Random shot of me and my buddy/bandmate MG
In all the tumult of the past few weeks, a fog of preparation and closure, I nearly lost sight of a small, personal milestone. It was nine years ago, nearly to the day, when I first set foot in the People’s Republic. I was a Junior at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and my entire life was on the verge of a thorough transformation, one both personal and professional.
Outwardly, I was a confident, highly focused International Studies major quickly absorbing the credits necessary to add a second major (East Asian Studies) and eventually a co-term MA. Inwardly, however, I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was headed. The Ph.D. was an attractive option, but so too was journalism, foreign service, and the private sector (much to my Father’s encouragement). All I knew for certain was: I wanted to travel + I had studied Chinese intensively for two years = Beijing made sense.
Beyond that, I had not a clue where this experiment would lead. A great deal of credit goes to the William & Mary program for anticipating all of this confusion on behalf of its students, and for giving us some time to settle before beginning our studies at Beijing Normal University. We oriented ourselves in Suzhou, a beautiful city that will always occupy a special place in my heart, and where I was planning to return and teach English (had Fate not intervened).
Whenever I leave the country, I like to travel home first to visit my parents in Maryland. This visit was particularly memorable. On the first full afternoon, my Mother and I visited The Key School, my alma mater and home-away-from-home for eight of the most significant years of my life to that point: 1988 (fifth grade) until 1996 (my high school graduation). We were fortunate enough to run into Jessie Dunleavy, the graceful and unfailingly kind Director of Admissions, who pressed pause on her day and shepherded my Mother and I across campus for nearly an hour. I was reintroduced to many of my former teachers: Dr. Flanagan, Babette Leshinsky, Mr. Waymouth, Janet Favero, Mr. Stoneham (thank you for the email!), and many others. I was overwhelmed by visits to my fifth-grade English and mathematics classrooms, the site of the school dances, the graduation amphitheater… I could scarcely take a step without triggering one of the countless hidden alarms that, for me, will forever guard and preserve the most intense and formative experiences of my late childhood. The visit was brief, but in fact, I don’t think I could have handled much more.
Tomorrow I return to the Stanford campus, to carry out the last week of preparations. If you have advice, send it ahead! You know where to find me.