There’s a comic on the internet. A caterpillar and a butterfly are having lunch together. The caterpillar takes a look at her friend and says, “Wow. You’ve changed.” The butterfly replies, “Yeah, we’re supposed to.”

In November of 2013, I got sick of my life and hopped on a plane to Beijing for a job. I’d been to China before in a study abroad program. 

This was a different experience. Now, after six years, I’m coming back to Michigan. I can say with confidence I’m not the same person I was when I left. 

I’m coming back from China with something I didn’t have when I left. A true identity.

I’ve learned independence.

I grew up in the time of Destiny’s Child. Independent Woman was constantly playing on the radio when I was in middle school. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could still sing most of the song today.

Naturally, I thought independence was all about paying bills on your own and doing what you want. Which, yeah, that is part of it. That’s a big part of it. 

But it’s not the only thing that makes a person independent. Paying your bills is what makes you a functioning adult. What makes you an independent human is a self-reliance.

When you’re by yourself in an unfamiliar area, you can’t expect things to come to you. You can’t expect people to come up and talk to you all the time, nor can you expect to fall into things that interest you. 

You have to find these things for yourself. Self-reliance and self-discovery are two similar things. I’d go as far as to say that one can’t survive without the other.

I’ve learned how to be my safety net.

Some people go through their whole lives with a significant other. That person becomes their safety net and their person to rely on at all times. 

For them, it works. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I felt I needed to learn how to be my support before I found someone. I needed to learn to get through hard times. To lean on me for confidence when I had bad days. 

I needed to see my self-worth before I could be with someone else.

Moving to another country is isolating. You don’t have as easy access to your family or friends back home. 

It’s hard to call them on the phone all the time because they are often either be sleeping or working. It can get lonely if you don’t put yourself out there.

Over time, I made new friends, and they became my support. I met people I would’ve never met if I never left the country. 

I learned skills I would never have learned if I stayed in one place. I learned how to rely on myself.

It taught me to build my confidence.

I spent six years in a foreign country. I learned the language, traveled to different places on my own, and adapted to life quickly. 

I spent six years in a job I enjoyed and positively affected the lives of many kids. How could I not be confident in my abilities after all that?

Before I came to China, I didn’t think I could do much. I worked hard in college and couldn’t find a single job when I graduated. 

I was paranoid people around me laughed at my failures. My lack of confidence made me depressed and anxious.

Now, I know I can do anything. Living in China gave me a true identity, and I know I have the persistence and determination to be successful at anything I do. 

I know I have friends and family all over the world that love and support me. And I have a fiancé that supports everything I do.

Travel changes you. Living abroad turns you into a person no one from home recognizes. You’ll be changed for the better when or if you decide to come home.



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Keara Hopkins