Moving Abroad, Chicken Feet, and Lifelong Friendships

Travel Stories Prodigal Magazine
Today, I am part of a blog tour for Prodigal Magazine called Travel Stories. If you are visiting my blog for the first time, welcome! I do hope you enjoy your time here and stay awhile. For my regular readers, you might recognize my story of moving to China.
I stepped off the plane, my head still spinning from the rough landing, as the smell of fried noodles and strong spices wafted over me; instantly taking note of what appeared to be thousands of black eyes staring at my differences.
I nervously pulled my hair back behind my ears and bit my fingernails– just 14 hours ago I was sitting in the Atlanta airport speaking English. I felt as Lucy must have when she discovered Narnia. The wardrobe was behind me as I was standing in an unknown world of fascination and intrigue—one where everyone stared at me like I was a life-size doll and the words consisted of intricate pictures. I was certainly not in Kansas anymore. I arrived across the globe in what would be my new home for the next two years: China.

I moved to China to tell a primarily atheist nation about the one true God who sent His Son to die for them. I was there to be the hands and feet of Christ—in a city where brokenness and sorrow reigned because a recent earthquake buried thousands of children underneath their schools. Overwhelming does not even scratch the surface of the emotions I felt walking around my new city of 12 million. The most daunting task was to learn to communicate in their heart language.

The honeymoon phase with my new home ended rather quickly. I grew frustrated with the people staring at me on every street corner, some touching my hair and face as if I was a life-size doll or an artifact in a museum case. The general hurry of everyone in public seemed unjustified, especially when elbows would find their way into my sides or worse when I was pushed off a bus one time. Pushed! I didn’t understand why the Chinese stood in line touching each other or why people would cut me in line if I didn’t press my body against the person in front of me. And why the hurry at the train station? I have never before experienced such massive chaos and panic as the train doors opened and we were allowed to find our (assigned, mind you) seats. Grocery shopping in China on a Monday morning felt like Y2K was looming—just picture fast-moving carts, yelling in a language foreign to my ears, and pushing people out of the way to grab the last pig’s nose or whatever the hot item of the day happened to be. And everywhere I went, people snapped pictures of me (without permission) and school children giggled and pointed at the “waiguoren” (foreigner).

The language came with great difficulty, many embarrassing moments—the word napkin and menstrual pad should not be confused, especially in a crowded restaurant—and many tears over the frustration of the large communication barriers.  With time, I began to form deep friendships with Chinese women. The cultural barriers came down, brick by brick, as I was able to truly recognize that while they looked different, talked different, and had different customs, we were in essence the same in longing for love, acceptance, and belonging. They needed a Savior just as much as I did. My housekeeper Xiao Li and I loved to laugh and share a good meal with friends. My friend Zhou Qiu Yu and I both loved to sit up late and eat ‘snacks’(chicken feet is the popcorn equivalent in China) and watch a movie. My friend Zhou Xin and I like to run together. Elengi and I liked to watch The Office together. One night, I invited my Chinese friends over for a sleepover. And guess what we did? Danced, sang, laughed, ate way too much candy, went to bed at 4am, and talked about boys. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Each day as I lived among the Chinese, spoke their language, and became closer friends with natives, the unfamiliar with the culture grew familiar.

They laughed, desired acceptance, fought with their relatives, struggled with selfishness, loved deeply, had their hearts broken, wanted to be thinner, experienced anger, wanted more—just like us.

While there will always be language and cultural barriers, my time in their midst was the most rewarding time in my life. Hard, yes. But richly blessed with friendships and experiences that forever change the way I view others.

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4 Responses to “Moving Abroad, Chicken Feet, and Lifelong Friendships”
  1. Hey, I found your post from Prodigal. Having been to China on missions (that’s my travel story I’m posting tomorrow), I can totally relate to the cultural aspects and learning to adapt to the lack of body space, lines, and any semblance of order. I love how you brought it all back to the fact that they need Jesus, love, and friendship just like we do.


  2. CaJoh says:

    Stopping by from Prodigal Magazine. I like what you said: “The cultural barriers came down, brick by brick, as I was able to truly recognize that while they looked different, talked different, and had different customs, we were in essence the same in longing for love, acceptance, and belonging.” So often we see what is on the outside and never delve deep enough to see people’s inner beauty and spirit. Sounds like those experiences held great meaning for both you and those you met there.

    Thank you for sharing,

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Thanks for visiting. I hope you come back. Living in another culture is truly amazing-an experience like no other.

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