Have I mentioned I grew up in China?

Both Elin and Tara asked (in the Q&A) about living in China and how that experience affected me. So this post will be an answer to their questions. ๐Ÿ™‚ And as always, to keep things interesting I’m going to pop in a few pictures from when I lived there throughout this post. Like right now…

Abby and I outside a Temple in Wuhan

Before I begin, you might hear me say that I “grew up” in China and while I recognize that this is technically not true since I only lived there four years – I still say it because it’s true for me. My most formative years as a mini adult (aka teenager) were spent there. My thought processes on so many things are formed because of the time I lived there. I don’t say it ’cause it sounds ‘cool’ or because I’m hiding anything. As you guys know from my dialect vlog, I don’t mind sharing that I spent a huge chunk of the beginning of my life living in East TN. So no, I didn’t spend all my growing up years in China, but yes… I grew up there. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope that makes sense.

I got to design my own clothes while we lived in China! Not a lot of them. But some! Then they were tailored to fit my body perfectly. I didn’t have to worry about fitting into clothes or a certain size ’cause my clothes fit ME instead of the other way around. ๐Ÿ™‚

My parents were English teachers in a university in Wuhan, China. We moved there in August of 2000 just after I turned 13 and I moved back to the States when I graduated high school in May of 2004 at 16 (I turned 17 that July and then started college in August). It really affected me in SO many ways. While in China I saw desperate poverty every single time I walked out the door. I saw starving people, death, pollution, and yet beauty, a rich culture, and places that have been around longer than the US of A has even been in existence. I climbed the Great Wall (several times, haha), saw Tian an Men square, visited the Forbidden City, went to Mulanโ€™s mountain, saw the Terracotta Warriors, went to the Shanghai Bund and on and on.

Oh, and I also survived SARS and Avian Flu. And so did Abby (in orange) and Beth (in pink). ๐Ÿ™‚

Then I moved to the States. Reverse culture shock hit hard.

{NOTE: Please understand I am not saying these things about anyone reading. I actually hesitate to write this at all because it sounds so harsh and judgmental, but to really show you how this affected me, I need to share my perception when I first moved back.}

I had never met so many ungrateful, wealthy, self-centered, materialistic people. I was surrounded by gossip and greed. I was stunned the first time I realized that someone genuinely didnโ€™t like me for no reason at all. In China, the fact that I was an American had people flocking to me just to get the chance to meet me or ask for my autograph (I kid not, haha). Before moving to the States I had prepared myself for people to not even give me a second look walking down the street, but I had no way to prepare for the idea that there would be people who didnโ€™t like me just โ€˜cause.

Wanna know what made us newspaper worthy on this particular day? We were Americans. Yeah, that’s about it, haha!

Now, that makes it sound like I had an awful experience moving back to the States. And thatโ€™s really not true. I loved being in the land of Taco Bell (I used to be an addict, I’ll admit it), Dr. Pepper (remember, didn’t know about my MVP yet), freedom, people who spoke English, etc. It was a new adventure. The first time I walked into a grocery store and saw all the American foods (duh โ€˜cause I was in America, haha), I was overwhelmed in a great way. I quickly made friends and really loved life in the US of A. It was just a bit of a shock to be surrounded with so much materialism after having come from a place where I saw poverty every day.

My BEST friends! DaiYin, Mandy, Me, Beth, DingJing, JingJing, XiaXia and Jing – love these ladies!

After having lived in China, there are some things I will never take for granted: hot showers, air conditioning, heat, reliable transportation, freedom of speech and religion, having rights, clean drinking water, and western toilets.

Since we didn’t have hot showers, we would only wash our bodies (and quickly at that!) in the shower. Then afterward we would heat water over the stove, pour it into a dish basin and wash our hair over the sink just so we could have someย semblanceย of warm water.

Hope that gives you guys just a taste of China and how it affected me after I moved back to the States. Next I’m going to answer a question someone asked about how clothing affects my life and as I’ve been working on that answer I realize I have become far more materialistic than the girl who stepped back into this country nearly 7 years ago.


67 responses to “Have I mentioned I grew up in China?

  1. Wow. I can’t imagine having to wash my hair that way. It’s the opposite here in Djibouti. We get our water from a well, (it smells so bad!) and the temp of the water is already so hot (especially in the summer) that it’s impossible to get cold water! Haha.

  2. WOW! It sounds so amazing and I can see how living in such different places can totally have an impact on how you look at life. I am going to forward this to my children who have never known anything but living in Cali. _Thank you so much for sharing and being so honest! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I loved reading this post. My fiance and I are taking a year to travel for a year before returning back to the states. This is my first time out of the states and it has been a MAJOR culture shock in Thailand. While I have only been here a few months, I understood & agreed with a lot of what you were saying. Back home there is so much gossip and greed like you said…simply being an American here – people treat me like I am special for just that fact, which is so weird to me. Anyways LOVED this post and getting to know more about you ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. wow. such interesting stuff. i’ve lived all over the U.S. in many cities and states and experience culture shock just within the country. i can’t imagine how it would be after living in China for 4 very formative years.
    i recently experienced culture shock again when moving from Wisconsin to Seattle. wow. the emphasis on status, prestige, intellect, and reputation is so unusual for me. i’m really not used to it, nor do i like it.
    anyway-looking forward to more pictures and stories ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. wow what a powerful experience! I have to say it would be such a huge culture shock living in China but it would make me realize that Americans are just selfish and greedy!!

  6. I know exactly what you mean. The age and shock. I was in France a month when I was sixteen. One month, and I was so grateful for all we had in America.

    It’s obvious this experience shaped you for the better. You are an amazing young lady.

  7. That’s so cool that you were able to experience growing up in a different culture. You’ll always have experience & perspective about other countries & America. I see materialism all around me all the time – people always want more and more stuff. I’ve been on two mission trips, and it always amazes me how thankful homeless or poorer people are just to have a few things or how thankful they are for one meal. Meanwhile, others are complaining about not having the latest fashion.

  8. Wow such a different culture and a great experience for you. Prob good it happened when you were young so you could adapt to it. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I think reverse culture shock is something people (including myself) underestimate. I volunteered in India for two months after graduating from college. I was working with a program and they talked about reentry into the states and what it could be like. I paid attention but was meeting up with my husband (then boyfriend) in Greece so thought, well I’m not going straight home. However, I met him in Athens and getting of the plane was like a slap in the face. Athens isn’t huge but it is metropolitan and the areas we were in were very clean. The ten days in Greece were fantastic (my boyfriend became my fiance) but difficult for me. I can only imagine returning after 4 years away.

  10. Such an awesome experience (minus the whole no hot water thing) ๐Ÿ˜‰ I would love to live in a foreign country for a year+!!

  11. Well aren’t you multicultural! ๐Ÿ˜€ It’d be fun to say I grew up or even lived in another country..but the further I’ve ever moved was 4 hours across a state border.

  12. That is totally awesome! I read this, this morning before our prayer. Not to mention my little FB stalking problem. I’ve already seen the photos! hehe. But I love to hear the stories behind it.

    I can only imagine how it felt to come back to America being that we are so fortunate and “spoiled”.

    BUT I cannot imagine washing my hair like that and not having a real hot shower! YIKES! lol

  13. That is SO amazing!! What a great experience!! I can’t imagine living without hot showers or any of my ‘life’s little luxuries’ like heating and stuff, and you’ve really made me think about that!! LOVE this post girl, and I think you’re amazing ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I absolutely loved this post! You didnโ€™t sound judgmental at all-what you said is unfortunately true–we live in a very materialistic society.

  15. That is such a different culture. Great to keep reading new stories ๐Ÿ˜€

  16. It doesn’t just *sound cool* it IS pretty cool. What an amazing experience your parents gave you. Love the perspective in regards to returning.

  17. That sounds like such an amazing experience! You’re really lucky to have been able to spend so much time surrounded by such a different culture. ๐Ÿ™‚ I can definitely see how materialistic things would have seemed here. I went and lived in a tiny town in Uruguay for about a month to do community service and the day after I got back had to go to NYC for a music competition. Reverse culture shock hit me hard, and I was pretty miserable.

  18. Its so unfortunate that the majority of our country is spoiled! We have no idea what we have here and how easy it is… You are really lucky to have been able to experience living in different cultures. I can’t believe you graduated high school when you were 16! I was almost 19 haha

  19. Wow, that sounds like such an amazing experience!
    The autographs remind me of when I spent a week in Japan. One of my favorite memories from the trip was when we were on a train a few hours out of Tokyo. We were on a fairly local line, and at one stop a group of elementary school kids got on and instantly crowded around my dad and I. They were adorable and so excited to see foreigners.
    You don’t sound judgmental or harsh at all! It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

  20. What an amazing, eye-opening experience. I have never lived anywhere besides the US and have not traveled much, so I love hearing your stories!

  21. What an incredible experience! I spent a summer in Hong Kong and was shocked to see the disparity there. The city has those magnificent skyscrapers, clubs, upscale restaurants…then you hop a boat and see complete poverty just minutes away.

  22. SO interesting; I loved reading this. what a different lifestyle

  23. Thanks for answering! I always find people who have grown up in other countries have incredible insight and experiences, so I love to hear about how it’s influenced their lives. I definitely take what I have for granted, especially showers. I can’t believe I complain about not getting hot water, it seems so silly.

    How was the language barrier? I hear the food isn’t really like the chinese food we eat. Haha I’ll stop with the questions, I just am fascinated by other cultures.

    • My sis and I both studied the language and while we’d have the random mishap because of a language barrier, it wasn’t common. ๐Ÿ™‚

      You’re totally right – the Chinese food is completely different here than it is there. When I go to a Chinese restaurant in the States and find any single thing that resembles authentic food that I remember, I get SO excited, haha!

  24. Wow, how brilliant to be able to come back and see your own country as an outsider would see it; which is something most people could never do (I couldn’t begin to see how people from other countries view the English but would love to!)
    And what a great thing to have done, to spend that time living there; China’s somewhere you hear so many extremes about but my dad went recently and said pretty much the same as you…
    My brother’s teaching English in South Korea at the moment and I’m hoping to go and see him as I’ve never been to that part of the world but would love to ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Wow thank you so much for this post. There are so many things that I take for granted daily and posts like this are great reminders just how lucky we are. What a great experience you had! xoxo

  26. i almost didnt recognize you in the first photo! haha

    and the newspaper article was just … i don’t know. i have no words! i havent been asked for an autograph in my life. how cool that seems for you! haha

    i remembered my time during a mission trip in PNG (Papua New Guinea), I felt the same. Although I was surrounded with poverty, I enjoyed my time there a lot. There was love and they accepted me for who I am. I didnt have to wear nice clothes and all. I loved it. And the shower! I wish I had a picture or a video of our shower rooms. It was “manual” haha..

    love your post!


  27. Wow, so cool!! I think it’s seriously amazing that you spent that much time immersed in another culture. I’m sure it’s really shaped you!!

  28. I bet moving back here was such a culture shock! My mom grew up in the Philippines and even though they had it easy over there, she was horrified by how impoverished the country is. It’s really sad- we are spoiled here!

  29. I loved the honesty of this post! Reading about such a unique experience is fascinating and you feel like you really learn a lot about someone. As someone who takes scalding hot showers, I will now be that much more grateful for something I would never think twice about! I love these blogger Q&As – so much fun!

  30. Omgshhh Rach! These are things that are always just so STRONGLY beating within my heart! I’m so grateful that you and many others do feel the same way~Not to put anyone down I agree! But we have to constantly be fighting against materialism, self-centeredness, and the such when we live in such a ‘rich’ culture. Sometimes i can’t help but wonder…are we really that ‘rich’? Or in a way, are we MORE deprived b/c of blindness? And truly, this life ain’t about us! ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s soo much more out there to see and open our hearts to you know?! Reverse culture shock is prob. one of the hardest things about being away~As I felt that so many times after missions, but the last one–India, was different. I refused to settle in and be ‘complacent’, yet God helped me to depend on Him so as to not let ‘depression’ sink in. Sorry! hahaha I didn’t mean to talk so much, but these are truly such important matters. Thanks Rach!

  31. Wow you are so lucky to have an experience like that! It must have been a real eye opener to see your home country from an outside view. I loved reading this!

  32. Wow that’s so amazing!!! What a cool experience ๐Ÿ™‚ I bet it was quite a culture shock to come back. But very cool ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. Neat post & what a wonderful opportunity to live abroad and learn so much. I lived abroad but not where the poverty & hunger was so prevalent.

    I lived in Germany for the formative years of my adult life (21-30). I lived there when the Berlin Wall came down. I went through culture shock when I returned to the US. I couldn’t remember customs in restaurants or in a store & would watch before doing and I remember being constantly surprised by all the people here that spoke English. ๐Ÿ˜€

    For a couple of the years, I pretty much washed my hair & bathe the same way. You weren’t allowed to run water before 6 AM in the apartment building, but I needed to start my day at 5 AM. I had to slowly fill a pan, making sure not to run the water too fast or my neighbor would come pounding on my door for making too much noise. Luckily I didn’t have to heat the water on the stove except for the times the water heater would break.

    I’m thankful the the opportunity to experience another country. Wouldn’t it be nice if a lot more folks could?

  34. I have always wanted to visit China. My husband and I travel a lot and I love to get out of my comfort zone and experience the place just like the people who live there. It really makes you a different person! Thanks for sharing your pictures and experience! ๐Ÿ™‚

  35. Such an interesting post to read! I’ve never lived in another country, so I can’t even imagine what it would be like (particularly the reverse culture shock after coming back). But it’s really interesting to see how living in a different country under such different circumstances for your formative years really impacts the person who you’ve become. I think it sounds like an amazing experience, particularly because it’s allowed you to not take the things for granted that so many of us Americans do. Thank you for sharing this piece of your life!

  36. YOUR SO COOL! what a great post …WOW

  37. This was a wonderful post girl! You are definitely an inspiration ๐Ÿ™‚ I love how honest and open this was!

  38. What a great, well-worded post! I have a hard time sometimes describing how my brief (compared to you!) stints overseas has affected how I view myself as an American, but you do a great job of it!

    And long live the land of Dr Pepper!

  39. Wow this sounds like an absolutely amazing experience. It is so easy to forget how good we have it, and how different life is in different areas of the world.

  40. What an amazing experience! I’ve traveled through Europe, but have never stayed some place for longer than 3 weeks. It would be neat to live in another culture and really immerse yourself. I’m a bit jealous. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  41. I love that you shared this with us…an account of your life in what is, essentially, “another world”! Many people, myself included, tend to forget how good we have it here in the USA. If anything, your post has reminded me to be more grateful for my many blessings. So THANKS for sharing this!

  42. I’ve been on several short term mission trips and I always go through culture shock coming back to the States. I am a “dyed in the wool, flag waving, love my country” American, but I am always ashamed when I witness the entitlement attitudes I see here.

  43. That’s so awesome that you grew up there, I always wished that I grew up in random places-get some culture under my skin….love your experience!

  44. i’ll bet your experiences there were so unbelievable! i don’t think i would ever be able to take hot water for granted agian either! such a small detail is so huge!!


  45. that is so cool, rach. I grew up in England for some of my childhood, so I love reading about others who also grew up overseas!

    p.s. MY NEW SITE IS UP! yaaaay!

  46. Thanks for the sweet comment on my blog! I really like your blog too – added it to my Google Reader! ๐Ÿ™‚

    This is such an amazing post! I know this is no where near your experiences in China, but when I traveled out of the US for the first time I also had eye opening experiences that changed the way I view American life (overall, not trying to stereotype). I went with a teen music group, and we stayed in several cities and lived with different host families in each city. In America we seem to place so much importance on technology and “indoor entertainment” (spending time on the computer, going to the movies, etc). When I was there, I was so detached from technology and it made me realize how much I use it and how unnecessary it is. Simple afternoons sitting outside chatting with my host families were much more enjoyable. And in one city we stayed in a dormitory rather than with host families and I took plenty of freezing manual showers. And no toilet seats.

    Also, hi. I’m Megan. I’m very chatty. ๐Ÿ™‚

  47. What an interesting post Rach! I had a similar shock after spending some time in Cuba and coming back to Italy… so I know exactly what you mean. Certain experiences make you see life in a very different light. I too had a hard time to adjust back… Love ๐Ÿ™‚

  48. I have never been out of the country, but China is one of the countries I would love to go to. My freshman year of college I lived in the multi-cultural dorm, and made friends with a couple of the Chinese girls on my floor. They were so fun to be around, because they were so friendly even before they knew me very well. I don’t think we Americans really realize how materialistic we are. I think we recognize it to an extent, but we rationalize it. I was talking to some friends not long ago about the sermon the Sunday before, which was about exactly that, and their reaction was to be really offended. They claimed that yes, we have a lot, but our country also gives a lot to developing nations. I think that’s true, but we give like the Pharisees in the temple-making a big show and giving a lot, but keeping more for ourselves. We don’t give like the widow with two mites. I know that I’m often guilty of materialism. It’s hard to resist our culture’s values.

  49. That was so interesting! Thank you for sharing!!

  50. This is so neat- China sounds a lot like India! I didn’t grow up in India but when I stayed there for a summer a few years ago I did a few of the above things- got to design my own clothes, and took some similar baths!

  51. Oh wow, what a stark contrast! I hate how materialistic our country’s citizens can be! And people are always in such a hurry to get to tomorrow, next week, or next year that they don’t even take the time to enjoy the PRESENT! I think if every individual was transplanted to a country that was poverty stricken for one year, it would really change their perspectives on what in life is important!

  52. What a great post. thanks for letting us in your life. Yes, we are spoiled and greedy in the Western World, but as long as we realize that, and try to be more humble, we will do good. I am pretty sure, people are all the same everywhere. In every culture you see the same pattern of personalities.

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  55. This was absolutely fascinating. You are amazing! ๐Ÿ™‚ โค

  56. i really need to live aborad. just once ๐Ÿ™‚

  57. or abroad. one or the other!!!

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  62. Wow, I’m SO glad to have been directed back to this post! What an incredible experience ~ I’m so grateful to you for so openly sharing your opinions and your personal experiences. I’ve never had the opportunity to even somewhat sample a new culture ~ I’ve lived in the same city my entire life ~ and it’s definitely one of those unfilled longings for me. It’s so fascinating to hear about all of the cultural differences there, and to hear the “why” behind your culture shock upon coming back here.

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  65. What an amazing experience!! I love learning about other cultures so much and love that you shared this! Have you thought about visiting again?

    • I have thought about visiting again! My husband and I actually talked about moving there for awhile, but that has been put on the back burner for now. The last time I was there was over Christmas my freshman year of college to visit my family. That was a little over 9 years ago now which just kind of blows my mind when I stop to think about it. I do hope to go back, though! ๐Ÿ™‚

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