The haze of pollution hangs heavily over the city. My nose is more stuffed up than usual. My head aches and my ears burn. It’s a high pollution day here in Shanghai. I’ve heard about these days, but I’ve never experienced one quite like this.
My handy little air pollution app has turned red, and the number 236 glares at me in accusation. Why would anyone choose to live in this? It asks. How could any benefits to your children possibly outweigh the health risks of living in such pollution? It scolds. I set my phone down and look away.
Days like these pull me back into the reality of living in China. Days like these make me wonder if it is worth it if this is the right thing for my children. I think about all of the people who live in the reality of extreme air pollution because they have to, and I am again reminded that I am a mere visitor in this place.
This is one of the double-edged swords of being an expat. We live where we live, often, because it’s where we want to be. There are varying degrees of this reality, but a good number of us choose to say yes to our assignment because we know it will benefit our career, fulfill a desire to live in a particular country or scratch our adventure itch. This very reality; and the fact that we can choose to move out as freely as we moved in, makes it difficult to feel fully at home.
Many of us do our best to live in our host countries as more than mere outsiders. We attempt to learn the language, function within the local customs, keep an open mind to cultural differences, and absorb what we can. As someone who has moved back and forth between my home country and foreign lands- I have learned the value of absorbing the culture around me, as well as the importance of living in the moment. But it’s on days like these that I’m reminded I live with one foot in this world and one foot back in my home country- where the grass seems greener, and the air breathes cleaner.