Need to catch up? Read part 1 here.

My feelings of regret and what-in-the-world-have-I-done faded quickly as I began to dive into my new life in China. This was an all new experience. Chinese food in China is not your average General Tso’s Chicken from the food court at the mall. Chinese food in China is out. of. this. world. And then there’s the new culture I set out to explore. Grandparents dancing in the park. Grown men doing tai chi. Was I on the set of a movie or was this real life?

I went to orientation sessions for four days in Beijing and learned all about what my new life would like. I learned about how to be professional in the classroom, how to build quality friendships with locals outside the classroom, how to not look like a goofball at the market, and how to get along well with my team of other teachers.

I left Beijing and took a train to my new permanent home in Shandong province. It was a small town by almost any standards. It was a farming town with a deep rich history. And right in the center of town was an old university. This was my new home.

Many details about my new home are fuzzy in my mind, but there are a few distinct stories that stand out: the sunroom in my apartment, the noodle shop just outside the school gate, going for a walk around town on my first day, discovering a coffee house where some new Chinese friends insisted that I play the drums in their band (I do not play the drums), eating watermelon and roast duck, and being the absolute worst teacher ever. I was the worst. But I think I made up for it by being a good friend.

My new home in Shandong will always stand out to me as a magnificent start to my years in China. When I think back on those days, my mind thinks of sunny, warm days. I think of good food and deep laughter. I think about how carefree and stress free I was.

Even with all of the good, there were also very tough days. My students — who quickly became my friends — dealt with extremely difficult circumstances in their lives. Family deaths. Fear. Pressure. And their own dark secrets.

In part 3 of this story, I hope to dive into some of those heart-wrenching stories and unpack how language and culture barriers evaporate when we share the depths of our heart with another human.

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