I will never understand everything about Chinese culture -- why, for instance, traffic laws are all, but non-existent, or why the city's presumably "best" school is crumbling (literally), or even, why parents still insist on arranging their child's love life? I will never understand why China's economy is so strong while millions of its people live with so little. Seeing such stark contrast is something I did not dream of in college.
A year ago, I was writing my senior thesis for my BA and could never have guessed I'd be teaching English in China in just one year. Several people have called me "brave" -- but I'm not brave, I just took a professor's advice seriously -- go teach in China, he said. So I did.
If you are fresh out of college and completely lost, this is the time to have adventures. A bachelor's degree is not an adventure -- although college might have been your craziest years -- for most grads, a BA (or BS, or whatever it was) is really a big fat question mark. "Well, college was fun. Now what?"
Three months ago I arrived in eastern China to teach ESL through Ameson Educational and Cultural Exchange Foundation's Year in China program. Ameson placed me in Jiangyin, China, a "small town" of about 1.3 million people hugging the Yangtze River just north of Shanghai.
I've realized life here is inexplicable -- you have to experience it for yourself. I think people travel in search of answers; if you go somewhere really far away, and look back at your life, maybe you'll see things more clearly. That hasn't exactly happened to me yet. I haven't had any a-ha! moments, or times when everything suddenly makes sense, and traveling is definitely not always glamorous (i.e., China's public bathrooms), but I have felt the tiny kicks in a friend's enormous pregnant belly. I have learned to make dumplings with a friend's grandparents. I have even danced around like a turkey for kindergarten classes. Every memorable moment I've had in China is because I did something unexpected -- I said "yes" to an invitation; I listened to somebody when they need to talk; I took a chance and did something crazy.
Whether you quit your first job, or move across the country, or even, fall in love, not planning is the greatest thing you can do for yourself because it lets your imagination run wild. If you have everything figured out at 24-years-old, there is something terribly wrong with you. Most of the time, I feel more lost than I ever have. I have more questions and less answers and I'll be honest -- it scares the hell out of me. It is okay not to know where you will be in five years, or even in a month -- that's life.
Not knowing makes people do crazy things (like move to China), but, if you can stick out the chaos long enough, eventually, things begin to look familiar again and that question mark of a degree will look less threatening. Even if you have to take a detour from your grand plan, when the dust does clear, you probably won't feel as lost.