Leaving a Life of Walmart and Reruns to Teach in Hong Kong
During my sophomore year at university, I got this itch to go on a study abroad trip to Asia. I’m not sure what possessed me, seeing as my family had never traveled outside of the country. After convincing my parents to allow me to travel, I spent a month with my fellow classmates exploring China. Within 24-hours of being in Beijing, I knew that I would live in China someday. And at the end of college, I applied to a school in Shanghai but ultimately decided that it wasn’t the right time for me.
Instead, I taught at a rural school in Illinois about an hour from my hometown. I had failed to leave college with a single friend thanks to a drowned relationship, and I was excited at the prospect of meeting new people. My school was an absolute gem and my coworkers were friendly and fun, yet I was still having trouble making friends with my same interests. The teachers were all married, and many of them had kids.
I was going to leave everything to which I had grown accustomed: Walmart on the weekends, cutting out lamination on Sundays, and VHS tapes full of Roswell episodes.
I went to yoga a few times a month, spent Saturday nights grocery shopping or at my parents’ house, and diligently set my VCR any time I had a school function after hours. While I loved reading and drinking tea, preferably at the same time, I cringed at the thought of going to the book store or coffee shop alone. I wouldn’t have dared to go to a restaurant by myself, and a solo trip to the movie theater was out of the question. Sad and lonely, I clung to the job I loved, spending hours planning lessons and decorating my classroom.
Throughout those three years in the small town, I continuously thought about teaching in Asia. So after careful planning, I applied to a few schools, and within two weeks, I had a job offer in Hong Kong at an American school. I was going to do it. I was going to leave everything to which I had grown accustomed: Walmart on the weekends, cutting out lamination on Sundays, and VHS tapes full of Roswell episodes.
I continuously thought about what it would be like to teach in Hong Kong.
In 2012, I made the move from rural Illinois to Hong Kong holding desperately onto my insecurities of loneliness, but certain I was going to make it on my own in a city of seven million people.
I won’t sugarcoat it, life was hard, like really hard. I was still lonely. I got lost…a lot. But as soon as I had one friend — just one — my life changed. Someone to go to the movies with. Someone to eat dessert before dinner with. Someone to apartment hunt with. Someone to let me cry on his shoulder when I needed it. Someone to make me laugh.
This first friend was Orlando. He and I met at the new teacher orientation when we sat next to each other. We had an instant connection. He made me laugh for the first time since moving to Hong Kong. Even though he’d been in HK for a few years already, he empathized with me. But instead of feeling sorry for me, we hung out and explored Hong Kong together.
And when my sad tears turned happy through this friendship, I started to feel comfortable also doing things alone: going to coffee shops, movies, and dinner. I persevered. In fact, I stayed for two wonderful years, making the most wonderful friends. I did more than persevere. I thrived, traveling to 10 countries in two years, including a solo trip to the Philippines.
Persevere. It’ll be scary and lonely and hard. But in the end, it’ll all be worth it.
The person I was when I moved to that small town is not really the same person I am today. Sure, I still get extra butterflies when I travel alone and I have to convince myself to talk to strangers in hostels, but that one friend made all the difference in the world.
I wish I could say that this is a guide for people wanting to travel solo overseas, but it isn’t. Instead, this is an urgent push in the right direction. You can kick ass! You can be awesome doing whatever you want to do. Persevere. It’ll be scary and lonely and hard. But in the end, it’ll all be worth it. I know from experience because here I sit on a beautiful day in Chicago at a coffee shop all by myself, loving my life.
Leaving a Life of Walmart and Reruns to Teach in Hong Kong top photo credit: Roberto Trombetta
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