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A New Expat Nervously Journeys Back to China


By Olivia Wolf
AsAmNews Staff Writer

Almost one year ago today, I travelled to Shaoyang, China with my dad to search for information regarding my birth family. Although we were unsuccessful in locating them, we met a host of wonderful people who helped us along the way. While the journey was physically and emotionally challenging, it was certainly one that I will never forget.

I knew by the end of that trip that my time in China was not over. Determined to spend more time learning the culture and language of the region, I applied to a program called Princeton in Asia (PiA), which sends service-minded graduates to work at organizations all across–you guessed it–Asia. While there are not many international programs in Hunan province, PiA offered an English teaching position in one of its smaller cities, Jishou.


Last Thursday, I arrived in Jishou with two suitcases and a backpack, ready to make this city my home for the next year. Known for being the home of the Tu and Miao minorities, Jishou is one of the more underdeveloped cities in this country, as PiA mentions. With a population of about three hundred thousand, it might seem like an average sized city to Americans, but to a country whose largest cities boast over twenty million, it is mostly unheard of by the Chinese people I have mentioned it to outside of the local area.

These last few days have been dedicated to traveling and becoming acclimated to my new surroundings. I am lucky to have been provided spacious housing by Jishou Teachers’ College in an apartment complex for instructors. I have three bedrooms all to myself, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a comfortable living room, and most importantly–air conditioning.

Olivia Wolf with one of students from Jishou Teacher's College
Olivia Wolf with student from Jishou Teachers’ College

My Chinese colleague and two students have been instrumental in helping me in my first few days here. One of the students picked me up at the Changsha airport and hosted me for the night at her family’s house before traveling with me on the high-speed train to Jishou. Even though I have been to China twice before, this was the first time a Chinese family had invited me into the home.

I have to admit that before arriving, I was experiencing cold feet about my upcoming journey. However, by now I have learned that before any drastic change in my life, especially one that involves a major physical relocation, I tend to struggle with the following…

The most common response from people around departure time is “Are you excited for your trip?” To be completely honest, and I might regret acknowledging this later, the dominating feeling that I have right before a grand adventure is usually dread.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am one hundred percent grateful for this opportunity and plan to teach to the best of my abilities while making the most of this experience. However, in those precarious days leading up to departure time, there are tears, worries about leaving behind loved ones and a comfortable home for an unknown life in an unknown part of the world, and made up fantasies where I woefully have to inform PiA directors that I’ve become too sick to travel abroad (which, of course, I have no intention of actually doing, PiA).  

But of course, no one responds in the former way when asked, “Are you excited for your trip?” In my experience, I feel that the question is normally asked as a polite courtesy. A simple “Yeah, definitely, but I’m also getting nervous,” usually works as an honest, yet still positive response. In getting to the deeper stuff, I can say it makes a world of difference to have a supportive somebody to really open up to, which I was lucky enough to have this trip for the first time.

That being said, I am now settling into Jishou rather comfortably. I am beginning to feel safe without leaving on all the apartment lights at night; I am eating food other than Cliff bars from home and the Chinese version of Top Ramen from convenience stores; and I have high hopes for the rest of the year after being introduced to some of the warmest and most helpful students at Jishou Teachers’ College. Let the school year begin!

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  1. RE: A New Expat Nervously Journey’s to China:I would be interested in updates on her time there . I do think adoptees have a different perspective than Asian Americans raised in nuclear families

  2. RE: A New Expat Nervously Journeys Back to China: Great story. I hope I can have the opportunity to visit China one day. From what I see, it is a beautiful country.


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