I lived in China for nearly 5 years and moved back to the US in 2012. I was so excited to reunite with my friends, explore a new city, and re-engage with American culture and all of the fun things I missed (mostly food!). I distinctly remember having a tear in my eye as I stood in the aisle with all the options of chips at the grocery store. I was mesmerized and giddy. A massive rush of freedom rushed over me as I thought about starting a new life in America.
A few months before I left China, I worked hard to email several friends to let them know I was returning so I could find a new roommate to share an apartment with. When I finally returned, bought a car, and spent some time with my family, I was excited to see some of my friends that I only got to see once or twice a year and finally relaunch a more permanent friendship with them.
One of my first opportunities was with a longtime friend who had been a confidant and encourager for me while I lived in China. We went to breakfast and I was excited to spend time together. As we caught up and talked and laughed, I decided I needed to be really honest with him. I told him that it had hurt my feelings that he never replied to any of my emails when I was preparing to leave China and when I reached out to him to see if he knew anyone that I could live with. I figured he was busy and just missed my emails.
He then looked at me and said, “Well, I didn’t know what to say because I wasn’t excited that you were moving back.”
He went on to say some more hurtful and untruthful things about me and the rest of our breakfast together was awkward and uncomfortable.
It’s been 5 years since that conversation and I still don’t know how to process it completely. I was mad and hurt as I realized that I had just lost a valuable friendship. However, I did take away a valuable lesson from that conversation. I learned that I wanted to treat people better when they are going through a similar transition. Transitioning from one culture to another is one of the most difficult things people can do. Among the many emotions that are felt during this transition, you certainly want people to be happy that you’ve returned. If you’ve never had a transition like this before, just do some research on readjustment after living abroad. It’s incredibly hard to feel like you belong or fit in and how to appropriately talk about your life overseas.
Since that conversation, I have gotten married, moved across the country, and continue to travel globally to do some very fulfilling work. I’m doing just fine. But every once in a while, I’ll be driving home from work and my brain will go back to that conversation. It still stings, but it also encourages me to treat people better than that. Kindness wins every single time.