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.
Its been a couple of days now since I have left Zhuhai, and looking back I think truly as DukeEngage says I challenged myself and changed the world. Our work in Zhuhai was definitely challenging, from being thrown into new and different situations, to teaching our classes, and just going about our every day lives. I changed the world through my students. I know that we left an impact on them, as I am still talking to them all through wechat since I have left Zhuhai. Yes, I taught my students some English vocabulary, some hip-hop dances, and how to make movies, but what I really taught them was to be confident. To have enough confidence to have English conversations beginning with me, but eventually with each other. To have enough confidence to get on that dream stage at the final performance and dance their hearts out. To have enough confidence to star in a film and not be embarrassed when it is shown on screen.
So, yes as DukeEngage goes, I have given a lot to this program and these past two months, but I have also received even more. An experience of a lifetime, a second family on the other side of the world, 112 amazing English students, 33 hip hop stars, 68 film makers, relationships with the people of Zhuhai and Number 9, an entirely new taste palette, a million gifts and so so much more.
I have learned so much about myself these past two months, and really pushed my boundaries to try new foods and experiences and step out of my comfort zone. With my eyes and taste buds open to so many more delicious foods now, the new (and no more picky eater) Raquel is very excited to go back to Durham in August for all of the new west union vendors. Although each day I am gone, I miss my host mom’s cooking and my usual 牛肉拉面 noodles more and more, I am excited to try even more tasty foods in America. And I’m impressed I was even able to navigate public transportation throughout China. I am even shocked everyone some how convinced me to get on that terrifying chairlift to get to the top of the Great Wall. Because while I was on it, as Rose knows, I was freaking out.
And to my wonderful host family. What an experience it was having twin 13 year old siblings. I could not have asked for a more perfect host family. It was weird how much Ethan and Snow really reminded me of my brother and myself. Hsiao-mei said I would have to push myself to get Snow and Ethan out of their comfort zones, so that they are not as shy, and I truly think I did. Saying goodbye to them was the hardest and most challenging part of my time in Zhuhai. As I said goodbye to all my students through out the last week of classes, it didn’t truly seem like goodbye yet, since I knew I would see them around and at the final performance. And even after the final performance, yes the water works started when I said goodbye to some students, but it still didn’t seem like goodbye since most of them said they would be returning to Number 9 for our send off the next day. But saying goodbye to my host family truly triggered the water show. Even Ethan who refuses to get emotional or sad, I saw a little tear fall from his eye after hugging him like 17 times. Each time I looked at Snow, each time I thanked my host parents again, even walking down the 6 flights of stairs from our apartment on our way to school one final time made me tear up. But knowing that I will see them again, whether its in Zhuhai or America makes me more excited for the future that comes. Thankfully, through wechat I know I will be able to keep in contact with them.
And to my 11 Dukies, I am so glad I was able to share this experience with you. It would not have been the same without you all by my side and I cannot wait to get back to Duke and have such an amazing new group of friends.
Thank you to Duke Engage and Hsiao-mei for providing me with the most amazing experience these past two months in Zhuhai. It is a summer I will never forget.
I’ve spoken quite a bit on this blog about I hope to impact my kids or my community and what I’ve experienced or seen or done on this program, but now that the program is coming to a close I’d just like to reflect on how the program effected me and what I’ll be taking away from this experience:
- I’ve got two new recipes and a whole new palette of flavors to try cooking with at home.
I have this favorite noodle restaurant around the corner from the school that I’ve gone to at least once if not twice a week, every week, since the program started. It’s a little shop, it only has four tables that seat four customers each, and it’s run by a middle-aged couple who cook and serve the food. The first time I went, I was brought there by Kobe, a student who Riley befriended when he came to Duke in the spring. Maybe it was a combination of a positive first experience and the great food, but that bowl of noodles Kobe ordered me was maybe the best tasting bowl of noodles I’ve ever had. It was a hand-pulled bowl of Zhajiangmian. It’s savory, salty, a little bit sweet, and with a touch of cucumber and chili paste, a perfectly balanced sauce served on freshly made, hand-pulled noodles. During the last week of the program, I went back to that restaurant and asked the woman who usually makes the noodles if she would mind writing the recipe down for me because it’s been my favorite dish in all of Zhuhai. To my surprise, she was happy to oblige. The recipe is more just a list of ingredients and an order in which they are put into a wok, but no measurements, no times, just actions. I’ll definitely fiddle with it some once I get home but hopefully I’ll be able to bring that little bit of Zhuhai home.
My second favorite dish is the sweet and sour spare ribs my host grandmother has made one or twice for dinner. It’s something I really like to eat and it’s something I know my older sister and father would just die for. She made them as part of one of my last meals this week because I think she’d come to realize they’re one of my favorites from the heaping pile of bones left on my plate when they’re served. I asked if she would mind writing the recipe for me. She said absolutely and wrote down step by step, gram by gram, the original recipe for her sweet and sour pork. She told me later that I could add more sugar or more of the tangy ingredients depending on how I wanted the flavor to turn out, but that was essentially the recipe.
Cooking is one of my great passions in life, I think it’s something extraordinarily significant culturally and socially, and I’m really glad that it’s one of the ways I’ll be able to represent my Zhuhai experience upon returning to the States.
- I’ve got tens of letters, WeChats, and handmade gifts from my kids that they gave me on the day that I left.
I know I’ve been writing about how I hope I’ve impacted my kids in some of my previous blogs, but I haven’t really discussed how my kids impacted me. In short, I feel like I’ve become the big sister to 200+ children and it physically pains me to think that I’m leaving them. I feel like just now, after eight weeks, I’m starting to reach a point with my kids where they’re finally comfortable with me. They ask me to one-on-one lunches and dinners, invite me to their birthday parties, video call me without warning, and hug me so tight. I’ve loved getting to know each and every one of them, seeing what makes them tick, seeing how they get frustrated, who their friends are, how they study, what makes them nervous, and what they really get excited about. When I was their age, I had a really hard time in middle school. Being here and reluctantly seeing my some of my kids go through some of those same hardships has given me the ability to reflect on my own experience, and has given me the opportunity to say things to them that I wish I could say to my younger self.
After getting to know these kids, it’s not the fact that they gave me a valuable gift or had perfect English in their letters that matters to me, its that they took time to create something, mostly by hand, and give it to me to remember them by. Some kids didn’t have anything to give but their time and even that melted my heart. On our very last day, one of my best students, an 8th grader whose English name is Lucks, texted me at 11:30 saying he was waiting for the bus and wasn’t sure it would ever come but that he wanted to say good bye to me before we left Zhuhai. He waited two and a half hours at the school simply to say goodbye and snap a photo or two before rushing off to his guitar lesson. He apologized for not bringing any kind of gift and I just couldn’t express to him enough just how unnecessary that was. Just the act of waiting for us meant more to me than any gift he could’ve brought.
I sobbed on the last day because I’m going to miss making my kids laugh during singing class when I do a dance move extra-goofily just so they won’t feel dumb when they do it. I sobbed because I’ll miss seeing them get excited during a rowdy game of fly swatter. I sobbed because I’ll miss getting WeChat messages asking me if I’ve eaten, what I’m doing, or just simply telling me about their days. I sobbed because I’ll miss seeing their faces every day, and waving to them from across the hallways, and holding their hands, and hugging them, and just being there with them. That’s why I’m so thankful to them for giving me these little bits of their heart written down as words or wrapped up as a bow hairclip for me to take home.
- I’m taking home two new families.
So I’m writing this blog on the plane ride home (sorry Hsiao-Mei I know it’s late) and I’ve started tearing up so thank the Lord the lights are off because I’m supposed to be sleeping.
I’ve got two new families from having participated in this program: my host family and, just to be extra super sappy, my Duke Engage family. Let’s start with my host family. I’ve never had younger siblings, let alone two younger brothers. I’ve also never had grandparents as a fixture in my life or household, so bother of those experiences were new. What was a little more shocking was that my host parents reminded me so much of what I imagine my own parents would be like if we had a host sibling join our family. For example, my real mother can’t really cook, she sort of just leaves that up to me or my Dad and if by some chance it falls on her to cook dinner, you can bet we’re ordering in or going out to eat. My host mom is exactly the same. She tried to cook one time just so that she could be a “more traditional mother” to me, but then confessed she rarely cooks at home because my host grandmother was so much better at it. When my host mom threw a brunch at the apartment, for all her friends, she hired a woman to come to the house and cook all of the food so she wouldn’t have to – literally my mother has done the same thing for both my sister and my graduation parties from high school. My host mom also has some of the best fashion sense I’ve ever seen and when I grow up I hope I’m a stylish as she is. My host dad is usually quieter, but every once and a while he’ll talk news or politics with me, but usually he just observes – basically my actual Dad’s M.O. too.
I called home the very first day that my host family picked me up and told my mother that, “I think I’ve been blessed by the host parents Gods because I couldn’t imagine being in a better situation.” My host parents are doting, they’ve taken me out all over Zhuhai and beyond to go exploring, and tried to give me every opportunity to experience this city that they can in the short time we had together. We went biking around a park, rollerblading, lychee picking, to a dinner in the countryside, to their hometown, to the mall, to tea, to friends’ homes, they took us to a Latin dance class, to KTV, how to properly take a photo (remember, something must hurt but your fave must not show it) and we even made dumplings. In return for all their attempts to introduce me to Chinese culture, I gave it my best shot to bring a little bit of America into their home. I taught them that wine is to be sipped, not taken like a shot; I taught them how to make pancakes, though my host grandmother discovered how to make her own version of the Egg McMuffin almost immediately after; and I taught them how to make chocolate chip cookies and my host parents and grandparents ate American cookies for the first time ever. More than anything, my host parents felt like my family when I got a really terrible case of food poisoning when under their care and my host mom stayed home from work for a week to watch over me. She even waited alongside Hsiao-Mei until after 2AM for me to finish my IV treatment when I had to get antibiotics at the hospital. I’ll never forget that.
If I really wanted to get into my relationship with my host brothers, I’d need a whole ‘nother blog post because this one is already turning into a short novel. In short, Jinjun (English name: Jimmy) is the spunkiest, silliest little brother I ever could’ve hoped for, but he’s also so smart, so insightful, so gullible, so curious, and so loving. I really just lucked out with him and I’m gonna miss pinching his cheeks and mussing his hair and teaching him how to rolls his “r”s everyday. On the day that I left, I saw everybody in my host family cried except for Jinjun. It’s been kind of a joke among the Duke Engage participants that my host mom is a firecracker and always so put together, so I never expected that she would be the first to break down and the one that finally got my waterworks going. She came over and hugged me and I saw that she was starting to cry. She said to me that she felt like she had an American daughter, that this wouldn’t be the last time we met, that I would come back to Zhuhai and they’d welcome me back with open arms, or they would come to America and my family would do likewise. I just couldn’t keep it together. I told her of course, of course all of that was true and that I would never be able to forget them. Jinjun hugged me goodbye and when I was up in the bus about to leave he touched his had to the window so that I could reach mine to meet it, but it wasn’t until my host parents uploaded a photo of Jinjun and Riley’s host brother Bowen sitting together under a tree after we’d left that I saw any tears on him little face.
What my host mom said is true, I really do feel that after only eight weeks with them I have a second family here in China. Now that I’ve been in their lives and they’ve been in mine, it’s impossible for me to imagine losing contact. If we do, I know it will just absolutely break my heart so I’m going to do everything in my power to prevent it.
Now my second family. I’m gonna try and keep this brief: I couldn’t have completed this program without my family of Duke Engage participants by my side. They’ve been there to support me through every up and down this program had to offer. Every hardship, every miscommunication, every illness, every meal, every shopping spree, every adventure, every dance, every song, every memory, everything wouldn’t be the same without them to lean on. I’m forever indebted to them for everything they’ve done for me. The best part about Duke Engage being a Duke program and now just any service program is that I don’t lose these people once the program’s over. Even though I’m going abroad in the fall, I know that come January, I’ll have a whole new host of experiences, memories, gossip, and adventures to share with them and them to share with me.
Thank you to Hsiao-Mei, Yanan, and Duke Engage for giving me this opportunity and this treasure trove of experiences, relationships, and memories to bring back to America with me. It sometimes was a challenge, sometimes is was definitely a breeze but sometimes it was a challenge, and it definitely changed my world.
With provinces, ethnic minorities, and over a billion people, China is a big place. For most of this Duke Engage program we’ve spent our time in the south of China, particularly in Zhuhai (the city in which our program is based), which at a population of over 1.5 million, by Chinese standards is not that large a city. We’ve gotten pretty accustomed to Zhuhai, and I know that at least I feel like the city itself is shrinking as I continue to explore greater reaches of the city on foot, by taxi, by bus, or with my host family. Just as I thought I was getting comfortable, about six weeks into the program when I felt like I knew how everything went, I got to experience just how big China is. This is because this past week we explored some of the more Northern reaches of China on our cultural excursion trip to Beijing and Xi’an, which feel a world apart from Zhuhai.
First, the air: in Zhuhai, the air feels clean, sticky and hot, but clean while in Beijing and Xi’an we could feel the pollution on our skin, and some participants even had allergic reactions and rashes due to the pollution. Its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. It appeared that there was a permanent fog set over the cities, but it wasn’t a clear white fog that comes after a heavy rainstorm on a hot day. This fog was tinged slightly yellow and was full of dust and other particles. While the weather was more temperate in Beijing and Xi’an relative to Zhuhai, or at least less humid, it was at least as uncomfortable because of the issues we had breathing.
The cities themselves, however, were stunning.
Xi’an was a haven of ancient history: we went to see the tombs of ancient emperors, the Terra Cotta warriors, the Muslim quarter, and the city wall along with some of the other historic buildings we saw as we travelled through the city. The tombs of the ancient emperors and the Terra Cotta warriors were both buried deep underground. The physical grandeur of the tombs was a sight to behold and absolutely impossible to fathom that these creations came from about 600AD. The tomb of the emperor, whose name I’m forgetting, predated even the Terra Cotta warriors. His tomb, which it’s now being questioned whether the tomb is actually the emperors or a relative of his’, had thousands of figurines representing animals, concubines, eunuchs, and soldiers to protect and serve the deceased in the after life. This tomb was a tomb from the Qin dynasty, a traditionally more peaceful dynasty, therefor the figures were smaller and more representations of servants than fearsome warriors. The Terra Cotta warriors served much the same purpose, to protect the emperor with whom they were buried, except they were built during a wartime era and therefor are much more armored and much larger. The Terra Cotta warriors, in addition to their size and number, are extraordinarily impressive because of the detail that went into their design. No two Warriors have the same face and visitors can determine the rank of a Warrior based upon the design of the shoes and the Warrior’s dressings. This city had some underground pathways, but because of Xi’an’s history and the possibility of more tombs being hidden under the city yet undiscovered, the city has a very limited subway system.
The second day we were in Xi’an, we went to the city wall in the morning. The city wall encircles the old city and you can ride bikes along the top, so of course that’s just what we did. It let us see the entire old city, though only briefly, from a bird’s eye view – plus it may have helped us get our steps in by riding along the cobblestones. The old city’s the more historic part of Xi’an, however some of the historic sites like the Great Wild Good Pagoda and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda are outside the city’s walls. It’s mind-boggling how large these cities are and how much there is to explore. One of my absolutely favorite explorations was of Xi’an’s Muslim quarter. The Muslim quarter is a hustling, bustling labyrinth of streets filled with people making candy by hand, all sorts of kebabs, roujiamou (Chinese hamburgers), rice balls, cotton candy, Middle Eastern dried fruits and nuts, varieties of hand-pulled noodles, selling trinkets, paper cuts, leather cuts, and even places where you could have your feet exfoliated by little fish. Of course, we tried everything both food and otherwise. The candy makers let some of us pound down hot sugar with a hammer and many of us sat to have our feet cleaned – it’s a weird sensation, it takes nerves of steel to sit for the whole time. We went exploring the Muslim quarter for over three hours and still hadn’t finished wandering the sprawling stalls. Xi’an was massive and contained too much Chinese history for us to comprehend in only two days, who could’ve thought that Beijing would top it?
While visiting Xi’an was an exercise in studying ancient Chinese history, Beijing was a mixture of both the very modern, very Western and the very ancient. Beijing is maybe the largest city I’ve ever been to. Even with an extensive subway system, the city was too complicated to find a direct route anywhere so we would ride for hours before reaching our destinations. It was the same with the taxis. If we tried to take a taxi anywhere, it was a forty-minute ride. Beyond just it’s physical scale, Beijing was culturally enormous. We tried to see as much as we could in our 3 days in the city: we went to the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Silk Market, saw a kung fu show, saw an acrobat show, visited and explored the hutongs, went to the Sanlitun, and visited the 798 art district, and still didn’t see even a fraction of what Beijing had to offer. However, we did notice that unlike Zhuhai, Beijing is a much more metropolitan city, it’s much more Western, and it’s a much more business-centric, high-rise building kind of city. In our explorations we did uncover a couple quirky establishments that attempted to mirror Western culture, most noticeably a café that attempted to make an exact replica of the Central Perk café from the television show FRIENDS.
No blog post I write about Beijing based on my 3 days of experience could ever accurately represent it. That’s because, like I began this post, China is a gigantic place. One thing that struck me as both coincidental and honestly funny is that in those three days we spent in Beijing, we ran into two separate Duke alums completely by accident. One, a young lady, recognized my friend Rose because the girl just graduated this past year and had dated a boy on Rose’s dance team. The second was a man who graduated in 2009. We saw Duke written on his jersey as he was walking down the street with his girlfriend and in traditional Duke fashion, we shouted at him from across the street “DUKE!” He didn’t even seem surprised to run into Duke alums, he just greeted us, asked us what we were doing in Beijing, then gave us his card and told us he was attending Harvard Medical School in the fall and if we ever wanted help applying he would be more than happy to help a fellow Blue Devil.
I guess what this taught me is that while China is massive and there’s so much I still have yet to learn from living here, the world is small. In what world besides a small world could we have randomly run into Duke alums and not only recognized them, but had mutual friends or even were friends with them? It makes me hopeful for the relationships I’ve developed during this program. I won’t lie, once or twice I’ve thought, “I’m never gonna see these kids again once I’ve left China,” and it’s made me a little despondent and very sad about this whole program. I want to have an impact, I want these relationships to mean something, and just in life I hate being a flake and I hate the idea that I would essentially flake on my duties and responsibilities to these kids at the conclusion of the program. Running into random Duke students literally all the way across the world is just the kind of serendipity that makes me hopeful. Who’s to say that in a few years I won’t have kept in touch with at least a few students, then one day be wandering down the streets of New York, San Francisco, or around Duke campus, and just happen to cross paths with them again? Moreover, who’s to say something more planned than an absolutely random encounter could happen? It’s hard to believe that the world is so small, especially when in the day to day we’re faced by such overwhelming amounts of information, history, culture, art, fashion, technology, and social interactions, but the truth is that all of these factors are what make the world shrink a little bit every day. Who knows, maybe one of my kids will one day even attend Duke? If they do, I’ll be waiting to welcome them, give them my card, and offer whatever mentorship I still have to offer them, even if it’s just friendship.
When I applied to Duke Engage, I thought that I would leave making a huge impact. I had these preconceived expectations that I would change the community, or the members of it, in a positive manner. Whether this was by greatly helping children learn the English language or inspiring them to find dance as a an emotional outlet, I always thought about how others would change by my actions.
It has been a couple days since I returned back the the United States, and I can say that I did help children learn some new vocabulary and become more comfortable using the English language. I also somehow made children who have never danced before in their lives become excited to perform on stage. However, what I did not expect was how the experience would affect ME.
I approached this program with the mindset of how I was going to affect others, never how I would be affected. Not only did I gain meaningful friendships and gained a better understanding of a culture that is very different from my own, but I have also become more independent and more confident in my ability to work on my own.
I’ve known for a long time that I needed to work on becoming more independent. I depend on my friends, family, and peers to provide emotional support as I embark throughout the stages of my life and they have extended a helping hand when obstacles arose. But recently I have become aware of the need for me to overcome this dependency, and force myself to take on new roles or experiences that would enforce a change in my character. Whether this was joining the executive team of my school’s dental society, becoming the president of my dance group, or traveling to the other side of of world, I sought out opportunities to become the person I wanted to be…or at least take the first few steps.
This program presented many challenges that pushed me out of my comfort zone towards becoming more independent. For instance, the language barrier. I do speak Chinese in any way, shape, or form, so this made me even more terrified. On site, I had to create methods in which I could try to communicate with others on my own. I downloaded the Pleco app, had google translate, and became the master of charades. I started to use universal gestures as of way of talking with others as well. Especially when I was teaching English or dance classes, I would use my body to try to act out words to teach the children, or use hand signals that instructed the students to either star warming up or run the dance routine again. I would use my facial expressions to express my feelings, and my tone of voice to indicate the seriousness of my words.
Transportation was also a huge learning opportunity. Even though I was usually with one or two other Duke students when using different methods of transport, I still had to learn how to navigate around an unfamiliar city on my own. I learned how to take taxis, use a map to figure out what bus to get on and when to get off, how to use the subways in Beijing, and even how to travel in airports on my own. These may not seem like such momentous challenges, but coming from someone who has never taken a taxi, or travelled alone for that matter, this was for me. Towards the end of the program, I saw myself becoming more confident in my ability to travel on my own.
I have always thought of myself as a hard core extrovert, someone who constantly needs to be with other people in order to be happy. I would rather not sit in my room and watch Netflix by myself all day, which I know is appealing to other people. Instead, I would always try to get a hold of who ever was closest to me and spend time with them. I just like being with people. Hence, I was always dependent on these people for emotional support. However throughout the program, there were times when I was hit with feelings of loneliness and sadness. When I am struck with unbearable news, those such as the Orlando shooting at the Pulse, I would run to my closest friends and family and talk with them to ease myself back to a calm state. But what do I do when these situations occur and I am half a world away from those that I would go to for emotional support? I did have other Duke students and program leaders there, but for the most part I was on my own. But what I found is that during these times of hardships and struggle, I gained a better understanding of myself. No longer was I able to depend on others, so the only one I had to turn to was myself. It was during these times that I learned more about myself than I have in the past year. I learned how I react to stressful situations, I learned how to calm myself down when I am flustered or upset, I learned what makes happy and what doesn’t.
Duke Engage says that we should change ourselves, challenge ourselves, and I truly believe that this is what I did. Not only was I able to travel to an unfamiliar place and function, but I also took charge of my own person in order to strip myself from dependencies that I have always been accustomed to having. Duke Engage not only provided me a wonderful experience, but it also aided me in my own growth, and I never saw it coming.
So ya… last one I suppose (or at least the last written one). I had to give it a couple (literally 2) days away from Zhuhai to write about it. So here it goes.
Of course there’s that trip summary that people usually go through. Lessons learned, things done, etc, but I’m not going to go through all that. Not that I haven’t thought about them or anything, but I think it’s best to recall those memories in verbal story telling. That way it’ll have more wabamness to it.
Well anyway, here’s what I have to say for now…
Now that the program has come to an ‘end’, I sit here wondering what are the average and not so average things in the past two month. Give it a few moments…couple seconds…hmmm…okay. Whoops, I still do not quite have an answer. Oh well…I guess there was just so many things in so little time in so different of a place for me to evaluate.
So instead, let me evaluate the extremes of the future. On one pessimistically ominously frightful dark end: I realize sometime later that I learned nothing, changed nothing, will never get to contact the students of No. 9, and will lose all the connections and friendships and so on. On one optimistically superb wabam pow pow end, I realize sometime later that I challenged myself, and changed my world (ayyy DukeEngage), invents teleport machine, and visits everyone and everywhere at any time. These are the somewhat worst/best case scenarios regarding this program. Will either come true? Well maybe in the slightest chance. But what about anything in between or beyond these boundaries? Each different occurrences will have just the same slightest chance. Wait a moment, if every possible path are in equal then what is an ‘extreme?’. Okay, okay, y’all know where I’m getting to. This is going to end up with some cliché phrase like ‘Life is What You Make It’ or ‘The Future is in Your Hands’ or ’15 minutes can save you 15% or more’ – whoops not that. But how much of the future can a person control? Before this, the more specific question should be how much of oneself can the person control? In the end, the one who learned or changed is the self. The one who invents the teleport machine is, well, that could be anyone. But the one who keeps the contacts, strengthens the bonds, progressing all the kinds of ‘ships’ is still the self. With some degree of control over this ‘self’ thing, a lot can actually be done, a lot of extremes can be explored.
Evaluating extremes may be the wrong words. Rather it should be expect, anticipate, reach for, and accept the extremes since each future is possible in its slightest possible way. So why wait for a future to come? Be ready, eager, and willing to shape your own future. After all, it is simply more fun this way.
Hmm so Anthony just said a lot of nothing here. What about the program? That I’ll have more to share in person.
This week has been the hardest of them all! I felt all sorts of emotions from frustration to accomplishment to sadness. I was frustrated because my acting performance was nowhere near ready the night before the final performance. I felt like I had failed, and I didn’t know why that was so. I am generally a perfectionist, so when things don’t work perfectly I really have a hard time coping. Realising this helped me to know myself better and to figure out ways to overcome my weakness; I learned that sometimes perfection hinders people from learning, therefore instead of worrying about all the things that went wrong, rather enjoy the experience for what it is and this way you can attain fulfilment. I celebrated success and felt a feeling of accomplishment on the day of the final performance. My students surprised me with a wonderful performance. I did not expect them to know their lines well enough as they had been struggling a lot with the English on the snow white script, but they did. I was shocked to see them move so lively and talk so confidently on the stage because I had almost given up on emphasising the importance of those qualities on stage. I was pleased with this result, though at some point I felt I was pushing the kids too hard. The show was spectacular and I cannot be any more proud of my students. I am impressed by how their overall confidence in themselves and their abilities has improved.
Now the sad/ tears, tears, tears part you’ve been waiting for….
Yesterday I woke up and convinced myself I wasn’t going to cry when leaving my host family. Everything went well, we made some pizza and sushi together. It was a great morning. I realised I was fooling myself when I had to say goodbye to my host grandma first -who usually goes to the sports centre for exercise after every meal. It hit me that I might not ever see these people I’ve called family for two months again. I literally said two sentences to her and could feel the tears filling up my eyes. I am usually a very emotional person who cannot say goodbye to people without making a scene- a sad tearful one of course. So I told myself I would not do that here, I held back the tears while munching the bowl of mangos in front of me to avoid crying.
The final goodbyes came at Zhou Zhong, where all our students and host families came to bid their farewells. I recall pulling up at the car park, I began to see the reality of the fact that I’m leaving but I was still telling myself I will not cry. We got out of the car and my host mom gave me a Chinese gift that parents give to their children when they are going far away and she started crying. That was it. The unrealistic promise I had mad to myself was broken. I started crying too and the whole family stood for a while hugging and crying. My host mom has been my closest buddy. We’ve done almost everything together here in China and she has been more than supportive to me. I remember thinking oh, you are such a true mom you even have tissue for me to wipe my tears, as I had come totally unprepared. Then my students came to say goodbye crying…I thought to myself oh man this is harder than I thought. We cried so much and it was the most emotional day of my life. It really feels good to know that I made an impact in their lives as much as they did on mine. I will really miss them and will definitely come back to China whenever I can.
The week long excursion trip to Xian and Beijing was definitely the highlight of my time in China. Through this travel, I have been able to see and learn a lot about Chinese culture. I have been exposed to the world outside Zhuhai and this has helped me to formulate a broader and better perspective of the country that I’m in. For example I learned that there are 56 different nationalities in China and they all have different lifestyles and food specialties- because that’s important to know.
We flew to Xian from Zhuhai on Wednesday. My first impression of Xian was beauty and history. Our first stop was at a museum where artefacts similar to the terracotta army were found; this museum tour was meant to serve as a window into the ancient Chinese dynasties and their different lifestyles as we would later compare it to the han dynasty that built the terracotta warriors- our next stop. I could not contain the excitement when I learned I was going to see an 8th wonder of the ancient world! During the entire bus ride, I tried to listen attentively to the tour guide who gave numerous facts about the culture in Xian and the history behind the terracotta warriors, but my excitement, imagination and thoughts overcame her voice, I was just imagining myself at the site and impatiently wondering when we’ll get there. We finally arrived at the site. Yes! Finally I could see the army. Just as I was ready to get in, the tour guide gave another good 30-minute talk on the terracotta army again.. I guess all this information was necessary as it added value to the educational purpose of the excursion trip. Anyways we got in eventually and it was majestic and beautiful. Each of the soldiers’ faces were different and it made me wonder how much time it took to build one of them – the answer was three years.
In addition to site seeing, learning how to bike on the city wall and walking around the muslim district, we went to watch a historic show whose stage is set on a mountain. The mountain lights up with stars, someone zip-lines into the stage and at one point, fire rises from a hot spring that is below the mountain. It was basically spectacular and I was convinced it was the best show I have seen or will ever see..until I went to Beijing of course where I watched “The Legends of Kungfu” show and the “Chinese Acrobatics Show”. This one left me breathless, For example at one point a person lay on huge sharp knives and someone hit a hammer ontop of him and I was sitting in the audience screaming like stop…At one point I thought I was going to catch a heart disease or something. The whole time I was tense and thinking please dont fall from up there because you will definitely die and everybody will be traumatised. I am sure that Chinese theatrical performances are the best I’ve seen. When an object lands on the stage during a chinese performance, just know that weird things are about to happen with that object whether its a knife or a cloth.
So in Beijing, I continued my tradition of trying new experiences -that I started in Zhuhai and hope to continue after this program. I drove a boat in houhai… on my own…without any fear of crushing and dying.
Then finally, the long awaited great wall climb! Thank God for my hands and feet, I made it up the great wall of China. I say hands because some of those stairs were very steep and I had to use my hands to get up. Overall, I truly enjoyed my excursion trip.
PS: This blog was super late because I was trying to spend every minute I had with my host family since its my last week!
See you soon.
Well there’s a lot of averages in our lives. There is the statistics portion of averages, but there is also the vague portion of averages. Generally the vague portion of averages is used to ‘summarize’ a group. While averages do make judgments simpler, more often than not, they do not represent any single thing in the group. Averages may be just points of equilibrium, points of no conflict, but also points of boringness.
This week was quite different from the previous ones. The last two days of classes ended and the majority of the time this week was spent traveling. But being away from the daily working setting did give me more time to reflect. Similar to the previous excursion, I spent a lot of time lying there and let my mind flow.
As the memories of the days spent at Zhuhai flashed by, I was able to remember something I had forgotten since the beginning of college. At Duke, many things are bounds by averages. Tests were represented by curves. Lives at Duke were summarized by singular descriptions. In a way, I was trapped into these summaries. I compared my grades to the curves and compared my life to the ‘norm’. It did not feel all that bad. My grades was a bit better than okay; my life was pretty average. Gradually, I grew comfortable with where I am, somewhere in the ranges of ‘normal’. Status quo may be the safe option. Well, things usually do not get any worse, but this option essentially eliminates the possibility of progress. Living a normal life, choosing the safe choice, reaching to only what I can see were among the averages I used as excuses for not challenging myself.
But here in Zhuhai, everything was so different. The English classes were hard to summarize. Students were varying in personalities to English proficiency. At times they may even vary themselves day to day. Summarizing our Duke Engage group was even more difficult, in fact, probably impossible since I cannot even summarize a single person. Each individual had varying qualities, and most of these qualities were probably still unknown to me.
So I thought to myself, does it matter all that much that I have to obtain or compare to some averages?
I remembered doing things for no more than the reason of fun. Well this fun can include many sources of motivation, but it was more than enough to keep me going. Unlike comparing to averages, there is not really an end goal. So instead of assessing averages and get bounded by ‘normal’, why not experience the extremes that make up my life.