Tag Archives: Hong Kong

The Art of Living Abroad

 

Nanning's ultra modern and traditional landscapes side by side.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Nanning’s ultra modern and traditional landscapes side by side. Photo by Evan Schneider.

It’s been nearly two years since my husband and I moved back from living in South China (how time flies!), but there’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about the people, the place, or our life there.  Moving to a foreign country as a young couple had its growing pains, but ultimately it brought us closer together and is an experience that we treasure and hope to repeat someday with our children.

I have some friends and acquaintances who are getting ready to make the move across the ocean or halfway around the world and it got me thinking about what lessons I can draw from our own experience.  So, here are a few suggestions for how to make the most of that international living experience, which is definitely more of an art than a science.

My husband plays volleyball with the teachers from his college.  My photo.
My husband plays volleyball with the teachers from his college. My photo.

Find Some Structure

It’s essential when you arrive to start building a community, through which you can learn about the culture, and among which you can begin to build relationships and feel at home. When I was doing my fieldwork in China, my network of informants was free-floating and dispersed, so it really helped that my husband was affiliated with a local university for his work, through which we met a mix of Chinese professors, students, and even expats.  Finding a community–a housing complex, a company, a school, or a place of worship–that has some structure and rituals to it helps a lot when you’re struggling to learn the ins and outs of daily life in a brand new place and ensures that you won’t feel isolated despite the isolating experiences  you’re often up against.  Even setting up a weekly meeting with a language partner or a friend to explore the city can give you the motivation to get out there and get to know your new surroundings and help you feel more at home.

Communicate

Speaking of isolation, a great piece of advice I received from a couple before moving abroad and back was to be mindful that despite your commonalities you won’t be experiencing a new culture in exactly the same way.  It’s imperative that instead of assuming cross-cultural experiences resonate or rub against us in exactly the same way as family or friends that we allow for multiple feelings and interpretations of the same events and experiences.  When I was living in China, I often assumed my husband to be my cultural confidant who shared my frustrations, joys, and complaints, but that wasn’t always the case.  It really helped to talk through those disconnects and resist making assumptions so that we could be sources of support to one another in a challenging experience.

Even locals have to study the bus routes in Nanning!  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Even locals have to study the bus routes in Nanning! Photo by Evan Schneider.

Become an Anthropologist

Now I’m completely biased, but I think it’s also important to suspend judgment and try to look past first impressions when you’re getting to know your new country and culture.  Spend your time observing people, listening, and participating in life the way they live it.  If you consider yourself a student of culture, it’s also a lot easier to tolerate and maybe even embrace differences that might be initially repulsive or confusing.  As a student, you’re only responsible for asking good questions, applying yourself and learning to the best of your ability, and respecting your teachers, which is a wonderfully fresh and un-stressful way to relate to your new, and sometimes jarring, world!

On a trip to Hong Kong.
On a trip to Hong Kong.

Indulge

There will be times where you need a psychological or even a physical break from the fatigue of speaking another language, being a foreigner in a strange land, or adhering to customs and pleasantries that aren’t your own.  It’s important to take these much needed breaks so that when you are with your new neighbors in your new country you can be the best version of yourself.  For my husband and I that meant brief sojourns to Hong Kong every once in awhile, evenings every few weeks with expats, or simply alone time on our balcony where we allowed one another the freedom to speak candidly about some of our frustrations and fears.

Beautiful Guilin.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Beautiful Guilin. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Explore

Don’t pass up the opportunity to explore your new country and culture while you have it.  My fondest memories of China are the weekends and weeks where I made spontaneous research trips to the countryside with new friends, and the trips to Southeast Asia with friends and to the wildest parts of Guangxi with family.  And I regret never making it to all the other places on our list–Harbin, Sanya, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar just to name a few!  Exploring the country with new friends deepens your understanding of the idiosyncrasies of what it really means to live in that place, because there’s nothing like long hours spent on buses and trains to bring people together.  After all, the art of living abroad is about taking care of yourself but also taking chances!

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Why we pray

Sometimes it seems as though the world is so saturated with pain and heartache and disease and fear that it might burst.  

It’s in those moments that we put our hands together, we bow our heads, we bend our knees.  If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we do it less out of faith and more out of desperation and perhaps a little bit out of habit.  We go to God to find solace from the scary world, to test that God is still there, to cry out to someone who we want so boldly to trust, cares.

If you’re like me, you may have circles of friends who aren’t people of faith.  Do you pray for them, too?  Do you tell them?

The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  All photos by Evan Schneider.
The Giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. All photos by Evan Schneider.

Despite my shoddy track record as an evangelist, I almost always do.  I almost always tell them that I’m thinking of them, that I’m praying for them, and of course, being a former seminarian, I’ve wondered a bit about the theology in all that.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t.  When we’re on our knees and lifting our friends in prayer, it isn’t theology that grounds us, but the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit doesn’t merely speak the language of Christianity or faith, but the language of the heart.  So the language of the heart tumbles out of us, knowing no boundaries, no colors, no sects, no creeds.

When I’ve told my friends who aren’t people of faith that I’m praying for them, I think they’ve found it meaningful, perhaps even more meaningful than those in the church.  They don’t have to be Christian to know that interceding for someone is the work of desperation, habit, and perhaps a little bit of faith.  They do it, too, in their own ways.

As I read this little book by Anne Lamott on prayer these days, I am reminded how simply prayer is about communion with God.  I like how she believes that honesty before God, all of our anger, frustration, and fear, can actually lead us toward, rather than away from God.

Hong Kong

And I wonder if we in the Christian community have spoken too often about what prayer isn’t, so that we’re hardly left with anything that prayer is.  The funny thing is, my non-Christian friends want to pray, too.  They sit there before a meal, waiting on me to bless it.  They ask me when and why I pray.  In fact, they’re not nearly as skittish about prayer as we Christians are sometimes.

And what if I leveled with them?  What if I told them that I don’t pray because I have great faith, I pray because I need great faith?  What if I told them, I pray to hear my own voice saying that God is there, because sometimes I myself have a hard time believing it?  What if I told them that I pray because I simply wish I could feel God a bit nearer all the time?

When it comes down to it, I do believe that God meets us in prayer.  But I also believe God intercedes when we don’t have the words, that God hears the prayers that ruminate in our minds whether we choose to speak them or not, so that prayer is not so much about what God is or isn’t doing, but our need for God.

A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.
A pagoda peeking out over the trees in Hong Kong.

But when the doors to the church are shut so tight, I’m pretty sure those outside can’t see that we’re actually just a bunch of needy people, people just like them.  So this morning, I’m praying for friends, Christian and non-Christian alike, and I’m praying for God to shine brightly through my cracks, my weaknesses, and my neediness.  May it truly be God who is glorified, praised, and honored…in prayer, in life, inside the church and out.

Happy 2013 (a look back).

This past year was filled with so much wonder, discovery, challenge, and I hope, growth.

Exiting a mosque in Cairo's City of the Dead.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
Exiting a mosque in Cairo’s City of the Dead. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I can’t hardly believe that we began the past year in Egypt, on the anniversary of their revolution, traveling with good friends in Cairo and then in the UAE.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever return to the Middle East after such a whirlwind trip, but lately I can’t stop thinking about that trip, the people, the cities, the mystique of it all.

My friend, Emily, and I above Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution this past January.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
My friend, Emily, and I above Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution this past January. Photo by Ben Robinson.

My fieldwork really began to pick up in 2012 as I traveled frequently to a new foster care project for disabled children in a village several hours outside the capital city.  I wrote one of the most popular posts on the blog that month, describing some of the lessons I’d learned from doing fieldwork in China, and tried to give you a glimpse of what I really did everyday!

In March, Evan and I spent 72 hours in Hong Kong, where I presented some initial findings of my research to the Department of Anthropology at Chinese University of Hong Kong.  It was one of my favorite trips to one of my favorite cities!

The view from Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The view from Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo by Evan Schneider.

In May, our friends Zack and Kristina joined us in China and we did another tour of Hanoi and Halong Bay.  Soon, Evan was finishing up teaching, and I was wrapping up fieldwork.  My family joined us in June, and we all traveled to the breathtaking rice terraces outside of Guilin together.  Finally, at the end of July, we left China, and I’ve been looking back ever since.

This is our guide, Xiao Pan, looking out on the rice terraces outside her Yao village, Zhongliu, in the Guangxi mountains.  Photo by David Raffety.
This is our guide, Xiao Pan, looking out on the rice terraces outside her Yao village, Zhongliu, in the Guangxi mountains. Photo by David Raffety.

Back in the US, challenges took a different shape–moving, readjusting to our home culture, academic culture for me, a new job for Evan (yay!).  The last few months feel as though they’ve flown by even faster than our time traveling the world and living in China.  We love being back in Princeton, because our friends seem to enjoy coming back here, too, and we’ve had countless visits from dear friends these past few months.

And though I never thought I’d get there, but I’m starting to ache again to set flight for somewhere new and exotic.  Guess that’s just the anthropologist in me!

My friend, Abbie, and I walk on the canal path this fall in Princeton.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My friend, Abbie, and I walk on the canal path this fall in Princeton. Photo by Evan Schneider.

2012 was also the five year anniversary for this blog.  Five years of anthropology and ministry, Spanish, Chinese, world travels, centering prayer, physical and spiritual journeying, and gratitude–gratitude for you, dear readers, and gratitude for God’s blessings upon this past year and the next.  Thanks for making this journey with me!

In Cairo, with my husband.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
In Cairo, with my husband. Photo by Ben Robinson.

Happy New Year!

What would you like to see more of on the blog in 2013?

 

 

Two years in China

Nanning at twilight!
Another image of city life in China.

It’s been two years of life for my husband and I here in China.  We’ve traveled to the mountains of Yunnan to visit minority churches, explored the ultra modern city of Hong Kong, explored, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Egypt, and the UAE and hosted our families and friends. He’s completed two years of teaching college-level English and I’ve finished two years of fieldwork with foster families.

On Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.
In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on the one-year anniversary of their revolution with our friends Ben and Emily.
With a foster baby in Guangxi. Photos by Evan Schneider.

More than anything, as I look back through the past years, I’m astounded not only by the breadth of these experiences that I will carry with me, but also God’s provision and faithfulness.  

If you have time I invite you to check out the following posts which weave their way, highlighting some snapshots of our two years here, describing some of the highs and lows of research, faith, cross-cultural immersion, and our life.

From 2010

August 2010: Abide in me…  {thoughts on silent prayer in a city of 7 million, spiritual growth, and freeing oneself from distractions}

September 2010: Journeywoman  {on security, brokenness, and culture}

December 2010: Equipped by the Spirit (Yunnan Reflection #2)  {reflections on my first trip to Yunnan, and the tension between the need for theological training and the equipping work of the Holy Spirit in the Yunnan countryside}

From 2011

May 2011: Hunan Headlines: A Mix of Sorrow and Hope  {personal and professional reflections on the baby-selling scandal in a county in Hunan, which made international news}

July 2011: Church Renewal from Below  {thoughts on Richard Rohr, cross-cultural exchange, and Chinese solutions to Chinese problems}

August 2011: A Taste of Vietnam {evangelizing for one of my favorites, Vietnamese coffee!}

October 2011: Come on ride the train {snippets from a typical road trip to Guilin}

November 2011: Like a child  {reflections on fieldwork with children, disability, and faith}

December 2011: The Best Things about Winter in China {bundled up babies, chestnuts roasting, and hot pot, of course!}

From 2012

January 2012: Cairo notes: from the rooftops {a reflection on our first few days in another land}

February 2012: Thanking God for the woes  {on the beattitudes, justice, and God’s call}

March 2012: 72 Hours in Hong Kong {highlights from a weekend trip}

April 2012: Some Easter Thoughts from China {on Christianity, tomb sweeping, and culture}

May 2012: Consider the ravens, consider the blessings {on understanding, cross-cultural relationships, worries, and of course, blessings}

July 2012: Pinching myself {reflections on leaving China and savoring the little things}