Though I’m sure I’d heard of Indonesia, or at least Bali, before I was 19, my first impressions are from then. At the time, I had just finished a year abroad in China through a program called SYA and was beginning a gap year of my own. So the plan was to find a job by August and make enough money by the end of January to get back over to China for the second half my gap year. Since I wanted to keep my Mandarin sharp, it only made sense to apply at the big Chinese restaurant in town. I lived in a small city in Alabama called Auburn. At that time I’d guess we had three maybe four Chinese restaurants. I applied at the big one and got the job purely because I was an oddity—a kid from Alabama with no Chinese heritage who somehow spoke quite a bit of Mandarin.
I may have spoken Mandarin, but on my first day, I discovered I was about the only one in the restaurant who did. The waiters and waitresses who I had assumed, growing up, were Chinese were actually almost all Korean and Indonesian. So my plans to keep my Mandarin sharp fizzled, but I did make some money and hear stories about love potions in Bali, Guns ‘N’ Roses in Java, and barbecued fish shared among friends on some beach somewhere. It always impressed me how much my Indonesian coworkers laughed and smiled, and it was always in the back of my mind that I’d come here. Over the past eleven years of going back and forth between China and the U.S., the thought of a place where people took it easy, laughed, and ate a lot of barbecued fish became ever more attractive. And slowly, as tends to happen in life, this idea which I held loosely in some remote part of my mind became more visible and concrete until one day it became real.
I tell you all this because I want you to know that I used to be a nineteen-year-old from a small city who wanted to desperately to see the many corners of the world. I stood looking forward at an empty year and had decide where to go, what to do, and how to make it all happen. And I had no idea what I was doing.
Yet, ten years after I sat at a restaurant table rolling silverware into napkins with people from China, Korea, Mexico, and Indonesia, I can now say I’ve been to every single one of those places. So whether you’re nervous about the upcoming semester, excited, confident, or some mix, just know that this you’re about to take already started a long time ago, and you’re doing just fine so far. As a teacher of mine once said, like driving home through the night, the path will appear though the headlights never let you see more than fifteen feet ahead. Just take the next few days one at a time, do your best, and life will work out.
My name is Luke Hein. I’ll be another one of your instructors this fall along with Rita and Olivia. I love to write stories, think, read, surf, play music, and spend time with my big family. I’ve spent around five of the last eleven years working, studying, and traveling in Asia, mostly China. I worked as a tour guide, an English teacher, and did some undergraduate research on labor migration, another topic that I trace back to my day’s in the little universe that was the Chinese restaurant. I began working for Dragons in 2014 and have led four semesters, two summers, a custom course, and have helped out with two Princeton Bridge Year courses. My most recent course was the summer Silk Road, and I’m already becoming intrigued by the parallels between the trade routes that connected China to Europe by land and the sea routes that did something similar for Indonesia. This will be my first course outside of China, and I couldn’t be more excited. I look forward to joining you as we throw ourselves into that lifelong process of coming to know, to love, and to be deeply invested in a new corner of the world.