After our fantastic trip to Xi’An and Beijing, it really hit us hard and fast that we only had a few days left in Zhuhai. We scrambled to fit in one last trip to all of our favorite places, like Drinking Express, Soak in Movie Time Coffee, our favorite noodle place, and the restaurant that Coco took us to when we first met her. It was nice to feel a little nostalgic, but it was hard to imagine that this would probably be the last time we would ever go to those places.
Even harder was beginning the process of saying goodbye to the kids and the rest of the people that we met during our time here. Fortunately, we had the giant undertaking that was the final performance to distract us from our feelings. We had dress rehearsals with our students, Riley and I had to practice our MC skits, and the Duke students prepared a song and a dance to perform as a surprise at the end of the show. It was pretty stressful trying to put it all together, and I’m not going to lie, there were times when I thought it would end up being a disaster, but it was a nice feeling that we were all coming together to create a grand finale for the amazing two months of our program.
The show actually went near perfectly, and it was incredible that so many parents and students came out to support us. I was so proud of my hip hop class for doing such a great job and for being so dedicated and enthusiastic about our 3 dances. It was so cute—just as we were about to go on stage for our third dance, Vicket, one of my students, ran up to me and anxiously asked me to practice the dance one last time. I get so happy every time I watch the recording of the performance.
A lot of students came up to us after the show to say goodbye because we were set to leave the following afternoon. I was doing so well at keeping myself composed, but at one point, Julie, the girl whose nickname is “the most handsome,” ran up to me, and I just lost it. I just couldn’t handle the thought of that being the last time I would see her.
The next morning, Sophia had to go to school, so I went hiking with my host parents, something they had wanted to take me to do but we had never gotten a chance to. It was a beautiful hike, and though I was dripping with sweat in the heat that my weather app said, “feels like 118 degrees,” I got a great last view of Zhuhai from the top of the mountain. We then picked up Sophia and went to have our last lunch together. The food was great, but there was definitely an underlying feeling of sadness that none of us wanted to address. I took the opportunity to use my new and improved Chinese skills to thank my host family for giving me the best summer of my life and to say that I will miss them so much. My host parents responded very sweetly, and when my host dad asked Sophia if she wanted to say anything, she went silent. It broke my heart that she might be holding back tears.
A bunch of my students came to No. 9 to say goodbye and give us notes and gifts before we got on the bus to leave, and there was no way I could keep it together even for a second. I had a bit of a cold, so my nose was already running, and I was just a mess. I couldn’t even look at Sophia and my host parents because I was afraid I would disappear into a puddle of tears. In the end, the goodbyes were really hard, but I still felt like I didn’t get to say enough goodbyes. I really wish I had had time to hug each and every one of my hip hop students after the performance because they are all such amazing kids. I hugged Sophia about 20 times because every time I saw the tears on her face I couldn’t bear it, but I still wish I could have hugged her more. She gave me the sweetest parting gift: a necklace with a picture of us together.
Even after all of that, I had to say goodbye to all of the Duke students, and even though I will see them again soon, after spending every single day with them, it is going to be so hard not seeing them until after I get back from a semester abroad. I have made some amazing friendships, and I am so excited to hang out with them in January.
Now that I am back home, I’m sure I have annoyed the crap out of my family by constantly bringing up anecdotes from China. However, I always dread the question, “How was China?” which every single person I see inevitably asks. For the same reasons that I procrastinated writing this final post for so long, that is such an impossible question to answer. First of all, I hate the idea that it is in the past tense, that I have to talk about it like a memory of a closed chapter in my life. Second of all, the people asking this question are looking for a few-word answer, but there are not just a few words that could represent my experience over the past two months. And finally, I don’t think enough time has passed for me to have fully processed exactly what this experience has meant to me. I know that I made so many incredible relationships, learned so much, and have an endless library of memories that mean so much to me. However, I don’t know if I can understand yet exactly how this experience has changed my life. What I do know, and the only answer I can honestly give people when they ask, is that I am so grateful that I was given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.