You’re watching a movie. The protagonist is a young woman, mid 20’s, a rookie in her profession and, so far, she’s been fighting one heck of an uphill battle; life’s quirks have been jabbing at her non-stop. The tension is building and the plot is entering the climatic phase that has you holding on to your seat. She reaches a powerful, emotionally captivating epiphanic moment where she lets go of what should be and her ideal concept of what society identifies is the “right” thing to do. What happens next? She simply says, “I’m moving to China.” My name is Courtney Smith-Kimble. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and almost two years ago, I made one of the biggest and most impactful decisions in my life thus far. I decided to pack a few things, three large suitcases to be exact, and go teach in China.


Travelling has always been a dream of mine. When I was in college at Cleveland State, I remember printing out a map and highlighting the 17 states I’d visited. I placed that highlighted map next to my dream board, which was filled with countries I wanted to see and I felt the hunger of wanting to experience something so unlike anything I had ever known. Of course, life has its way of pushing you into a comfort zone. We want stability, we want the best job in our profession, there is almost an innate desire to put some roots down and that’s exactly what I sought out after getting my degree.

I figured I’d establish myself a bit and then travel later, but after my first year teaching, I was really dissatisfied. I can almost laugh at it now because I remember thinking to myself and saying aloud to my grandmother, “is this what I worked my butt off for?” She got a good laugh from that. I read an article recently that said 1 in 10 teachers quit after their first year. Many people don’t realize it, but teaching is a profession that requires a lot more of you than many people are willing to give. After reflecting, I concluded that it wasn’t the demands of my job that were causing uneasiness within me, I simply wasn’t quenching the thirst of my curiosity.

Many people ask me, “why China?” I start by explaining my unique family. Brace yourself because it’s a mouthful. I come from a very diverse family. Looking 2 to 4 generations back, a lot of my family members came straight from their countries; they speak their languages, cook their traditional dishes, and are influenced by various cultural norms. To list them, on my father’s side I am Irish, English, Cuban, and African American. On my mother’s side, I am Jamaican, Arawak Indian, Spaniard, and, of course, Chinese; a couple of them overlap. In addition to my family lineage, China is also one of the highest paying countries for English speaking teachers. I’d also have to say that there is a level of mystery when one thinks of the orient. They have a long historical background to explore. And let’s be honest, it’s definitely different from anything I’ve ever known.

I planned everything in less than a month and I must say that I didn’t know what I was in for. The way I made my decision brings a smile to my face because I really didn’t think too hard about it. One could argue that I employed a youthful decision-making process where I just jumped in with unbreakable faith that everything would be okay, but I did map out and budget everything. At the same time, no matter how much you plan, you can’t brace yourself for the culture shock.

Think about immersing yourself into a culture that does not reflect yours at all and living like a local. At first, it was an enchanting concept and sometimes it still it, but I gained way more knowledge about myself than I ever expected to. Adults take for granted the small things they know about how to be an adult. Even a minor pleasure such as being able to read the label of what you’re buying at the grocery store becomes a task that requires patience and adaptation. There are also those moments that are simply breathtaking like when I hiked a holy mountain and stood at the top of it looking down and felt the most peace I’ve felt in years. To say the least, I’ve had many good days, many educational days, reflective days, and my fair share of bad days. I think it’s also worth mentioning that being here has allowed me to appreciate Cleveland and the rest of the United States a lot more. People who have never left don’t understand the conveniences and privileges they have. At the same time, they don’t know what their missing either. Overall, living abroad isn’t an experience that I would trade for the world.