The first day at Shouguang Century School in Shandong province, all we were able to see was the cool rain outside and the warm bed inside. After riding a bus for hours, most of us were in limbo between excitement and exhaustion; exhaustion unfortunately won the battle of the first day. Our time here passed as quickly as a small stream of water filling up a bucket; before you realized it, it was full. If I had known then how quickly time would pass, my eyes would have drunk everything in as soon as possible.
When we awoke we got our first taste of Shandong- breakfast. I had never before liked breakfast; to me cereal was too bland, pancakes and donuts too sweet, and eggs and bacon not to my liking. However, the breakfast choice of all sorts of fruits and meats and rice and beverages quickly washed down my previous distaste. The meals, I am delighted to say, only increased in excellence after that.
Immediately after breakfast we were led to an auditorium filled with Chinese students and educators whose eyes were the first not immediately drawn toward us foreigners, but to the dancers practicing ahead of them, and indeed they were mesmerizing. The opening ceremony included various speeches and not only two dances, but two songs played on the native instruments. As the flower umbrellas used in one of the dances, I felt as if my world was only beginning to bloom. There was peace in every body and a smile on every face that day.
Aside from the decadent food and the bonding Chinese lessons, we were immersed in the culture of China through travel and hands-on learning. Our first trip was to Qufu to visit 孔府 Kong Fu, 孔庙 Kong Miao, and 孔丽 Kong Li. The experience that had the most impact on me in Qufu was the cemetery. It was so peaceful I felt as if the velvet moss were molded to quiet our footsteps and the air to soften our speech. In silence I found a sense of connection to the people within our group, the forest, and the spirits below the ground. The act of bowing to Confucius was only braved by a few American students, myself included. After we bowed to Confucius it began to rain, and I could not help but think that heaven was attempting to cling to us.
Recently we had the opportunity to do a workshop after language class containing different cultural activities. First, a few of us learned the art of paper-cutting. Next, we made clay pottery and were whisked away to Tai Chi. Although my legs felt weak, my mind felt strengthened. Finally, I began to start embroidering a stuffed animal for my sister. I did not finish, but our instructor was kind enough to give me thread, stuffing, and a needle.
I feel as if my life has now been cross-stitched with so many others in only a brief period of time. The content has been stuffed into us in this brief period, filling our stomachs, our minds, and our hearts. I believe that I will bring home a gift that will last forever- experiences. The kindness and hospitality expressed by Shouguang Century School has inspired me to be a bridge of kindness in the future toward all I meet, and I am so grateful to have the experience of visiting China. My passion for learning about the language and culture has increased exponentially. I have learned so many ideas that I can apply to my life when I return home and teach to others, such as Tai Chi in the mornings and paper-cutting for my sisters. All of the students were so quickly enveloped in each others’ company that we placed our happiness in at least ten cameras. I am glad to capture the memories in photographs, but even more glad to memorize them by heart. 谢谢 Hanban for this wonderful experience!