As I boarded my Seattle plane headed for Beijing nearly two months ago, I was, to be honest, a little terrified. I nervously clutched my purse as I handed over my ticket to the airline worker, too anxious to say even a simple “你好” (“hello”) to the flight attendants as I found my seat. This was my first time I was to leave the safety and comfort of America, and was headed to a country that not only a 15 hour difference in time from home but also, I suspected, extreme differences in language, culture, and customs.
Little did I know that, even so far from my small town in the deserts of Southern California, I would find a new home and a new community in the bustling city of Beijing. After landing in Beijing, Notre Dame program directors and teachers immediately helped me find my way to campus, carry my luggage to my room, and asked several times if they could help me find dinner or any toiletries I needed. Despite being surrounded by an unfamiliar cityscape, I immediately felt welcomed and taken care of by the Notre Dame staff/professors here for the summer Notre Dame in Beijing program.
I continued to feel the comfort of the Notre Dame community as I started classes and got more accustomed to the city. My classmates have diverse backgrounds, majors, and interests, but there is immediate camaraderie in being able to joke about our Notre Dame dorm experiences, commiserating about the workload and pressure of being a Notre Dame student (even during this summer program!), and of course, getting excited about the nearing football season and return to campus. Even in an unfamiliar city, having the Notre Dame “family” made me feel comfortable, and they are they best people with whom to explore Beijing!
Beyond just my twelve classmates plus instructors, this Notre Dame community here is broadened by the Beijing Global Gateway. The Gateway is, according to Notre Dame’s website, “provide academic and intellectual hubs where scholars, students, and leaders from universities, government, business, and community gather to discuss, discover, and debate issues of topical and enduring relevance”. Basically, it connects Notre Dame students to people and opportunities in China and greater Asia, as well as connects people, businesses, and leaders to the Notre Dame campus. While we were here, the Global Gateway hosted a large event (which included a welcome event and a fabulous lunch) to which every person in Beijing connected to the university was invited – current student studying abroad or interning in Beijing, ND graduates who live in Beijing, current students who are from Beijing, incoming students from Beijing and their parents, professors in Beijing, and other friends of the university. It was impressive to see how large the ND network is half a world away from the physical ND campus. The event made me feel lucky and proud to be part of a university that is internationally respected and connected, and really made me excited about all of the opportunities that the Notre Dame “family” – including the international community – presents.
Notre Dame has some of the most intelligent, interesting, kind, and accomplished people in its community – including students, professors, and alumni. Being a part of this program has reminded me of this. Ye Laoshi, a Chinese professor at Notre Dame and our resident program director here, sacrificed seeing his son’s birth (which happened just a week ago!) to serve us in this program. Another instructor, Huang Laoshi, accompanied and stayed with one of my classmates at the hospital when she caught the flu, then continuously checked up on her until she was feeling better. My instructors and classmates always take time to really ask how I am doing, and I feel comfortable asking for help with any matter, no matter how small. The people here go above and beyond to challenge us in the classroom, as well as provide a support network out of class as we explore this new country.
These experiences have reminded me why I chose this program over other summer programs – not just for the outstanding Chinese instruction and improvement in my language skills, but also for the people. I constantly feel grateful to be a part of the Notre Dame community, and even this far away from our beautiful campus, I still feel connected to that community – to me, that is a very special and unique thing!