One of the facts of our lives as foreigners here in China is that our outsider status can be isolating but it also provides us freedom.
Stranger status also has an impact on our social and familial obligations, our work responsibilities, and even our ability to avoid undesirable situations (e.g. willful ignorance of the rules). For example, I wrote an earlier post about the fact that parenting cross-culturally eliminates me from the running for mother of the year because my parenting choices are culturally-bound and I have only limited knowledge of common parenting practices here. While some days it is frustrating to commit parenting faux pas or not to be recognized by others when I feel I am parenting well, at other times it is quite liberating to realize that when it comes to what kind of mother I am, only the judgments of my spouse, my children and me matter. One of the things I like about being in a place where I am not fluent in the language is the opportunity I get to not pay any attention to the conversation. Sometimes when I am in a group of people all speaking in Chinese, I just get tired of trying to follow and participate in the conversation and instead just sit and think my own thoughts. Because everyone expects that I might not be understanding, no one seems to notice or mind my silence.
While we are eager for the comforts of home, Jason and I have noted that one things we are a bit nervous about is returning home to a place where we are not strangers and, thus, sacrificing the freedom of marginality. When you have been away from it for a while, community and extended familial memberships feel like big responsibilities.