During the summer of 2015 while my three children chomped on their McDonald’s ice cream, my wife Megan and I gave them quite the surprise. We told them we would be leaving the big city of Tianjin, China, and moving somewhere in the Midwest. This was a huge shocker to our kids (ages four to fourteen today) who had never known a home outside the Middle Kingdom. We felt it was best to tell them about the move well in advance so they could leave China well and enter American culture better prepared.
There is much to consider in a move when you’ve invested so many years outside your home country. I lived in China for 13 years and Megan lived there for 19 years, so China and its people had a profound impact on us. I’m fully aware that despite claiming to be a Hoosier and enjoying the Hoosier lifestyle, a part of me is a little Chinese.
Below are seven ideas to consider if you are planning on leaving China soon and entering a whole new culture.
- Don’t just use the Internet to shop on Amazon. Check out various sites for churches, homes, schools, restaurants, and tourist attractions in the area you’ll be moving to. We looked at a church directory and prayed about where to worship before leaving China. We were able to look at several homes to rent and move into one within a week of landing in Indiana. Knowing where the Chinese restaurants and functions are really helped my family feel more at home in the land of Hoosiers. There might be moments of sadness and confusion so knowing where the tourist attractions are can help bring some fun in what can be a difficult time.
- Tell your home church of your plans. We were provided many gifts that have made our transition much easier. I write this from a couch that someone from our home church donated to us—a couch that they loaded into a large U-Haul truck consisting of numerous donated items that have made our house feel more like a home. Our church has provided us their prayers, finances, time, and belongings, and this has been a tremendous blessing to us. I love telling others what our church has done to support us. We didn’t realize all that we would need, but we didn’t need to.
- Try to connect with people in the area before you move—especially if you are moving over the summer. Lots of people are on vacation during the summer or have a routine in place. This can make summers feel lonely, and waiting for school to begin can feel like eternity for the little ones. Because of that, it’s good to know some people in your new community if possible. I’m thankful that I met a number of people from Evansville before moving there. The community knew we were coming from China and made us feel welcomed. Welcome signs, parties, and gifts go a long way when you’ve travelled halfway across the world.
- Read re-entry books/sites and journal before you leave. The key word is before. You won’t have as much time when you arrive in your new setting. We moved into a new home less than a week after arriving in the States, and I started working full-time within three days of moving into our home. Trying to read and journal when you’re learning a new environment and job and helping your family in the transition is a considerable amount of work. Although we came to the States most summers, living here is a different ballgame. Take the time to read and journal in China if you have that luxury.
- Make plans to visit important places and people in China. Do you have a favorite restaurant? Order some mouth-watering Chinese dishes because you probably won’t find them in your new hometown. Set aside time to hang out with your closest friends since you’ll have a million things to do before leaving China. Never been to the Great Wall? This is the time. Something immensely special we did was visit my middle child’s orphanage. It was a heart-warming affair that moved me to tears.
- Figure out how you will stay connected with those you’re saying goodbye to. Sometimes we’re using technology in the wrong ways at the wrong times; however, I’m truly grateful for programs like WeChat and FaceTime. My youngest daughter doesn’t use social media so she arranges times to FaceTime with her best friend who also left China this summer. My wife often uses WeChat, a cross-platform instant messaging service from China, to record messages with friends all around the world. I post pictures on Instagram and communicate via Facebook and email to stay connected with friends in China.
- Pray with and listen to your family daily. Transition is hard. We left good friends and have entered a completely different culture. Praying as a family and listening to them on a regular basis has been essential. There have been tears, misunderstandings, and difficulties. I didn’t know how much some family members would miss life in China. I didn’t realize how long it would take for some family members to feel somewhat comfortable in a society that most would call extremely comfortable. Don’t think you have all of the answers. Sometimes you just need to pray and listen.
Mark Wickersham is the middle school principal at Evansville Christian School in Southern Indiana (United States) where his wife, a 19-year Middle Kingdom resident and ESL instructor, corrects his grammar. Mark taught in Indiana and South Korea before serving as a coach, teacher, or principal in China for 13 years.... View Full Bio