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The Case for Ditching

Shanghai. Photo by Alan Ryan Garcia.

I consider myself pretty straightforward, so when asked, my priorities are: being there for my family; achieving my own happiness and self-fulfillment; finding work that enables me to live comfortably; sharing it all with somebody down the line.

The problem, as I’m sure many TCKs can relate, is that sometimes it feels like achieving these goals would require being in more than one geographical location at the same time – an impossible feat.

My first priority, my family, is in New York. I left New York in 2009, after high school and college. I’d rather be stoic about the circumstances but instead I’ll tell you the truth: I left New York, not because I’d really wanted to, but because I had to. I wasn’t in a good place. I was a recent college grad with a CV that wasn’t attracting attention in the throes of a recession. I was also reeling after a bad relationship ran its course. Things weren’t going according to plan. My self-confidence was shot.

It was late 2008 when my dad came to me with the possibility of going to grad school in China. He’d found a good program he thought would fit me. “Times are tough,” he said. “This will be a good opportunity for you to develop yourself during the downtime.”

My immediate instinct was to reject it. Leaving was admitting failure, giving up. The old New York adage, “If you make it here, you can make it anywhere” rang in my head. I wanted so badly to be one of those people, to make it in my adopted hometown, the city I loved with the people I loved. I almost dismissed it completely. But the more I thought about Shanghai, the more it made sense, the more the fresh start it presented became the right choice in my mind.

Other TCKs may declare, with varying degrees of bravado, how an almost insatiable wanderlust propels them to exotic locations around the globe. In my case, the impetus was a critical need to flee the scene and rebuild.

I remember the early morning goodbye to my family before getting into the airport shuttle. As the van sped away, relief washed over me. Despite my initial reservations, I was now almost giddy to be leaving. The exhilaration I felt must be something many TCKs feel when they first branch out on their own, whether it be for college or a job. Soon the excitement waned, superseded by guilt for leaving my family behind, but the optimism, the luster of adventure, of the mere prospect of success, still sparkled underneath it all.

The gamble paid off. In Shanghai, I found a city as vibrant as the one I’d left behind, with lots to experience and studies to devote my energy to. It felt good to be learning again, to be productive. More importantly, it felt good to be somewhere where people didn’t know I’d been having a hard time. I’d escaped, and after a while it felt my New York rut had nothing to do with me — it was just some New York artifact I’d left behind when packing my suitcase. As things quickly fell into place in my new life, I met a girl and fell in love. Of the five moves I’d been subjected to as a child, I have a hard time remembering touching down with such a splash. This was the splash to end all splashes.

As graduation approaches, it’s time to pick the next step. Part of me wants to return to New York and take it by storm, reclaiming the life I felt I should’ve initially built by triumphantly landing a job and enjoying time with family and friends. The other part wants to keep the good times rolling in Shanghai and give back to the city that took me in after New York spat me out. As I consider the two, I wonder, will a third contender emerge?

Nowadays, I don’t rule anything out.

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