When I set out to China in 2000, I was simply looking for adventure or something new. I didn’t have all of these complex notions in my mind about second citizenship, or minimizing taxes, or even seeking a better healthcare system. It was simply a means to explore. Twenty years later, I can confidently say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Like many black women, I was the first in my family to graduate college. I didn’t have anyone in my family to guide or advise me on what major to take or what I could eventually do with that major. There were no funds saved up for my college education and I had to work during all four years of undergrad. By my junior year, it was clear that attending college was actually the honeymoon and once I graduated real life would hit – I needed a plan.
I majored in Economics and despite knowing suffered from a chronic rose-colored glasses about how far that degree could take me. I knew from reading The Economist, and the Financial Times that the world literally revolved around international transactions, but I had no connections in that space, nor did I have any clue on how I could pursue an international career. One day, my professor of international finance held up the Financial Times in front of the class and shook it vigorously, “If anyone is looking for a career for the next 20 years, you’d better look to China!” I took it as a sign that I should begin there. I also happened to see a poster hanging up in the hallways offering a free summer in China teaching English. I signed up straight away.
My family wasn’t thrilled. I didn’t speak a lick of Chinese and no one in my family even owned a passport. The only thing that my family knew about China was the Americanized Chinese food we had been eating, kung-fu, and some lyrics from Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers. It wasn’t an easy sell. My mom tried her hardest to guilt me out of it; my uncle and extended family sent up prayers for my survival. That was the extent of the support I got.
During the flight, I kept pinching myself. “I can’t believe that I’m going to China.” A mix of excitement, fear, and suspense were running through my veins. I had no idea what to expect. When I arrived in Beijing, it was blazing hot. I and about 10 other college students in the program visited the Great Wall, Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. I took in so much culture that my head was spinning. But the most authentic adventures occurred in Hangzhou – the food, the people, the late nights having street BBQ, and all of that walking exploring small back streets made the trip memorable. I made friendships that would shape my impression of the country for years to come.
Now Baby or Never
Looking back, it was the start of what eventually became an entire career and new life outside of the U.S. If I had never taken that leap, I would never have learned how to speak Chinese, or started my own business. I never would have visited so many other countries besides China, and I certainly never would have met the wonderful man who is now my husband. Leaving the U.S. was scary, but in light of the current times, staying seems to be even scarier. If there ever was a time to think about what it means to be a Black American and whether there is anything else better for you outside of the U.S., now is the time.