Leaving Xiwei on July 8th was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I knew the day would come, but that didn’t make it any easier when it came. In just two short years that flew by, I fell in love and became family with the most beautiful, compassionate, caring and welcoming people I’ve ever met. There were painful tears, and long, heartfelt hugs.
And yet that morning as I hugged and cried with my dear friends and family in Xiwei, we looked each other in the eyes through the tears knowing that I’d be back countless times in my life, and that our bonds would transcend distance and time. And indeed that assurance has proved true in countless ways already.
Adjusting to life back in the United States has been extremely difficult, so difficult that it is almost impossible to express and process in the written word. Much of the process has been feeling the grief and pain I have felt and continue to feel from leaving my beloved family. On the other side, I have struggled to re-enter a culture that I now struggle to identify with.
And yet, in the midst of the pain and darkness, light has shined. And oh how brightly it has shined.
Since landing back in Raleigh, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know countless Chinese friends who I have become close friends with already. I’ve always believed people come into our lives for a reason, and I’ve never seen that more true than over the past two months.
Just two weeks after arriving home, I met an outstanding group of students from LiShui University in China and helped tour them around North Carolina on their first trip to The United States and for most of them, the first time ever leaving China. I’ll never forget my first time landing in Beijing. Jet-lagged and overwhelmed, three dear Chinese friends made me feel at home from the first moment I met them. I was honored beyond words could express to pay that forward to these amazing students.
My dear friend Sean arrived in Raleigh this summer to began a three-year teaching fellowship at Milbrook High School, where he will be introducing local high school students to the joys of becoming a lifelong learner of Chinese. We immediately bonded over our passion for global education and US-China education and culture exchange. I can hardly wait to see how Sean leaves a lasting impact on all of his students; he has already left a deep impact on mine.
I’ve also had the privilege of getting to know two incredibly-talented Chinese students, Peter and Frank. Their parents came to Raleigh this summer for work, and Peter and Frank came with them to attend middle and high school here. It has been such a joy to walk alongside them to help and support them in their studies and share life together. I’ve also loved getting to know Bill, a first-year Chinese international student at NC State University, and Sean, a first-year student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It has been a true privilege to welcome them, become close friends and share our identity as global citizens.
Technology blessed me I countless ways during my two years in Xiwei. It allowed me to keep in touch with family and friends and gave The Zhiying Stars countless opportunities to interact with and explore the world beyond their village. Technology has continued to bless as I’ve been able to continue to share life with my dear Xiwei family. They have weathered two of the strongest typhoons in history, and The Zhiying Stars are getting adjusted to life in the 8th grade while keeping in touch with their lifelong mentors from Shantou University and their American pen pals from Leesville and Magellan! MeiMei and friends are growing quickly and I am thrilled more and more every day to be their “Uncle!”
In the midst of dealing with the transition of leaving Xiwei, I have been searching—searching for my next step on this journey, searching for a way to use the deep and lifelong passions in my heart for China, Chinese people & culture, and global education, and searching for ways to continue to be a door-holder and open up doors of opportunity for students around the world. The process has been frustrating and long. I’ve wanted to give up when what seemed like the right jobs fell through, and I was tempted to settle when opportunities came around that were not in line with my passions.
But my passion for, love for, and commitment to China could not be suppressed or ignored.
So, I searched, interviewed, waited, believed, hoped, and drank lots of Xiwei tea.
I’ve emailed countless people around the world to introduce myself and share my passion for China and global education. One on Monday afternoon in July, I stumbled upon Northern Arizona University’s China Initiatives. I was inspired by their commitment to opening up doors of opportunity for Chinese students, and I immediately emailed Bruce, one of the outstanding leaders on the China Initiatives team. Bruce, who grew up in Beijing and came to Northern Arizona University as an undergraduate, and I immediately bonded and became friends. Bruce is one of the most exceptional, outstanding and passionate people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Through our frequent conversations, we’ve discovered our shared heart and passions, and Bruce has become one of my closest friends. It is a true honor to support each other, and I can’t wait to see how Bruce continues to change the world for the better. He has encouraged me to keep moving forward to pursue my dreams even when no doors seem to open up. He has affirmed my aspirations, dispelled my fears, and walked alongside me through this journey. And Bruce has inspired me to search deep within myself to discover afresh my lifelong commitment to China and education.
So I kept searching for right opportunity where I could use the passions burning so brightly in my heart. And I’m so glad I did.
Last Wednesday, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime—to be the Student Services Coordinator and Recruiter for Duke’s new cutting-edge campus in China, Duke Kunshan University.
Duke has an innovative vision that I could not be more excited about—to bring a world-class, dynamic and global liberal arts university to China for the students of the world.
In this dream-come-true role, I’ll be working with an outstanding team of Duke University faculty and staff to help make this new initiative a success and empower a new generation of Chinese and international students to solve the world’s greatest problems.
I get started on October 7th, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be updating this website with more information about Duke Kunshan University and will be writing consistently about this new step on my journey.
The adventure continues.