I’m still attached to my life in China

Alex McNab

I felt like crying right there in the middle of the baggage claim, and it wasn’t because I was happy to see my mom, who was hugging me now, holding me tight as though she believed that, if she squeezed hard enough, she’d be able to drain the nine months that I’d spent away as a student at the high school foreign exchange program School Year Abroad China right out of me.

I wished she would stop. Standing there seeing my family beaming, joyous at my return made me feel like a jerk because I was supposed to be happy too, but I wasn’t. I felt bad, and it wasn’t because I’d just been sitting on a plane for 13 hours.

I didn’t want to be back. In fact, LAX was the very last place I wanted to be. Living in a different place with different people for a year gave me a clearer perspective on the life I have in Los Angeles, and what I saw wasn’t good. It’s not that I don’t like my life here. It’s just that I like living in China more.

Every conversation I have, every person I meet, every place that I go, I automatically compare to its Chinese equivalent; figuring that, were I in China, I would be discussing more engaging things, meeting more interesting people and going to more bizarre places. There wouldn’t be anything so wrong with my desire to be someplace else except that the place to which I want to return no longer exists.

Of course China is still there, and the school, teachers, house and family with which I lived are still stuck in the same daily routines that occupied them while I was living in Beijing, but the people that I miss the most, the S.Y.A. China class of 2013, are no more. We have all dispersed to our own separate parts of the country, each of us faced with similar struggles as we try to reconcile our three lives: life before, during, and after our S.Y.A. experience.

I used to assume that seeing my friends from S.Y.A., even if we were not in China, would be enough to satisfy my desire to go back to Beijing, but I met up with eight of my colleagues this summer, and, although I enjoyed seeing them, not one person succeeded in making me any less attached to the life in China that I miss so much. These kids were an essential part of my experience, but they were only one piece of the totally new lifestyle I’d developed during my time abroad, and, without the other pieces, it just didn’t feel right.

Talking about food with Ansley wasn’t the same if we weren’t at Jenny Lou’s, an expat supermarket in Beijing, trying to figure out which western ingredients they sold. Gossiping with Evan about the current status of Tamar and Noa’s love life seemed meaningless when it was considered that, by the time we next saw them, they likely wouldn’t even remember most of the details of their relationship. The sweet nothings I whispered to my girlfriend when I visited her home in Honolulu this summer seemed, for the first time, to really mean nothing since we both acknowledged the fact that we could never be together long distance.

What’s the point to all this? I guess that’s what I’m trying to find out. At the moment, I cannot say, and I’m not exactly partial to the process of discovering the deeper meaning behind my abroad experience. For now, I’m just waiting for senior year to be over so that I can graduate and go to college, where I’ll start my next big adventure.