Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

I'm terrible with endings.

The end of a relationship. The end of a job or opportunity. Even the end of a really good book.

It's the reason New Year's Eve gets me every time. The end of a year, the start of a new one, and a whole heap of booze and inner reflection between the two.

So it'll be to no one's surprise I've been a bit ... off this past week. Bidding adieu to a lovely gentleman before he moved back to Greece. Saying adios to my students and newly made expat friends as they head off for summer vacation. Schlepping all my things in suitcases and easily torn trash bags to the storage space in a friend's apartment.

I've come to the end of my first year living abroad.

And yet ...

On this particularly long flight back to the states, I've had ample time to reflect on things. That, and somehow contort my tall frame into whatever position lent itself to a brief respite in dream land.

What I've realized is how the end of this first year is just that. The end of the first year.

I've now entered a sort of in-between phase.

In-between homes: While visiting my friends and family over a series of states, my lease will have ended. In a month, I'll return to Beijing a homeless lass, in search of a new (and hopefully affordable) apartment.


In-between semesters: When I arrived, I had not a lick of teaching experience. Well, unless you count my setting up an easel in our family living room when I was 6, as I "taught" my little sister letters and numbers and whatnot. I especially had no experience teaching students fluent in a very foreign language.

No longer the naive new teacher, I've learned on the job. My students ran me through a hell of a crash course in what to expect from all sorts of age groups and behavior levels. What do you do when they sneeze and boogers literally fly everywhere? What do you do when they're trash talking in Chinese, and you only know that because the teacher's pet of the class let you know? What do you do when a little boy whips out his ... yea, and you need to get him to put it back before the little girl in the princess dress sees? I'll return in a month far more prepared than I was last year.

In-between languages: In transit, I found myself thanking native English speakers in Chinese. I shared a broken conversation with a Chinese woman in both Chinese and English while she tried to sneak by me in the security line. My limited Chinese came in handy with a person on the plane I very much didn't expect to speak Chinese. And all this with the girl who really doesn't know anything in this confusing new language.

Really, though, I'm in-between versions of myself.

I've learned a hell of a lot about what I can handle and what I'm capable of. I've hiked up spider-infested trails on Lantau that should've sent me running and screaming back to the ferry. I've traveled alone in a city where I knew nothing — no language, no history, no basic sense of direction. I've seen incredible sights and met such interesting people I never thought I would.

And now I'm very aware I've many years left to see so many more.

I've learned, finally, how many more opportunities are ahead. This isn't a one-shot deal. Not only do I have another year in Beijing, I have many years of travel and exploration ahead. There's no limit, outside an always-low bank account balance, to keep me from whatever it is I want to see or do.

My year abroad taught me that.

So to the "end" of my first year, I say, "Nay." I'm just in-between. The next big adventure is just around the corner.

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