November 2, 2022, was the day I landed in Brazil. There are days when it feels like I just arrived and I’m still trying to readapt, others it feels like I arrived so long ago that I start to question whether it’s time to look for another country to live in
One of the reasons that made me return to Brazil was the health policies adopted in China for the past three years. The country was hostage to a virus, entire cities closed off and people were prevented from leaving their homes.
In January 2023, China ended most of these policies. There is no longer any quarantine to enter the country, all visas, including tourist visas, are being issued again from March 20023, there are no more lockdowns or health codes, and people are no longer isolated or sent to a recovery center. As a result, the entire country fell ill. Businesses and delivery services were disrupted due to a lack of “healthy” employees, but no one complained. Everyone was looking forward to getting their routine back and it was a necessary discomfort.
Many foreigners took the opportunity to visit their family, after all the risk of being prevented from returning or having additional quarantine expenses was low.
Sometimes I ask myself: “Maybe if I had known that this nightmare was only two months away…” “If only I had a little more energy and sanity to wait…” “Will things ever go back to the way they were before?” But I had reached my limit and there was no point in continuing there. If I made the right choice I’m still figuring it out.
It was brutal to be in China during the time of the virus, and all the barriers and changes it caused in my life. I only realized this here in Brazil. All I have left are the memories, my friends and the desire to maybe one day visit the place I called home for years.
More about China
I have friends who left China before I did. Many have already rebuilt their lives, are happy, and would like to return to China to visit, despite the Chinese friends who are still there, the vast majority of the expatriates they knew have also left.
The other day, one of those friends texted me “Why did we leave?” Nostalgia confuses us by remembering only the good times of the past, reinforcing only the positive aspects of a certain period of life. It wasn’t hard to remind her why we left, I had just returned and I hadn’t had time to miss China yet.
That same friend recommended me a YouTube channel: “The China Show”, every week they present some news, mainly political, from China. I’m glad I only got to know this channel after I left, otherwise I would be ashamed to live in the country having access to the information I have now.
It’s funny to appreciate the little things I didn’t know I missed and take a deep breath for so many others that bother me and I had forgotten.
I had read about the difficulties people have when returning to their home country, but I think I have a certain advantage over most people. My parents moved a lot throughout my adolescence. Last year when I came back they were living in another state again.
One of the main difficulties for those returnees is interacting with friends or even the city that is the same but looks different. In my case, my friends are in other states, and the city I currently live in I’ve never lived in before and it’s not the first time I need to go through this adaptation process within Brazil.
It’s good to walk in the streets and feel part of the environment and not a foreign body that many points out. It’s nice to be able to sort things out without needing someone’s help or a translator. It’s good to be able to explain clearly what you want, ask for explanations, and understand them. It’s nice not to have a cultural and language barrier. It’s nice to be able to walk into a bakery and be able to buy everything I’ve dreamed of finding for the last five years.
But did Funk still need to be popular? Do people need to listen at the loudest volume and make me listen to it along with them? Did we still need to have so many public transportation issues? Recycling? I’m not going to go into the political merits, but of all that we allow ourselves to be influenced by the United States, did we also have to follow the political polarity that they are experiencing over there? For those who haven’t figured it out yet, we are all the only ones harmed by this extremism. Do we still believe that we can only be successful if we hurt our colleague’s career? Can’t everyone grow together?
The concept of “Home”
Even before moving to China, I had already decided that I wanted to be where I felt welcomed, the place does have a strong influence, due to the structure that a city can offer or not, but it is also necessary to make an effort to transform a certain place in your home. China for many years was more than my home, it was the place where I built a family (brothers and sisters from the heart that I feel like China brought us together), and where I was finally respected and valued as a teacher. However, my family left, the country stopped being welcoming and the time to leave had come.
Let me be honest with you
I don’t go to a psychologist or therapy, but I’ve been reading and talking to people a lot about mental health and I must admit that I had many symptoms of burnout just before leaving. Maybe I didn’t reach an extreme point, but if each symptom was worth one point I would have enough points to share with other people.
I feel that the changes were so gradual that I didn’t realize how much all this was affecting me and suddenly I was already crying for no apparent reason a few times a week. It is not easy to accept that you have a problem, especially when everyone tells you that you are lucky in life and that there is no reason to feel sad, but the pain is real, it is there.
Getting out of bed is difficult, making it into the classroom is a nightmare, thinking that the next day everything will repeat itself for an infinite eternity and without finding reasons why to keep doing it, it’s as if every day at work you dig dirt out of a hole you never wanted to dig and now you can’t stop.
The last drop was my trip back and all the drama that I’ve already shared here. The other day, some of my cousins and uncles were visiting us and I ended up telling the story with too many details. Later that night, my son complained “You took too long to tell, I started feeling it all over again. Why did you do that?” And my only answer was: “I don’t know, but I also regret it. Because I’m feeling it too.”
It’s interesting what the trauma does to our mind, every time we think we’ve overcome it or that it wasn’t even that serious, they come back to torment us, sometimes in a worse way than the previous one and it’s hard to explain to someone that a part of the past continues to bother, even when there are no logical reasons for it.
I still have days that I need silence, some days are better than others. On bad days I find myself shoveling sand out of the hole again, but who knows, maybe one day therapy will be able to put some of the dirt back in the hole I dug.
Starting all over again, not knowing where to go or what to do. As I said, my mental health was an important reason for leaving China. I remember a few times someone commenting that there are jobs that completely suck your energy, they take all your motivation, creativity, and everything else you have to offer until you have nothing left and everything is empty.
I don’t think it’s right to blame just one side, I also allowed it to get to that point, even if unconsciously, maybe because I was too close to the situation I couldn’t see it or I didn’t see any other option, but I know that I contributed to be left over nothing inside me.
The teaching profession is noble, but it requires too much from professionals. You can’t just be fine for yourself, you have students who have nothing to do with your problem and there’s a limit to how far you can keep up appearances and perform your job.
When I arrived, the mere thought of entering a school made my body stiff, I believe that I would not be accepted in any position as a teacher because my body would not bear the responsibility and it would show its weakness. I got an invitation to return to the school I was teaching before I left, which is gratifying, but out of respect, I could never consider it.
Five months have passed, and I have been working in the digital environment. Digital marketing apprentice, virtual assistant, and whatever else I can find. Not going to lie, I quite like it, but it’s not that simple. Trying to change careers at 36 is just one consequence of my experience in China and my mental state. Five months have passed and the thought of going back to the classroom doesn’t seem like such a strange or absurd idea anymore.
The school I work for in China made a beautiful marketing video, with the director’s teaching proposals and what education means (one day I’ll write about education in China because we need to clarify some misconceptions, mainly that Brazilians have regarding Chinese education), I confess that I questioned my career choice. On that same day, in the afternoon, my son came home from school (he is studying in a public school) and when reporting his day I remembered that there is a very big difference between theory and practice, especially in education.
Five months have passed, and I have few friends, which never bothered me as long as they were people I could count on, but they are physically far away and the longing to see them is constant. I don’t have a steady job, although I’m managing to maintain a healthy routine. I still refuse to read newspapers, because they are too depressing and I’ve been trying to find ways to adapt to Brazil (a period without stressing about visa is liberating).
Andre is a teenager
I am proud of myself for taking André to China, I was able to offer him much more than in Brazil. We traveled, got to know places, and did activities that we would probably never have the chance to do in Brazil and he grew up in an environment where he could walk freely around the city without having to constantly look over his shoulder.
I, on the other hand, was at ease when he was alone at home, or needed to take a bus, metro, or taxi to go anywhere. He didn’t need money, because he could pay for everything with his cell phone and even if he needed it, it wouldn’t be a problem.
However, where I lived, few children spoke English and many had weekends filled with extra-curricular activities or tutoring, which did not allow them to meet often after school. The Americans who were André’s friends were in the United States on vacation when the virus was announced and they didn’t come back.
For a long time, André had only with my friends to hang out, schoolmates he only interacted with during physical education. This gave him the opportunity to learn a lot about other cultures and meet people from different parts of the world, but his bored face when we met in a cafe and sat for hours was priceless.
When we had the lockdown in September 2022, I saw the light that existed in my son vanish. We were already considering the possibility of leaving China, mainly because André was starting high school and I wanted him to attend school regularly and have friends like any teenager, but he still had a whole semester ahead of him.
Last Summer Vacation (July in China), he joined a basketball camp, and from Monday to Friday he spent his mornings playing with other teens. The first week of school was much better than he had imagined and he allowed himself to create expectations that this semester he could be an ordinary teenager.
A week after we went back to school everything closed down, and he saw himself limited to the space of an apartment. One week after the lockdown started, emotions went downhill for him and there’s nothing worse for a mother than to feel helpless watching her child suffer (at that moment, we couldn’t even leave the country without first going through quarantine in another city).
Five months have passed, and he goes to school, sometimes he complains that he should be doing more, studying more, he has already made some friends at school. He is on a basketball team in São Vicente and he is going to play in two championships this semester. When he’s not training with the team, he gets on his bike and goes to play on one of the city’s public courts. Last month, they went to eat at a pizza all-you-can-eat and he came back saying he has never had so much fun.
His light has not only returned but has gained new forms, he now has the opportunity to have friends, a healthy routine, and create new memories. The last time we talked about China, he commented that it seemed like a distant past, but at the same time, his memories are very much alive. The only thing he misses is being able to pay for everything with his phone.
Normally, I question my decisions, I tend to question if it really was the best choice. I’m not sure if going back to Brazil was what I should have done, my life is still a mess and I miss the routine I created in China. I still have moments when I want to disappear from the world and people, but seeing my son grow up and having the opportunity to do what he loves, laugh and make friends makes me sure that at least it wasn’t a bad choice.