It’s been three months since I left the People’s Republic of China. As I write this, I can’t believe it’s been three months. Wow! Three months. When you think about it, three months isn’t very long at all; at the same time, it feels as if my whirlwind adventure took place a lifetime ago. Maybe it’s because the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, something that could never be recreated–even if I tried.
I miss many things about China: the wonderful people our group met during our month-long stay in Beijing and Yuxian, Hebei Province, the food, the historic sites and the beautiful works of art that dotted the parks and historic districts that were a short walk or subway ride from our home away from home, Capital Normal University. I miss all of those things, but what I miss the most is our little group.
On the surface, we were an unlikely lot; yet, that may have been what made us work. We were a microcosm of American society. Were we people who would have sought out friendships with one another if left to our own devices? Probably not, but through a bit of luck and the act of an (obviously) insightful and talented selection committee, we found ourselves together in China.
Our group included individuals who had never traveled outside the Americas as well as several people who had lived abroad for months or years at a time. We even had a member who was European-born, but was making a life for himself in the U.S. We had members from across the political spectrum, from devoted liberals to unwavering conservatives. We were a mixed bag in terms of religious beliefs as well. Our group included everything from committed atheists to agnostics to those who were spiritual, but not religious, to steadfast Christians. We represented nearly every geographic region of the U.S. and a variety of colleges and universities from around the nation, everything from the Ivy League to state universities to small, private schools. Married. Single. Divorced. Vegetarians. People with food allergies. Introverts. Extroverts. College professors. High school teachers. Elementary school teachers. You name it, we pretty much had it. Still, our little group proved that, despite our differences, we could eat, live, and learn together–and do so without incident—while creating bonds that will last for the rest of our collective lives.
And oh did we learn! We learned how to communicate in Mandarin, at least well enough to keep ourselves fed, barter with merchants in the shopping district, and order a coffee the way we liked it. (A big thank you to our Lǎoshī Liu Xin (Nancy) and Lǎoshī Zhang Airui in Beijing and our Lǎoshī Yingjia in Gettysburg for that!) We also learned to navigate Beijing’s large (and growing) subway system, which allowed us to explore the city and pursue our own interests. Through a series of engaging lectures, panel discussions, and site visits, we learned about the economic, environmental, societal, and educational concerns facing China. Then, we took the knowledge we had gained and expanded on it–in small groups (usually while sitting on our steps at the end of a busy day) and individually.
In the months since coming home to Adams County, I have embarked on the most difficult part of this journey. I am attempting to find a way to adequately convey to my students, peers, and individuals I encounter in my everyday life all of the things I learned while in China. Nadia, our French-Canadian-Moroccan tour guide, counselor, banker, China-mom, and friend once said that I seemed to be trying to absorb every bit of China during my stay; I hope, when I am speaking about this ancient and amazing country, I am able to do it justice. For this opportunity, I will be forever grateful.