Lost in American ways
by Rachel Gmach
When did your family tell you they had decided to travel to China? How did you initially feel about this decision?
My parents told me that we were moving to China September of 2005 at the start of my 5th grade year. My first question was: “Is there good food there?”
What were you going there for?
Missionary work with Wycliffe International.
What were your fears about the move?
I [feared] I wouldn’t have any food to eat that I liked, and [that] I would lose my friends in America. I was excited to experience a new place and live somewhere else, but I was also sad because I didn’t want to leave my friends and family. I wasn’t entirely old enough to realize what was actually happening and the overall affect it would have on my life.
What did a typical day look like for you, living in Chengdu, China?
I went to an international school that only foreign passport holders could attend. There were over 30 countries represented at my school of 275 kids, K-12. I would go to school, and go to all my classes, and then depending on what time of year it was, I would go to either volleyball, basketball, or some other sport practice after school. Then I would take the bus home. It was a normal day like any other kid that goes to school in the U.S.
What challenges did you face as a foreigner?
I got stared at a ton. I am tall and white with blond hair, and Chinese people haven’t really seen too many foreigners, so they were in awe of me. Also, since I was a foreigner, at the markets and other open-air places, vendors would charge me more for a product then they would a normal Chinese person, so I would have to barter with them to lower prices. Since Chinese people haven’t really seen a lot of foreigners in person, they always want to take pictures of you or touch you, and that was a challenge because it invaded my privacy and was sometimes too much.
What did you feel when it came time to return home?
When I went back to America for college, I felt like I was leaving my home, and I was going to some foreign unknown country. I was excited to leave and begin college in America, but I didn’t want to leave all my friends, family, and the familiarity of my home in China. I wasn’t sure how to act in public or the proper ways of doing things in America. I was too nervous to order my own meal at a restaurant because I didn’t want to mess up or embarrass myself. I wasn’t sure how to get around because in China I didn’t have a car and so I just rode bus, taxi, and electric scooter.
What challenges did you face (during or after) moving back to Minnesota?
I have been going through culture shock just trying to get used to the way of life here in America, the way people do things, and the culture. I may look American, but half the time I don’t know what I am doing because I am so lost in American ways.
Has this experience changed your outlook on life?
Living overseas has changed my worldview and opened my eyes to new ideas, cultures, experiences, and the way God works in people’s lives and in their hearts on an everyday basis everywhere in the world. Growing up in China matured me in so many ways and helped me grow in my own personal life.
Has this effected how you live on a daily basis?
My experiences from living in China have changed my daily living in how I interact with people, what I say, [and] how I go about eating or doing an activity; it has all changed since I lived in China. I trust God more, and I keep a more positive attitude. There are millions of others who have it worse than me, so the least I can do is stay positive in my life and have fun.
If you could tell your peers one thing about China or what you learned there, what is it you’d like them to know?
I would like them to know that trusting in God and letting Him direct your life and help you is the best thing you could ever do. It takes a lot of trust to take that big leap to move your entire life to a completely different place on the other side of the world. He is in control of everything and wants what is best for you and He will never let you go. Even when it seems like it couldn’t get any worse, He’s got you.
Do you plan to go back to China?
There is a possibility of going back once I graduate and being the athletic director/PE teacher/basketball coach at my old international school in Chengdu.