A Passage to China
But what about your diabetes? It was a simple question that my mother desperately wanted to ask—but knew she couldn't—as we sat in my bedroom. To be honest, I didn't have the answers myself.
The last time I had traveled to China I was in college, about to turn 21, and set to have the time of my life on a semester abroad. My only concerns were about what clothes to pack. Now, 10 years later, so much had changed: namely, being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 27.
Everything had shifted, and my quest for a "new quality of normal" had not been easy: jealousy as other twentysomethings sprinted by me on a run while I felt weak from a low blood sugar; concern about changes in my body from a new insulin regime; frustration over having to treat a simple snack as a math equation. The most overwhelming new emotion was the feeling that I wanted nothing to change. Yet so much had.
Now, four years after my diagnosis and managing well, I decided to finally look at what goals I had put off: I didn't have diabetes then, I would think. I had stopped seeing myself as the same person I was when I had set those goals. One goal in particular leaped to mind: to return to China and teach.
The biggest obstacle standing between me and China, it seemed, was my diabetes. I knew I couldn't be the first teacher to face such a challenge in going abroad. I was determined to pursue this dream. And so I prepared, applied for teaching jobs, and confidently flew to the Midwest for rounds of intense interviews over one long weekend.
But when I got there, we applicants were told to disclose any health problems; international employment laws didn't allow for American-style privacy about such matters. I felt racked with anxiety. How would I casually disclose that I might cost my new employer thousands of dollars in medical coverage? Would I be disqualified as a job candidate? If hired, would I have to combat an employer's ignorance about diabetes?
In the final interview for my top-choice school, I gingerly broached the subject of my diabetes. My new principal looked at me for a second, smiled, and said, "Oh, we've got one of you already. I'll introduce you—he's got it all figured out." Another teacher at the school also had type 1. He already had navigated insulin, doctors, and the tricks of maintaining good control in a foreign country. I signed my contract on the spot and have never looked back.
My mother's unspoken question had been answered. And I realized something: Though diabetes can be annoying, it need not be an insurmountable obstacle. Diabetes was never meant to hold me back from chasing big dreams. In fact, my diabetes helped me become the woman I was always meant to be: the English teacher who moved to Shanghai.
Adriana Bonforte teaches 10th-grade students at the Shanghai Community International School in China.
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