Two years ago, I accidentally enrolled in a Chinese course. I must have clicked the box for Mandarin 101 at some stage in my freshman language course registration, but this was not a particularly deliberate choice.
Two years ago, I had no idea that this slip-up would have left me entirely awestruck by the vastness of a history and the complexity of a language which I had so seldom experienced in my life.
Today, I leave for a nine month journey throughout ten different Asian countries to study with a group of 24 other students.
Am I ready? No. But I don’t really think I ever could be. I have no conscious expectations besides that my comfort zone will be stretched far and wide, and my limited perspective will be challenged more than it ever has before. Steinbeck wrote that the most certain way to be wrong is to think you control the trips you take, since it usually ends up taking you.
A few days ago, my mom asked if I had any predictions of how my opinion of the U.S. might change in the coming year — whether I’ll grow critical of my home country, or guilty for my complacency within it. Frankly, it would be a marvel if I managed to hold the state of our nation in any lower regard than I do currently.
Early on in the trip’s location-scouting and relationship-building stages, our administrative director Lisa Long had worked to form academic ties between Puget Sound and a university in Myanmar. As she discussed matters of our visit with the university president, he made clear a then-mild stipulation: “If Trump gets elected, this will not work out.”
And so it didn’t — Myanmar is no longer on the itinerary.
We will play a complicated role as American students abroad. To what extent do we defend our identity as citizens of the U.S.? How can our group best navigate nuanced political issues in places like Russia or China? I don’t have the answers to any of this yet, since I have yet to even step foot in Asia, and I am writing this from a layover in JFK airport.
I have really done nothing to deserve an opportunity this incredible. A ridiculous amount of privilege and apt circumstance played the biggest role in making this trip even remotely possible. Between my supportive parents, friends, and instructors (shout out to my freshman advisor and Chinese professor Sūn Lăoshī), this wild opportunity just proved wildly accessible.
And here we are. It’s the day of departure, and I know nothing for sure. I hope for this to change a bit by the end of these nine months.