Miusunderstood was published in August 2016. The two years leading up to its publication were a crazy torrent of transitions – moving from Beijing, to Phnom Penh, to Sydney. Leaving the job I’d been in for four year to begin three years of graduate study. Going from expat to local – and my first time living in my passport country as an adult. Riding the rollercoaster of repatriation while studying an intensive full time program, living in community with a lot of new people, and completing my book. If you ever need proof that I’m crazy, that last sentence is basically it.
When the book came out, I thought I would finally relax. I could focus on study, get involved more in my local area, actually finish settling into my new life in Australia. Little did I know what the next 18 months held for me…
Shortly before Misunderstood was released, I visited Beijing for a week – a last minute, hardly planned trip. I expected Beijing to feel different, that it wouldn’t feel so much like home any more, that I would be able to let go. I had no intention of moving back to Beijing. I had a list of reasons I thought made it very unlikely, and possibily unwise. But as soon as I arrived I felt like I was home. I felt comfortable in a way I hadn’t in the nearly two years since I’d left. I was taken by surprise at my deep and almost visceral reaction. It wasn’t about the community I’d left, though I loved reconnecting with friends there. It was my connection to Beijing itself – its sights, smells, and other peculiarities. Instead of letting go of the place that had been important to me, I found it grabbing hold of me. I was completely unprepared for the strength of those emotions.
Another surprise was reconnecting with an old friend – someone I’d once been very close to, but hadn’t spoken to in years. I remember talking to him about the way I was reacting to Beijing, how I suddenly didn’t want to leave – and might have had trouble getting on the plane back to Australia if I didn’t have a good friend’s wedding to attend when I got there! But that I still considered this a “farewell tour” of sorts. I had no idea when I might be back again, but was fairly certain I wouldn’t live there again, certainly not any time soon.
Fast forward 21 months: we’re now married and living in Beijing.
Every time I think I have it down, the crazy twists and turns of life, the knowledge that the unexpected is the most likely to happen – nope! I’m still hopelessly unprepared for all the changes thrown at me.
After Misunderstood was published, I began an unexpected career as an international speaker. In the past year I’ve spoken to groups in Australia, China, Ireland, France, and in a few days I’m leaving for Tanzania and Sudan. This all happened while finishing my degree, including working on a thesis with more original TCK research. Somewhere in the middle of that I got engaged, adding international wedding planning and an international move to my list of transitions to plan and process.
Now, just to really throw me off course, I visited Beijing again. This time, instead of feeling at home, I felt off centre. In the year between visits I had finally started to feel at home in Australia, and now felt out-of-step with Beijing. More friends had moved away, and I stayed in a part of the city that was new to me. It was disappointing, and unsettling, but at least gave me warning of the magnitude of the transition I was embarking on. Leaving Australia was difficult, and arriving in Beijing felt uncomfortable. I never second guessed my choice, and I am feeling much more at home here now, but it wasn’t easy.
There has been so much change in my life in the past few months. I’ve stayed in 12 different places in the past 4 months, always moving my suitcases with me. Africa will be my 5th continent in 3.5 months – although this time I have a home to come back to afterward! Everything I’ve ever written and presented on transition (and change, loss, grief, and repatration) has become sharper and clearer for me. Keynoting a transition conference for high school seniors soon to graduate (and, for many, repatriate) while going through all these transitions myself was poignant – requiring me to stop, reflect, and address what I too was experiencing.
Transition isn’t fun, but it is part of the price we pay in order to move forward, to grow, to become.
Given where I am now, despite the bumps and uncertainties, it is most definitely a price worth paying.
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