhoods and schooling experience in an attempt to do well on a single exam. Instead, I'd like to see things like after school sports, part-time jobs, and prom in their futures.

Family. I have rarely felt homesick. . . then William came along. I long for days spent with family and friends in Wisconsin. But what about Ming's family? Well, our main concern is his mom, but she can easily come visit us for a few months once or twice yearly. A flight to China is probably not in the cards for my family and anyways, it's much more economical for me to go back and visit them myself. But these days those once a year visits don't seem like enough.

What about you? For those of you who are living or have lived abroad, what factors have greatest influenced your decisions to stay or go?


Marta said...

If I had a kid I would probably move back to Spain, at least when s/he started school. But aren’t you worried about your husband’s career options in the US? I know for a fact that it would be difficult for my bf to find a job in Spain... I really have to make him study Spanish.

rosieinbj said...

Yes, it will be difficult (although perhaps not as difficult as in Spain). I'm not too worried–Ming will be able to find some sort of work. We are looking into him getting his commercial driving license because there is a shortage of truckers in the US. My dad has some contacts in construction and landscaping, which might be an option.

I think it is important that both him and I go to the US with the mindset that we won't land our dream job or even get a job in the field we want, at least initially.