We are welcomed by a gust of hot, dry air as we walk off the plane and out the terminal. We’re an odd group: girls and boys ranging from age 13 to 18, all different sizes, from all over the country and all clad in bright neon orange t-shirts, with the words “SINO Language Gateway” plastered across the front. We have just arrived, but we have already started our journey; for the next three weeks, we will be living in China, and immersing ourselves in the deep, rich culture of an ancient, mysterious country with a bustling, flourishing economy. It is such a mix of the old and the new, a perfect fusion of tradition and innovation.
The summer of 2008 was one of the best times of my life, and what made it even more fulfilling was the fact that I had a chance to do something important with my free time, instead of just spending a summer sitting around watching television or talking on the phone; I had a chance to do something that most youth my age would not have had the chance to, or even want to do. I joined the Sino Language Gateway Program as a Youth Volunteer in order to travel to China to not only teach English to students at an elementary school, but also to learn more about my Chinese heritage , and to absorb all the aspects of a country that shaped my identity so greatly.
From the moment we arrived in Beijing, till the moment we went home, we experienced China to the fullest. Living like real Chinese students, we moved into the dorms at the Beijing Language and Culture University. The SLG program spoiled us; the facility was amazing. There were tree-lined, serene walkways on campus and hundreds of little shops down the street. Anything that we needed, from restaurants to boutiques, was just a couple minutes of walking away. The ideal location of our dorms gave us plenty of chances to explore the streets of Beijing, hail taxis, and have opportunities to just experience the daily lives of the residents of Beijing.
But it wasn’t all play, for soon we reported to work at the Beijing Migrants Workers’ Elementary School. It was a small school, with only a couple of classes, but these little Chinese girls and boys had some of the biggest hearts. They welcomed us with big, warm smiles and hugs, yelling our names and jumping up and down. Our job was to teach them about our American culture and language, but really, they taught us so much more about their culture and language than we expected. They were ecstatic to learn English and to learn about American customs, each picking their own “English” name, like Blas, Yuki, or Han son. These simple moments that I shared with the kids at this elementary school are times that I will treasure forever, because it really was an experience that was important to me.
At a time, when culture is “Americanized” and youth prefer the new and technological to those that are conventional and antique, it’s easy to forget who you are and to lose your sense of heritage. I am American; it’s something that I appreciate and value, but I am also Chinese. That is my identity and the experiences that I encountered on my trip to China guided me on my journey to learning more about myself and who I really want to be. China, with its ability to blend the classic traditions with modern originality, is the perfect expression of harmony.
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