Settling In But Not Without Struggles

Truc Bach Lake Hanoi

My great-great grandma, Katarina Jelencic, left Croatia with three kids under the age of 8.  She traveled overland to Rotterdam, where she boarded a boat for New York City.  Once in New York City, she had to travel to Joliet, Illinois, again overland, to meet her husband.

This woman was unable to speak English.  She traveled alone and cared for three children.  She managed to cross thousands of thousands of miles in a time before smart phones, translation apps, and ATMs.

I don’t know how she did it.

I have been in Hanoi almost 4 months.  Now, let me say straight-up that I love it.  It is one of my most favorite cities on the planet.  That being said, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment period.

Imagine all the things that you do on a daily basis.  And imagine the things that you need to do them.

You wake up and eat breakfast (food and drink).  You shower and prepare for the day (a place to live, toiletries, and other incidentals).  You drive to work (means of transportation, gas, a job, and maybe supplies for the job).  You come back home to eat (more food).  You have to entertain yourself before bed (cable TV, books, the Internet, restaurants, and theatres).  You settle into bed to begin the day again in 8 hours.

Now, imagine trying to procure all of things you need in your day-to-day life when you are in an unfamiliar city in a foreign nation.

To say it has been taxing is an understatement.

It is so easy to go through life taking things for granted.  And the smaller things seem the easier it is to take them for granted.  Living in a country where you speak the primary language is such an expected thing that it almost goes without notice.

I will never take it for granted again.

If you read travel blogs, you will see plenty of stories about the expat life.  People write about living in far off and beautiful locations, making great money, eating fabulous food, and spending most of their time on the beach.

You don’t read about the daily hassle of life.  From finding ATMs that work with your bank, to finding food to eat and things to drink, it is a struggle.  It is a struggle navigating in a city where you can’t read the street signs.  It is a struggle finding good employment at quality businesses.

Is the struggle worth it?  I don’t know.  Yet….

I do think that living here has given me a tremendous appreciation for the friends and family I left behind (although technology makes it easy to stay in contact).  Also, living without a lot of stuff has made me question what I do need to get by in life.  Finally, and most importantly, being immersed in a foreign culture forces me to question the things that I do in my daily life at home and the things that the people around me do.  It has made me question what exactly is necessary for a good life.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

I’ve been asked when I’m coming home.  The only answer I can give is not yet.  In retrospect, I know that when I was looking at Hanoi from St. Louis, I was looking at it through rose-colored glasses.  Life is life and, no matter where you are, there will be highs and lows to it.

I deliberately put myself in a difficult situation to challenge myself.  Now, the only thing left to do is to see if I can survive!  Like Celie in The Color Purple, there may be problems and bumps but, “…dear God, I’m here! I’m here!”

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