Am I Being Selfish for Living Abroad?
Ever since 2017, I've wanted to travel the world. My first taste of travelling came after university, when I headed to South East Asia for two months. I didn't expect to arrive back in the UK with the burning desire to leave again as quickly as I could.
Two years later and I'd done it. I was back on a plane heading to China, but this time I would embark on a different type of adventure: I'd only bought a one-way ticket.
And for as long as I've been here, I've absolutely loved it. I've travelled to 13 Chinese cities and two countries in 18 Covid-stricken months; I've made some friends for life; and I've found two careers which I adore.
Touring countries and living in them requires a completely different mindset. While touring, you have the opportunity to embrace cultures with the pleasure of knowing you might never get to experience them again. It's very easy to be amazed by the people you meet and the places you see, as you know you'll be back in your personal 'normal' in a short matter of time.
On the other hand, living abroad is indefinite. This new culture that you're a part of will essentially be the only thing you know until it's time to move on. The culture shock is real on so many levels.
The hardest difference between travelling and living abroad is this: I haven't seen my family for coming up to two years.
Of course, Covid-19 has been the main reason for this. I would have travelled home by now if there were no border controls and quarantine measures in place here in China.
But I miss them more than anything.
I'm 24 years old. I was cared for, provided for, and well-guided by my phenomenal parents for 18 years before I moved out to go to university. Since then, bar a few months here and there, I have mostly lived away from home - being in different towns across the UK; a different part of Birmingham (our home city); or in a city half way across the world. So I'm used to being away from home.
My parents taught me the fundamentals of life. And in return, I'm out here living. But at the moment, they only get to see that through FaceTime calls and social media posts.
Four months into my new life, Covid-19 graced us with her presence. Many expats around the world returned to their home countries to be safe and secure. I was not one of those expats.
I had to make a choice. With China being the epicentre of the pandemic, the risk appeared much greater here on the surface. Returning to the UK made sense - leaving a pandemic-stricken country, being back with my family, knowing we're all safe.
Had I returned home, though, I would have lost the very thing I had craved for two and a half years - the opportunity to live out my dream. There'd be nothing for me in the UK - everything I wanted was abroad.
Weighing everything up, I decided to stay in China.
My decision did not come without cost. I've missed family occasions, and it seems like I'm going to miss some more. I missed my grandad's funeral, and I couldn't be there for my mom and my nan to ease their grief. Four of my immediate family contracted Covid - thankfully they all fully recovered. Nevertheless, I couldn't be there to support them.
It would be very easy for me to be focused on these difficult consequences my decision brought about. Luckily for me, it's just as easy to focus on just how fortunate I've been since deciding to stay. I've really made the most of the blessing I've been granted.
I've been able to work with full pay. I've been able to travel domestically (and China's HUGE - so there's been a lot of that). I've developed loads as a teacher and as a man. I've reunited with old friends and I've created lifelong bonds with new ones. I've adopted a dog! I've pretty much been able to live life as normally as ever for the better part of a year.
A lot of us struggle with the internal conflict between what we want for ourselves and what we want for others. Every decision has costs and rewards. Every decision we make will affect the lives of those around us. We all have the power to make positive decisions based on our own needs and the needs of other people.
It may seem selfish to some that I'm not with my family during these difficult times. But I know that I would be going against myself and my own needs if I was to leave my dreams behind indefinitely. My family have made it very known to me how proud they are of me. True to their selfless natures, they've reassured me that they're content knowing I am where I need to be.
I'll be on the first flight home once China relaxes its border controls. But I'm not done living out my dream here just yet, so it'll just be a short visit.
To my family, I love you. Thank you for your never-ending love and support.