This past May, I had an interesting email. “Interested in teaching in China?” the subject line read. Yeah, sure, I thought, I’ll travel with my kids to China and live there for a year.
My town of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is sister cities with Luoyang, Henan, China. Our school district, where I teach middle school, has a relationship with the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Many Chinese nationals have come to La Crosse to teach in our schools and several of our teachers have gone there. I was excited to think I might be able to spend a year teaching there, too.
But first, I had to talk with my family. I wanted my kids, Andrea, 12, and John, 11, to join me on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Carl, my husband, had already said he’d love to go, but his sales job wouldn’t allow it. If I were to travel to China, it would be with my kids. I stayed home with them for seven years, there was no way I was going to leave them for a year.
The kids jumped at the chance. They were excited to think of going to China, living there, working, making friends. But my husband kept talking. We wanted them to understand that we were talking about a very serious nine-month commitment. It was not a decision to be taken lightly or made based on emotion. We talked more the next day and ultimately decided we would go.
Another Overseas Adventure
This would be the kids’ first overseas adventure, but not mine. When I was in college, I took advantage of an overseas teaching program that let me finish my final semester student teaching in a foreign country.
We were given a list of five countries from which to chose. One of them was New Zealand. I was a senior in college and had never heard of New Zealand and had no idea where to even find it on a map. So I decided that is where I’d teach.
During the 12-week program, we were assigned to teach at a school that corresponded with our certification level and live with a host family. While I was there, I took full advantage of being in a new and unfamiliar country. I traveled every weekend, always trying something new: bungee jumping, camping in the Outback in Australia, hiking through the Southern Alps, jet boating, whale watching and swimming with dolphins in the Arctic Sea. It was amazingly fun!
Preparing for China
To make our newest adventure a little easier, the kids and I spent 10 weeks researching Luoyang, China. It’s in Central China, on the Yellow River. It’s an old city, one of the first in China. It was the capital of China for many years, but was plundered by a warring dynasty, leading the Chinese to move the capital to Peking (now called Beijing).
By Chinese standards, Luoyang is a small city–just 6.3 million people. That’s incredibly large compared to our hometown of La Crosse, which has a population of just 50,000 on a good day.
Traveling to China
We got our visas in order (no small feat when going to live in a communist country), started packing, stocked up on essentials and creature-comforts that we knew we couldn’t find in China (M&Ms, other chocolate, favorite candy, macaroni and cheese, cheese crackers and unmentionables – there are no tampons in China!), and started saying our good-byes to family and friends.
We were each allowed two suitcases on our flight and we were going to take full advantage of it. We were told not to bring a lot of clothes since we could buy them cheaply in China. I would be teaching and the kids would be going to school, so we needed to bring school and teaching supplies.
There was a lot to consider and we had little time to get it all organized. Our living room became Ground Zero: six suitcases, piles of clothes and piles of things we’d need or want. Our poor dog could sense something big was going on and wandered around sniffing our belongings and gazing at us with wondering eyes. Excitement was building in our house.
Stayed tuned for Part II, coming soon.