Youth camp is coming in ten days, but it feels different this year, I think because these will probably be my last fall youth camps in China. Yes, you read that right. This will be my last year in China.
I know this will come as a shock to many of you. I wish I could tell you in person – sit down over something yummy and tell you everything that has led me to this decision. I would share all the wonderful little surprises that have come my way, helping point me in this direction. The way forward is clear, and I have no doubt that this is right for me – but that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy choice to make.
The short story is that I will be moving to Australia to attend SMBC (Sydney Missionary Bible College). I’ll spend three years there working on a Master of Divinity degree, starting in January 2015. The other side of the short story is that I’ve been in China nearly ten years now. That’s ten years away from family (especially my non-internet-connected grandparents).
The longer story is that I’ve been thinking about doing an M Div for more than 5 years. A year ago I felt it was time to get on it. I had originally assumed I would find a correspondence course to do while continuing my work with TCKs in China. The more I thought about it, however, I realised it wasn’t the best choice for me. Sure, I’d pass the classes and get a piece of paper at the end of it, but I know me too well – I would skate by without really absorbing the material. Since my goal is to actually LEARN this stuff, making study my full time occupation is a much better idea.
Having realised that, I started looking into options. I actually looked at schools on four continents – how’s that for international?! I had it narrowed down to two schools – one in the US (California), and one in Australia. In the end, it was an easy choice. Studying in Australia means access to government financial services – I can apply to have the government pay 75% of my tuition up front (I pay it back as a loan), and to get a student allowance. (The amount of money I need to save up is still quite significant, so sometime in the future I’ll be reaching out for help raising finance to support my studies).
SMBC is also half way between my parents’ home and my grandparents’ home (about 3 hours each way), plus I have some relatives and friends living in Sydney. I am really looking forward to spending some time with my grandparents. While they are very healthy for their age, at 87 and 91 (I think?) they won’t be around forever. I also have aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of my family that I hardly know after ten years away – truly wonderful people I hope to get to know better.
On top of that, I am ready to learn to be an adult in Australia. Every time I go back I feel a wider gap between me and my “home” culture. So much has changed in ten years! I’ve changed. I was only 21 when I moved to Beijing as a university student. I went from my parents’ home in Australia straight to China – and didn’t go back. I’ve never lived as an independent adult in my home country. I’ve never had a job, paid a bill, had a bank loan (or even a true credit card), rented an apartment, or owned a car (let alone a house).
Putting all that together, it’s clear that this is the right next step for me. I don’t know yet what I’ll do after I graduate – that’s not til 2017 so I have plenty of time to worry about it later. I would certainly love to return to Asia, and unless something significant changes, that is my plan. I have several shelf dreams and ideas of what I would like to do, but God only knows (literally!) where I will end up – probably not China, perhaps not Asia, and even (though the idea frightens me a little) possibly Australia.
Moving on to the new thing is exciting. Australia is a beautiful place; I look forward to breathing clean air, and staring up at clear skies both day and night. Not to mention clear sinuses and my full singing voice! I am excited about going back to school and learning new things. Not needing to worry constantly about Visa Issues will be lovely, too.
Leaving the place that has been my home for ten years, and the people who have been my China family, however, is much harder. Moving on from the place where I became an adult is scary. Leaving the people who have loved me so well, especially at Capital Community, will be very sad. Giving up my bilingual environment won’t be fun either. And of course, there’s my kids – the students I work with. That’s the hardest of all to think about! But I still have a year to get my head (and my heart) around all of that. Another year to invest deeply in the wonderful people here. Another year to enjoy my China home. I am so thankful for that year!
For everyone in Beijing – nothing will change for a long while yet. I’ll still be working at CCC with the youth groups all through this (northern) school year. I’ll be away over Christmas but plan to be in China during the (northern) summer, so for those who visit from time to time, I really hope to see you then.
Finally – a short note to my kids, the teens (and no-longer-teens) I love and have invested in over the past 8+ years. You are the reason I have been in China so long. You have been my primary purpose here. I can’t even tell you how much you have blessed me and filled my life with joy! It’s strange to imagine a life that doesn’t revolve around youth work. But no matter where in the world I am, I will never lead a life without you. Nope, you can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll only be a facebook message away! I would love to stay a part of your lives; no matter where I go, you will always be a huge part of my story.