Justin is from Salem, Oregon and participated in the 2017 China summer program.
Weary-eyed, all twenty-one of us dragged our luggage down to the lobby of the academic building, taking our last looks around the school we had called our own for the past six weeks.
I glanced around at the glass windows, the marble floors, the little coffee tables, and chairs off to the side. Memories flooded my mind - I remembered the morning I ran into this lobby, clutching my backpack tight, sweat raining from my temples and dampening my shirt, late to class because of the bus. Or the break times every day during which we stood around and mingled with Korean exchange students, learning phrases, handshakes, and songs. This lobby was the trademark of our NSLI-Y experience - exposure to culture, language learning, and the bounds and bounds of friendship we found within each other. To leave it was hard, but even now, I still think that I've left a piece of myself there.
Through the windows of the bus to Shanghai, we saw the sleeping city of Nanjing covered in a calm and quiet blanket of darkness, much unlike the busy and bustling metropolis we had initially acquainted ourselves with; even the blackness of the sky echoed with a thrum of finality.
The plane ride was a bittersweet blur of detachment. One by one, all of the sights, sounds, feelings, and memories of this place and these people left my eyes, ears, and mind, and entered a part of my heart from which I don't think they'll ever leave.
After departing the plane and heading to the transfer terminals, I first said my goodbyes to my newfound family and then gave my RD, Margie, a hug before walking on to check my luggage in. I turned back, taking a last glance at who was left of my cohort-mates all together and gave a wave with a sad smile. There's no other way to say it. A farewell to my cohort was like saying goodbye to my family - my large, big-hearted, wild, and raucous 家庭。
As they said goodbye to me, I turned again and began on my way as tears involuntarily fell down my cheeks.
In a matrix of emotions, I find myself also mulling over a sense of gratitude. The stars somehow aligned so that I would be able to meet this group, my new family, and for this, I can only look back with a warm smile. But here's the thing - this is my family, and you don't say bye to a family - only "see you soon."
As it seems, life just never gives us a chance to catch up.
Right as I got back to the states, I began a four-day volunteer opportunity at the UN Youth Assembly where I worked with even more NSLI-Y alum. Like I said, this program and experience would never leave me.
At the UN, I found plenty of opportunities to interact with Chinese speakers using my newfound skills from Nanjing. As a result, I was even invited to a networking event at an international Buddhist organization.
It's crazy how these things work. All of these crazy coincidences and amazing circumstances were made possible for me by NSLI-Y and the State Department. I want to send huge thank you to them for this experience with language, culture, and friendship - one that is truly unparalleled.
And here's a big fat see you soon to my raucous, golden-hearted, wild family. I love you all - 我爱你们。