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The Girl Who Went Abroad

One time, I posted on Facebook saying: “Snowing in China today! It’s so beautiful!” An acquaintance from back home commented, “We get it. You live in China.” What?

By Leila Hashemi Updated Jan.1

There’s always that one friend – the globetrotter who, somewhere between sipping espresso in Parisian cafes and scaling mountains in Nepal, has become an ambassador of the world.  

They’ve made it back home from their weary voyage, with a talent for turning every conversation into a travelogue. Reactions are usually a spectrum of subtle eye rolls, suppressed yawns, and exchanged glances that convey the unspoken agreement: “Here we go again.”  

An audience held hostage by a relentless slideshow of exotic locales and quirky encounters, desperately longing for a conversation that doesn’t involve mountain vistas or the best street food in Bangkok.  

Well, that might have gone a little too far, but we’ve all been there. So, with the holidays coming up and inevitable trips back home, I start to think about how the conversations will go this time around.  

I sometimes get to a point where I cringe when I hear myself say, “Well, in China…” or “When my friend and I went to Thailand…” I know from my own judgments before living abroad that I would think it was bragging or annoying.  

But, when you have lived somewhere for almost eight years, it’s hard to explain what’s been going on in your life without talking about foreign concepts and places.  

One time, I posted on Facebook saying: “Snowing in China today! It’s so beautiful!” Under my post of a picture of my neighborhood in Beijing covered in snow an acquaintance from back home commented, “We get it. You live in China.” What?  

The comment made no sense to me. At the time, I had been living in China for over five years. What was I supposed to post about, North Carolina?  

I’m fortunate to have friends who genuinely express interest in my experiences in China, asking about the nuances of living there and the intricacies of working and traveling abroad. But, as time goes on, it’s not uncommon for that initial curiosity to fade.  

Over time, I’ve come to the realization that if someone judges or becomes annoyed by my conversations about life in China, that’s their prerogative. I’ve adopted the perspective that sharing my journey is a way to connect and educate, and if it doesn’t resonate with everyone, that’s okay.  

I’ve also made a conscious effort to reciprocate the support I receive. I actively engage with friends’ and acquaintances’ travel stories, giving positive comments and liking their posts because I genuinely feel joy for them.  

At the same time, for every “hater” or person who couldn’t care less about what you have done, there are many more who appreciate the stories, lessons and experiences that you had.  

While I certainly don’t consider myself a travel blogger or aspire to be an Instagram influencer, it’s always nice to receive personal messages from friends and family expressing how much they enjoy glimpses into my life and travels. 

One of the main reasons I came to China was due to a friend who came to Beijing on a gap year in the era of uploading pictures from point-and-click cameras onto laptops with SD cards and strapping webcams on top for Skype conversations.  

If it weren’t for him posting the pictures, telling me all about what he had done and explaining what it was like to live there, I would have never even thought of coming to China and my life would have been completely different.  

During a solo trip in Thailand, I met a guy who was on his first trip abroad. He was traveling with his dad and a friend of theirs. He couldn’t believe that I had left home and moved abroad alone. He asked me a million questions and asked if I had any contacts to help him do the same. Fast forward, he got his certifications and has been teaching abroad in South America for three years.  

Moral of the story: What might feel like a mundane narrative to one person can be the catalyst for another to transform their life. So, I’ll play the role of “the girl who lived abroad” if it means inspiring someone to explore the world. For the rest, oh well – they wouldn’t care in China anyway!