Adventure in Asia: Alycia Smith's Life Abroad
A world away from everything familiar, Alycia Smith is on an adventure of a lifetime. Smith grew up in Winnipeg and calls it home but for the last four and a half years she’s lived in Nanjing, China. She teaches high school at a Canadian international school and before that, she taught at an international school in Beijing.
Smith moved to China at the age of 25 looking for a change, bored of Winnipeg. Living abroad during a pandemic has been anything but boring. Her improvised approach to this major life change also made things interesting.
"I didn't actually really plan; I didn't do my research and really know what I was getting myself into."
Making a big move like that came down to mindset for Smith. When she first moved, she didn’t spend time creating a positive but realistic mindset, something she regrets. Her advice to Indigenous youth moving away from home would be to focus on mindset, to create at least one meaningful in person relationship and to stay connected with people from home. The culture shock of the move was hard on Smith, and she wishes she had been more proactive about planning her journey.
"I've always wanted to teach since I was little. I used to go back and forth with what I want to do with my life, and it always came back to teaching, so finally I did so."
Smith did her undergrad in English and Indigenous Studies in Winnipeg, and then a bachelor's of education. She had her first job teaching at a literacy center that was mainly Aboriginal students, creating opportunities for personal growth. After a few years, she decided to try something new and move across the world.
"I wish I could have the mindset that I have now at 30, at the age of 15."
She wasn’t always confident enough to make big changes like that. Smith struggled with low self esteem, low self worth, and depression during her university years. She greatly benefited from therapy as a teen and wishes therapy were more available in China. In the meantime, Smith focuses on positive self-talk and self-reflection around how her emotions are serving her. She sees her mindset as a catalyst for her experiences and is mindful of the negativity she puts into herself.
That mindset helped her get through the experience of the pandemic in China, being limited in what she could do served as a thought experiment as to how she could set her mind to dictate her experience. She committed to staying positive and found her mood to be better during quarantine than after. Smith found having a routine helpful, maintaining a sleep schedule and getting dressed every day as if she were going to work.
She ran on her treadmill and did yoga before she did online classes through zoom. Smith explored cooking and experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes. FaceTime helped her stay in touch, along with zoom parties to maintain screen-to-screen visuals of the faces of the people who were important to her. After nine weeks at home she was able to return to the classroom and see people in person again.
"Mindset is so important. It will make you or break you. Whatever your situation is, mindset is always key."
When self-talk isn’t enough, Smith uses cedar and sweetgrass to smudge and engages in gratitude practice. She focuses on the things she has to be thankful for, to believing where she is, to have the job she has and the opportunity to meet people from around the world, recognizing that is a privilege. Ultimately, people inspire Smith, from her family, friends to her students. She loves to see her students working hard and thinking creatively. Their learning pushes her to put more effort into creating opportunities for them to grow and express themselves.
"Kids can just make you think so much, and it's the little things that they do or say, and it just makes you feel so good."
After undertaking such an adventure, Smith’s advice to others looking to do the same is encouraging, “Just take it head on and fix that mindset to be realistically positive, and just have fun with it. If you have the chance to move somewhere, to go somewhere, to be somewhere else, do it. Totally do it. It's so great.”
Alycia Smith is planning a return home after an adventure of a lifetime but has no regrets. “It's been long enough, but I would never have traded these years out here for anything else, with all the lows and highs,” she smiled. A world away from anything familiar, after living through a pandemic abroad, her heart longs for Winnipeg and home. Only this time she’ll have a plan!
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.