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The Adventure Continues…

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.

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Precious precious friends who came to see me off.

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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.

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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.

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Our trip to Wilmington!

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.

Helping Sean get his Driver License and buy his first car!

Helping Sean get his Driver License and buy his first car!

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.

Chinese lunch after tutoring Frank!

Chinese lunch after tutoring Frank!

Taipei 101, hands-down the most authentic Chinese food in the Triangle, with Frank and Peter!

Taipei 101, hands-down the most authentic Chinese food in the Triangle, with Frank and Peter!

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!”

Facetime with my best bud, MeiMei!

Facetime with my best bud, MeiMei!

Treasured Times.

Treasured Times.

Catching up with Lebron on how 8th grade is going at Zhiying Middle School!

Catching up with Lebron on how 8th grade is going at Zhiying Middle School!

Skype hang-out with my buds PaiPai and YiYi!

Skype hang-out with my buds PaiPai and YiYi!

Hanging with YongYong, YouYou and ZuoZuo!

Hanging with YongYong, YouYou and ZuoZuo!

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.

This is the priceless tea set given to me by precious friends in Xiwei right before I left in July.

This is the priceless tea set given to me by precious friends in Xiwei right before I left in July.

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Bringing Xiwei’s priceless tea traditions to Raleigh.

Getting ready for my interview at Duke!

Getting ready for my interview at Duke!

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.

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My first ever Duke T-Shirt!

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.

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Welcome to Bay 6, Duke University’s Global Education Office and the new US base of Duke Kunshan University!

Duke Chapel!

Duke Chapel!

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.

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100 “2011-2012 Zhiying Stars”
2011-2012年的100个植英之星

 

160 “2012-2013 Zhiying Stars”
2012-2013年的160个植英之星

 

95 Shantou University students, faculty and staff
95个来自汕头大学的师生们

 

6 trips to Zhiying Middle School
汕大师生来了植英中学六次…

 

2 trips to Shantou University
植英之星去了汕头大学两次…

 

Countless seeds of HOPE planted…
播下了无数的希望的种子…

 

Lives changed forever…
永远地改变了学生们的命运…

Meant to be…

A few days in advance, multiple weather forecasts called for 暴雨, which means torrential rain. Even on Saturday night, the forecast still called for consistent thunderstorms through the day starting in the early morning.

But when I woke up at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, there was a still calm in the air and a bright sunrise color splashed across the clouds. For that day, the 19th of May, Twenty-Thirteen, The Zhiying Stars of Zhiying Middle School in Xiwei Village, Guangdong Province, China were meant to take the next step on a life-changing journey, and no dismal weather forecast was going to stop it from happening. And so, we set out from Xiwei Village, and oh what an unforgettable day it was…

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For most of the 56 Zhiying Stars, it was their very first time to step foot out of the countryside. For many, it was their first time riding any other vehicle besides an electric scooter. The buzz, excitement and anticipation in the air was thick, tangible and contagious.

AA waiting for the bus

AAA on the bridge

We pulled up to the gate, stepped off the bus and a whole new world opened up before my students’ eyes.  These students are the most exceptional and talented students in the seventh grade at Zhiying Middle School, and yet for many of them, the thought of going to college one day had never even crossed their mind before this year. The statistics say that less than 3% of the students in China’s rural countryside will make to university. Before this year, only a few of my students had ever met a college student, as many of their friends and family members dropped out in or after middle school to begin work to support their families. So as that new world unfolded before their eyes, it was bright, beautiful and glorious.

A boys at flagpole 

From around 9am until 3pm, The Zhiying Stars’ role models and friends showed them around their home, their laboratory, their classroom—Shantou University.  From an hour in the library, to the School of Art & Design, to lunch in the canteen, to interacting with sea creatures in the Biology Lab, the life of a college student came alive for The Zhiying Stars. Easy to find dressed in our new Zhiying Stars class t-shirts, over 21 incredibly welcoming, generous and engaging university students found and joined us as we explored and engaged. I will give these priceless pictures a chance to tell the story my words could never do justice to.

B girls in library

Visiting Shantou University’s amazing library!

C Phillip and college kids

D Russel and Barack

E Lebron at Library

G Mentors

H Phillips and Mentor

I Terry and Role Model

J In Art Lab

Visiting the Art & Design Lab!

K Dalton Jeremy Hayden

L Thomas and Geoffrey

N Priceless

O First Time Microscope

The Zhiying Stars’ first time ever looking through a microscope in the Biology Lab!

P Exploration

Q Lunch in the Canteen

Delicious lunch in the canteen!

R Jerry Sharing

Shantou University Junior, Jerry, encourages the Zhiying Stars!

S EAC group

T Group at EAC

Afternoon small group discussions in the English Activity Center!

U Jerry and Kids

V Walking with Jerry

William sharing his dreams!

W At the Fountain

For these Zhiying Stars, the journey to Shantou University started back fall when they first started to interact with their lifelong role models at Zhiying Middle School. Most recently, the student’s in the incredible Amy’s outstanding class came twice to Xiwei in May.  These world-changers selflessly gave countless hours of their time to invest, encourage and inspire The Zhiying Stars.

C Speaking

And oh how they inspired.

F Contagious Smiles

Through sharing their stories, meeting my students where they are, and completely erasing the 5-7 year age gap separating them, these students planted seeds that will germinate, grow and bear fruit for years and years to come, echoing into the very depths of eternity.

G From Above

M William enthralled

L Thomas

K Games

J Bonnie

I Helping Hand

H Table Talk

H All Smiles

A Walter and William

B Our Role Models Speak

D Group Pic

Yesterday afternoon around 3’oclock, we climbed on the bus after a day full of warm sunshine and ocean breeze. The weather was gloriously perfect, and gave us space to leave it all on the table in Shantou with not one second wasted. As soon as our bus reached the main intersection and we started the journey back into the countryside, the clouds released the rain that was supposed to be falling the entire day.  Over the next hour and a half as we drove closer and closer to Xiwei Village, the rain suddenly stopped and a bright yellow light appeared on the horizon to lead us home. The bus atmosphere was thick with mouths moving a mile a minute, processing every second of the unforgettable day at Shantou University. Oh the memories to reflect on and share.

X Final Talk at STU

Y Hug

After the bus arrived at Zhiying Middle School around 4:30, we got off the bus and the students started the journey back to their homes, many having to travel 30 minutes by bike to far-away villages. At 5 o’clock, Terry, one of the Zhiying Stars whose village is the farthest away from Zhiying, called me to let me know he was home safe and sound. We chatted about the day for a minute or so, and I sent him off to share with his parents and get some rest for the coming week ahead. As soon as I pulled my cell phone down from my ear and ended the call, the looming dark sky outside belched a loud and rippling roll of thunder, and the rain began to fall. It was that torrential 暴雨that rivaled the infamous Hurricane Fran that passed over my hometown as a child. At that moment, my heart that was already filled with joy, awe and gratefulness began to overflow.  My mind quickly bounced back to the calm feeling I experienced that very morning when I realized that the weather forecast and threat of rain was not going to threaten a day and an event that was much bigger than black clouds and rolling thunder.

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The Zhiying Stars’ journey to May 19th began not just last semester when they began to interact with their role models for the first time, but back who knows how long, into this epic, global and always-unfolding story of odd-defying hope.

Working with The Zhiying Stars over the past two years has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.  It has changed me, challenged me, blessed me, inspired me. The Zhiying Stars have made me a better person in countless ways. They have and continue to work with everything they have within them to prove to the world that the crippling statistics stacked against them have no say on their future, that where they were born, in the rural coastal countryside of southeastern China does not decide for them their life path, and that indeed nothing….NOTHING is impossible.  I’m treasuring every single second I get to spend with these future world-changers as I finish up my time teaching here at Zhiying Middle School.  This Wednesday and Thursday, our dear friends from Shantou University will make two final trips to Zhiying as we wrap up this semester and year that has flown by.

F William and Miles Walking

The road ahead for The Zhiying Stars is anything but easy. In fact, its absurdly and unfairly difficult. But here on May 20th, 2013, fueled and encouraged by all the experiences we’ve been a part of this year, The Zhiying Stars and I together look forward with an intense, relentless and bright hope and faith. As CS Lewis so beautifully put it, “now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before…”

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And so, the journey continues…

M Walking Together

Every year just a few weeks after the Chinese New Year, the citizens of Xiwei young and old turn their attention to honoring their ancestors through a festival and parade. Here is an inside-look at this fascinating and beautiful ancestral worship festival that has taken place for generations dating back thousands of years. I was so proud to see so many of the Zhiying Stars perform! Enjoy!

 

All on the table

Time is a precious gift; and as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized more and more that how we spend it really matters.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had the eternal privilege of spending the Chinese New Year holiday here in Xiwei.  I will treasure these times for the rest of my life.

Zhiying Middle School on the morning of the Chinese New Year!

The palms of Zhiying Middle School on the morning of the Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year in Xiwei is a big deal. Those working or studying in far-away places always find their way home to their family here.

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Beautiful Xiwei!

Fireworks with Michael on the eve of the Chinese New Year!

Fireworks with Michael on the eve of the Chinese New Year!

When I walked into Xiwei in August of 2011, I was the first foreigner most here had ever seen in person, much less met. I looked different, talked different and came from a land called America, far on the other side of the world. They didn’t have to welcome me into their families, they didn’t have to include me, and they didn’t have to make me feel treasured, but they did.

Oh, they did, and it has changed my life.

Spending the afternoon with Terry and his dad!

Spending the afternoon with Terry and his dad!

From day one, the people in this village have welcomed me into their families and community like I grew up here all my life and am one of their own children. Never more have I experienced this than over the past few weeks. Before break started, I told the Zhiying Stars that I’d be around Xiwei for break and would love to celebrate with them and their families. I never expected to get such a flood of invitations. I’ve spent almost every lunch and dinner over the past two weeks at the homes of the amazing Zhiying Stars or of the local teachers here at Zhiying Middle School.

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Spending the day at Shandol and Mary’s house!

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Terry and his family!

Abraham, one of last year's Zhiying Stars!

Abraham, one of last year’s Zhiying Stars!

Jeremy, his dad, his grandfather and me!

Jeremy, his dad, his grandfather and me!

In between meals, the days have been packed. From hours of basketball…

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to countless games of UNO…

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to three dozen Peanut Butter cookies…

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…no time was wasted!

I was also blessed to spend a lot of time with my Auntie and Uncle and their family, the angels who treat me as their own son day in and day out. From eating BBQ with DongDong, my Chinese brother, to being with MeiMei for her first steps on her own, words don’t even begin to describe my gratitude.

Auntie, her mother, her daughter SuHua, her son DongDong and me at the home where she grew up!

Auntie, her mother, her daughter SuHua, her son DongDong and me at the home where she grew up!

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MeiMei on the day she took her first steps on her own!

MeiMei enjoying her new ride!

MeiMei enjoying her new ride!

heading into town to eat with Mei Mei and family!

Heading into town to eat with Mei Mei and family!

Dancing MeiMei!

Dancing MeiMei!

Last Wednesday, the Zhiying Stars and I had the privilege of welcoming back the Zhiying Middle School Class of 1983 and their former teachers back to Xiwei for a reunion celebration. 30 years later, they live in places far and wide and have children of their own, but still tie their roots back to this village and school.  I’ll never forget the conversation that reunion inspired sitting on the basketball court with several of the Zhiying Stars that afternoon.  Jonathan and Lebron looked at each other and then to me and mentioned that in 30 years, I’ll be 54 and they will be 44; we’ll be grown up and have families of our own. With smiles on our faces, we dreamed about where we might be in 30 years and looked forward to that day when we’d be reunited from far and wide back at Zhiying Middle School to celebrate. I look forward to that day very much.

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The Zhiying Stars welcome the Class of 1983!

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Unforgettable conversations with Jonathan and Lebron

It takes a village to raise a child, and that sentiment could not be more true than here in Xiwei. Living here in the Teacher’s Dormitory here at Zhiying has been the adventure of a lifetime. I find myself returning to my room at night just before bed after evenings full of great conversations over Chinese tea and running around playing hide & go seek with the kiddos.

Gongfucha, a unique way of drinking Chinese tea only found here in Shantou and surrounding villages!

Gongfucha, a unique way of drinking Chinese tea only found here in Shantou and surrounding villages!

From seeing YongYong become quite the talented musician, to playing piano with TongTong, it has been an eternal privilege to walk alongside these precious, precious children as they grow up and get to know the parents who are so wonderfully raising them. Over this Chinese New Year break, I was honored to visit many of the homes where many of the local teachers grew up here in Xiwei and surrounding villages.

YongYong at his first ever violin recital!

YongYong at his first ever violin recital!

never ever a dull moment with these two characters, ZuoZuo and YouYou!

never ever a dull moment with these two characters, ZuoZuo and YouYou!

Duet with TongTong!

Duet with TongTong!

TongTong's beautiful family!

TongTong’s beautiful family!

ZuoZuo showing off his new pet turtle!

ZuoZuo showing off his new pet turtle!

 

YiYi!

YiYi and me at his grandparent’s house in Gantou!

headed to YouYou and ZuoZuo's grandparent's house!

headed to YouYou and ZuoZuo’s grandparent’s house!

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Meeting ZhiShan’s family, a local teacher at Zhiying who has become a close friend!

Hospitality, like time, is another one of life’s precious gifts. As I look back over this break, I can’t even begin to describe how overwhelmed I have felt by the way I’ve been included and joyfully welcomed here in Xiwei. One of my favorite memories I will forever cherish was spending the afternoon and evening of Chinese New Year at my student Jonathan’s house. I had been there to visit with his family and drink tea several times before and was so blessed by the warmth and love so tangibly present in their home. Way back in September, they invited me to come celebrate Chinese New Year with them and oh what a celebration it was.

Jonathan and his supportive and loving parents!

Jonathan and his supportive and loving parents!

After-dinner fireworks outside Jonathan's house!

After-dinner fireworks outside Jonathan’s house!

Spending the Chinese New Year holiday at Jonathan’s house and all the other incredible people I visited, I was blessed by generosity in a way I cannot even begin to fully describe in words. When we sat down at the dinner table, it was absolutely clear that it was no ordinary meal, it was no ordinary time together.  They went out of their way to buy the best meat, the best vegetables, the best everything . And they put it all on the table and invited me to enjoy it as a part of their family.

The Chinese New Year feast at Jonathan's house!

The Chinese New Year feast at Jonathan’s house!

Lamb hot-pot with Auntie and Uncle!

Lamb hot-pot with Auntie and Uncle, a rare delicacy in southeastern China!

The feast at YongYong's grandparents' house!

The feast at YongYong’s grandparents’ house!

I could write on for pages and pages, and at the end of the day, words would never do justice to the love and hospitality I’ve experienced here in Xiwei. Though I don’t know where the Author of the Great Adventure will take me after July, I know that my life has been forever blessed and changed for the better by these precious souls in Xiwei. And as I look ahead to my last semester here at Zhiying Middle School in Xiwei village, I do so with a great sense of urgent joy, as not a single second can be wasted. Encouraged and rejuvenated, I can’t wait to work tirelessly these next months to stand as a door-holder for the Zhiying Stars to help give them the opportunities the all deserve. I want every Zhiying Star to know that they are treasured, valued, significant and have a bright, world-changing future ahead of them.  And as they and their families have so graciously done for me, so I will do for them–leave it all on the table.

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