Somtimes, a truly life-altering experience is so subtle that a person does not realize that he or she has changed until after the experience takes place. Other times, one is thrust in the midst of a predicament that is so radical a change that one cannot help but realize that his or her life will never be the same. I believe that my experience in China last summer is an example of the latter.
What surprises me was that I had such low expectations for the trip. I first heard about it during one of my commission meetings at the Pinole Youth Center. As a first year member, I wasn’t too familiar with what kinds of events the commission participated in each year. So when the recreational leader announced that China had invited us to join other countries around the world to an international friendship camp, I figured that this was a routine trip. I wasn’t all too interested in visiting China either. It didn’t appeal to me as much as the picturesque countries of Europe.
My parents were the main reason why I even considered the China trip. They wanted me to learn about my Asian roots, and the fact that the commission would be helping to pay for most of the expenses made it an even greater opportunity. At that time, I just didn’t feel like going away for two weeks. I had to make a hard decision, and after a lot of thinking, I reconsidered and finally chose to go.
Thus, at the end of July 2007, I boarded a 17-hour plane ride to Shanghai along with other commission members. The warm, humid air that greeted us as we walked down the steps from the airplane felt so different from the crisp, chilly air of San Francisco. At that exact moment, I realized that the memories I would make there would stay with me throughout my whole life.
My days there were spent immersing myself not only in the Chinese culture, but also becoming familiar with the cultures of the youth that were attending the camp. It was amazing to meet people from countries such as Ireland, Serbia, Korea, and even Holland.
Together, we experienced China firsthand through the boat cruise along the Huangpu River that gave us a breathtaking view of Shanghai’s lighted buildings at night. Our three-day stay in the paradise city of Hangzhou with its temples by the water and awe-inspiring greenery gave us a better look into China’s unspoiled natural beauty.
The very last day of our trip was spent in a tea-tasting museum that was nestled among the fragrant tea fields of Hangzhou. That night, our group leaders encouraged us to get a good night’s rest before the trip home, but our beds were empty that night. The whole camp decided to meet in the town’s square so that we would all have a chance to say goodbye. When I arrived at the square, I immediately became aware of how much all the groups from each country had mixed, forming one large crowd. I remember thinking to myself how I wished that the world could do the same thing, and how lucky I was that the U.S. is one of the places where diversity is accepted. Throughout this whole process, all our cultures have come out as one.
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