POV: Lessons Learned from a Year Abroad
Alum learns to embrace the world by leaving expectations behind
When I graduated from BU last year, I decided to take a risk. Soon after receiving my diploma, I was offered a position in the United States with benefits, job security, and a generous starting salary. But something didn’t feel right.
A voice inside me was screaming for adventure and growth. My values were making themselves heard. Listening to this voice, I chose to leave everything behind and pursue an opportunity so unconventional that I didn’t quite know what would come of it. I chose to spend a year teaching English in China.
I had never lived abroad. The mysteriousness of being in new city, a new country, and a new continent both excited and scared me. For a nation that carries so much economic, cultural, and historic weight, China was an enigma to me. One in every seven people in the world hails from China, yet I knew little about the so-called Middle Kingdom. Hoping to gain a greater understanding of one of the globe’s most historic and prosperous nations, I headed to the airport with two suitcases, a passport, and the conviction that everything would work out just fine. I set off to begin a year teaching oral English at a public middle school in the fast-growing city of Shenzhen.
Having completed my last week of teaching here, one of the most resounding lessons I’ve learned is that it is always best to have no expectations.
I used to believe that you must first expect the best to receive the best. If you expected an ideal life, you would have an ideal life. In my mind, expectations led to reality. Now I realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. I attribute most, if not all, of the disappointment I experienced during my first few months here to my expectations.
For instance, when my plane landed in Shanghai, I was disappointed by what I saw. While Shanghai is a lovely city, it also has several elements that would be disturbing to many Westerners. I was shocked to see children defecating on sidewalks, adults spitting in public, and homeless people missing limbs. I had not fully understood what life was like in the developing world until I set foot in China and witnessed it firsthand.
This made adapting to life in China much more difficult. To cope with my disappointment, I had to reshape my own perceptions, products of my own misinformed expectations. I tested out this newfound realization when visiting Cambodia during 40 days of backpacking around Southeast Asia. I knew nothing about Cambodia, other than that it was one of the world’s most impoverished places. As I look back now, it was easily my favorite destination. It also happened to be one place I went to with no expectations.
When you have expectations, one of two things happens. Either you feel nothing by having your expectations met, or you feel disappointed or betrayed when they fall short. However, when you remove expectations from the equation, you accept life as it is—the good and the bad. Best of all, if something wonderful happens, it comes as a pleasant surprise. By no longer having expectations, I now focus more on being thankful for what I do have. As for the pleasant surprises, they are now more special than ever before.
It’s not our expectations that make life so wonderful. It’s having the ability to adapt, persevere, and thrive in an ever-changing, unpredictable world. And when that isn’t enough, it’s simply being grateful for what you already have, which is always enough.
Frank Macri (CAS’13, COM’13) is a cross-cultural coach; he can be reached at email@example.com Comments