Perception vs. Reality

I love social media. Facebook, Istagram, WordPress; it’s how I keep in touch with everyone back home. I can share my photos and my stories, which not only gives me a sense of purpose, but also the ability to connect with my old friends and acquaintances. When I return home I won’t feel out of the loop because I virtually stalk everyone’s life events via Facebook news feed.

Even though I link my blog posts to Facebook, I always find it awkward when people tell me they read my blog. I get so self-conscious when people I actually know tell me they read what I write. Even though I knowingly display my blog for the world to see, it’s easier to let in strangers and fellow writers and travelers. My life in China isn’t always so glamorous, but there’s an immense pressure on millennials to make it look like we have it all together. I feel like I need to prove to people that I’m actually working towards something, rather than aimlessly teaching English abroad because I have no idea what else to do with the rest of my life. My choices deviate from the status quo, so I need to show others that what I’m doing was a good, smart, calculated choice.

For me, living in China was a hard decision, but one I’m glad I made. I wanted to travel and see the world before I was “sucked into a job and life responsibilities”. I wanted to improve my Chinese, get more cultural life experience all while supporting myself. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to maintain this image and convince others that the choice I made was a good one. I feel the need to show others that while I may not have a high paying job, I’m successful. I’m supporting myself, traveling the world, experiencing new cultures and gaining valuable experience for my future career.

This whole time I’ve been in China, I keep hearing about how impressed people are with what I’m doing. “You’ve done more in a year than I probably will in my life!”, people say. “Your pictures are so amazing! I can’t believe you’ve been to all those places.”, “Your life sounds so fun and interesting. Grad school is so boring.”. In all honesty, I’m sure Facebook makes my life looks fabulous. If you click through my photos it looks like all I do is travel to exotic locations, eat amazing food and drink cheap cocktails in cool expat bars. It looks like I have a million friends and even more adventures. If you look at my photos my life looks amazing.

If you read my blog, you may get a different perception. “Look at me overcoming so many obstacles while living in a developing country!”. I write about my students trying to plagiarize their exams, my loneliness living in the middle of nowhere and my crazy travel misadventures. It sounds like my life is full of stories, but sometimes it takes a reminder from friends back home to remember that the things that happen in my life are even interesting.

Living in China, I’m constantly surrounded by expats who are much more impressive than me. I have a few friends who spent all last year teaching in Georgia (the country). They lived in villages with home stay families, their classrooms didn’t have windows, they were forced to take ice-cold showers in the winter, and most of the time they didn’t even have heat or electricity! I meet people in hostels who are traveling the globe by themselves for an entire year. I read peoples’ travel blogs that are actually paid to write. I’ve met people who are living, working and traveling in China while barely knowing any Chinese. It’s hard to consider myself special, when I am surrounded by people doing the same exact thing as me.

Most of the time, my life in China feels pretty boring. I teach the same lesson class after class until I literally feel like my brain is going to explode if I talk above conversational volume. I watch full seasons of tv shows in a week. A weekend adventure most likely involves taking my e-bike 30 minutes to the grocery store and trying to make it back with all of my groceries intact. There are full days I don’t even leave my room; I cook my meals and sit in my bed all day watching tv on my computer or writing in my blog.

In America, if I managed to do my laundry, cook dinner and do some readings for class I felt like it was a successful day. Here in China there’s so much pressure to be out doing things. For example, on Wednesday I found out that I don’t have class on this Monday and Tuesday because my students have exams. They obviously have known this for a while now, but they never think to tell me until a few days before. Now in America I’d think “yay! A 3 day weekend!”. I’d go out to a bar, catch up on sleep and watch some tv. In China, I feel like I should be traveling. I need to make the most of my time here!!! So instead of lazing around and watching tv, I’m taking a trip to Wuxi to stay with another girl from the AYC program. Why am I going? Because I’ll feel guilty if I don’t DO something. Besides, it’ll probably be fun to have some human interaction.

While it may seem like my life is so exciting to those back in America, remember that I am stalking your Facebook page with jealousy in return. I see photos of my friends at happy hour or celebrating holidays with their families and I feel so bored and lonely in comparison. One of my friends is attending grad school in Australia and literally all of her photos are of beach adventures, outdoor concerts and parties. She looks like she’s having so much fun. But I only see the fun stuff. Maybe she looks at my photos and is jealous of how cheap it is to travel in China and SE Asia. Maybe she goes to the beach because it’s too expensive to go anywhere else in Australia.

You only see what people want you to see. No one broadcasts their flaws all over social media. You don’t want people to know you’re having a bad time, and no one wants to hear it. We all hate those people who complain about their lives on social media. “Get it together!”, we think. “Save your drama for your real friends. Why are you making yourself look bad in front of a bunch of people who don’t actually really care about you??”. It sounds mean, but it’s true.

There’s a lot of pressure to seem successful. “Hey look at me! Look what I’m doing! I’m traveling the world. Aren’t you bored with your 9-5 job in America? I’m having a lifetime-worth of adventures!”. In reality, I’m torn between a desire to give it all up and travel the world, and to pack it all in and begin a meaningful career. Sometimes I’m proud of the choice I made to come and teach here for a year, other times I think “what am I doing with my life right now?”. But nobody sees that. Not unless I tell them. But even when I open up, my life seems so interesting and colorful to the people back home that they can’t fathom that most of the time I’m bored. It’s always easier to talk about my feelings with other people in China who are in the same place as me. We all have a strong desire to travel, but we’re under a lot of pressure to start a career, finish our education and settle down.

I’ve found I’m happiest when I’m traveling. If I could throw everything in a backpack and travel the world for a year, I probably would. I’ve barely seen any of South America and I’d love to visit Europe again as an adult. The only problem? How the hell would I afford to go to Europe? I need a job to make money, but I have a fear of setting down, getting stuck in a career and never being able to leave. I think it’s important to remind myself that no jobs are permanent. If the time comes when I’m ready to move onto a new job, maybe I’ll quit and travel for a few months before moving onto the next job. I can apply for jobs from anywhere. I think I’ve interviewed more over Skype than I have in person.

Overall I’ve decided that my blog is a place to be honest. To fill people in on what my life is really like living and traveling in Asia. My life isn’t always filled with exotic trips or large cultural obstacles, and a lot of the time I have to force myself to get out of bed and do something interesting with my time. People see what you want them to see, so take a step back and think about how people see you.

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I currently live in China where I'm studying for my master's degree!
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One Response to Perception vs. Reality

  1. cj murdock says:

    Oh my gosh what a great article! I am getting Tuesday and Wednesday off and felt the same responsibility to travel even though I just got back from suzhou

    Like

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