China SST 2017 is now over, but the experience will live on for each of us.
In Beijing, between visiting the palaces and temples of dynasties and the Great Wall that protected them with varying degrees of success, we had a couple group meetings. On Sunday night we gathered to talk about learnings from service, apprehensions and points of excitement about going home, and ideas for how to process China SST in the coming weeks and months.
After visiting the Great Wall on Monday, we celebrated our final evening together with a meal of Peking Duck and other Beijing specialties. Then, over dessert back at the hotel, we met again. Gifts and words of appreciation were offered to Wang Ying, our wonderful local coordinator without whom our various excursions would not have been nearly as interesting or successful. She also helped the day to day management of the program in significant ways.
A small gift was then presented to each SSTer – a 2018 calendar with Chinese artwork and calligraphy, with each member’s birthday marked. Students had previously submitted descriptive words or phrases for their SST peers that were written in each person’s birthday month. Various awards, ranging from silly to serious, were also pronounced to each group member.
One way the end of China SST can create a new beginning is for us to be “China Watchers” the rest of our lives. One can’t spend three months immersed with Chinese hosts, language, culture and history without wanting to follow developments in this endlessly fascinating country with so much global influence. We hope our WeChat group will remain active sharing news and analysis about China as well as for ongoing processing of our time there.
As faculty leader it was my great privilege to read the stories, questions and wisdom gathered in the students’ journals throughout the semester. Journal writing centered around three types of prompts each week: reflective, integrative, and investigative. With permission from each student for the specific excerpts below, the official China SST 2017 blog closes with their words and images. Special thanks to Emily for some of the photos.
Dale, Greta, Naomi and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow in China among these beautiful souls.
After getting to know my host mom I know that verbal communication is important, but it’s not the only way to learn to know someone. For example, today my host mom told me, “We are going to play with candy.” I did not know what she meant but I went with it. After a few hours of candy making we sat at the table and wrapped the candy in complete silence. At first I felt awkward but then I started to enjoy the silence between us. It made me realize that even though we cannot communicate with many words we can still have nice moments between us. – Yadira
This culture of giving is beyond me. When I ask my friends about it they respond, “Well, of course, you are my friend and I have to help you.” It is a social obligation and a way of being in community that stretches farther than just the material things that are exchanged. – Andrew N
To the average observer, Confucianism and Communism appear to be entirely incompatible. But the truth, much like these schools of thought, is much more complicated. In many ways, the two systems are contradictory. But Chinese society and culture found their own ways of reconciling those contradictions. A common phrase in China is saying that when a certain Western thing, whether it be Shakespeare or Socialism, exists in China, it is “with Chinese characteristics.” Those “Chinese Characteristics” often include the rich philosophical history the Chinese context provides. – Christi
Even though I am trying to find my true self, I still need to allow room for growth. Room for progress needs to be kept because my true self now will not be the same ten years from now, and to stay stagnant would defeat the propose of trying to improve myself. – Cornelius
I really loved the teaching of Mencius to not think “I can be anything I want to be” but rather “I do not know yet what I can become.” I am often a headstrong person and believe that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, but I feel as though I need to let things come and go naturally and see what the bigger plan is for my life. SST has been good practice in trained adaptability. – Skye
My mistakes and experiences are who I am. The mistakes, the fun, and the learning done here have helped me shed my skin and become a little closer to who I am supposed to be. I have learned that I am my own person, I am known. I found a voice I did not have and heart that is willing to open up and love and forgive more. – Amy
China is a land of contrasts, and they’re co-existing right next to each other. Dilapidated shacks against triumphant towers of glass, wealth and steel. People in drab coats and broken shoes sweeping the streets and hawking wares while fashionable, Western-styled youth strut down the street. Traditional twangs of ancient instruments set to modern dubstep dance beats, and the list goes on. It’s a country of experimentation and identity foundation, forged from revolution, tempered by counterrevolutionary tears and now attempting to reconcile an ever-distant history with the ever-changing new. – Matthew
I’m willing to believe there are parts of myself that are fluid and can change with time; however, there are parts that I do not think will change. I don’t think this limits my ability to transform…but my acknowledgement of this allows for the potential to transform. – Elsa
One thing I find fascinating about Chinese culture is the level of engagement and curiosity. They love to get to know you on a deeper and more personal level. Just to please the Chinese people and to get them to stop trying to convince me otherwise, my usual response is “Yes, I’m Chinese American. But I live in America. I was just born here.” And they are typically content with that answer. They just want me to say “Zhōngguórén” to indicate that their assumptions about me are right and in their minds want to hear me say the words “Zhōngguórén” before “Měiguórén” and then they’re happy. – Mia
In the reading of Chinese philosophy I’ve had to consider how I think teachings such as these can integrate with a Christian worldview. If what Confucious says can help us more effectively love our neighbor, should we not listen? – Christian
When my host mother’s friends take us to dinner I start out quiet and just observing, but then we warm up. In our simple conversations I am helplessly saying, “Tīngbùdǒng”, over and over like a broken Magic 8 ball. They laugh as I keep saying, “Tīngbùdǒng”, then they try to speak slower. Nonetheless by the end of the meal we are all laughing and having a great time. Conversations with these new friends always comes to a sad, “How long are you here for, when do you leave?” I tell them and always say I will be back, that China has left such an impact on me that I wish not to go back to America. – Abe
How strange it is to discover something new about yourself. How is this even possible? How can we not know something about ourselves? I believe a possible reason is that we are not shaped by experiences but rather we shape ourselves through our experiences…I have been trying to shape myself in a number of ways while here in China, including being more comfortable around people I don’t know. – Andrew L
As I walked through the square this morning I saw old folks playing badminton (better than I can) and square dancing. The scene was buzzing with positive energy. As old as these people were the place felt full of young life, of vibrant colors and smiles. These people are making the most of their time. Despite the aging bones and muscles in their bodies, they are making meaning. Connecting with one another through the beat of the music. So powerfully beautiful. I think I may need to retire in China. – Emily
I tried to be more intentional about my thoughts. I wanted to be flexible rather than rigid and make the most out of my time in China. Rather than staying in my heated bed on my phone, I agreed to go on walks with my host mother and her friends. Instead of thinking, “Why waste my time forming a relationship that won’t last” I began to think “The people are so genuinely curious about me, why shouldn’t I be curious about them?” I take opportunities to ask genuine questions as often as I can. I try to listen to what people are saying for the sake of getting to know them rather than just to relate their stories back to my own life and talking about myself. All I can really say is that I feel much better for it and it’s really liberating. – Lexus
So often I hear that SST is supposed to answer questions that you have about yourself. And while I have learned a lot about myself, I created more questions than answers. I embraced the complexities of my life in ways that I never have before. Overall, in China, I was reminded of the joys of living with intentionality. Every day in China I challenged myself to stay present in my experience, to stay in touch with my emotions and to not be overrun by any one feeling. Whether that be the feeling of wanting to go back to the United States or the feeling of being upset about leaving China. I try to validate these feelings without allowing them to consume me. It’s hard, but living with intentionality is living with purpose. Living with intentionality is living with perspective. – Carter