I apologize for my late introduction. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. My name is Kristen and I’ll be one of your instructors this spring! I’m writing to you as I am in transit and have just arrived in Thailand. My travel back to Asia over the past couple of days has given me an opportunity to reflect on how appreciative I am to have frequented this part of the world and that returning to China gives me a sense of home. China – with all of it’s greatness, complexities, vast and beautiful landscapes, historic wonders, and it’s interesting position with the rest of our world, has managed to pull me back again and again. Each time I leave, I think – ‘I am not finished here.’ And I believe that it will be impossible to satisfy my curiosity for such an incredible country. Thus, I’m excited to make another return and to learn from China once more. This time, with the new perspectives that each of you will bring!
I was probably right around your age when I first ventured to this part of the world. I signed up for a semester long exchange program in Taiwan during my sophomore year in college and after two weeks into my program, I called my parents and university to tell them I wasn’t coming back (at least, not until the following year). I’m not quite sure if it was something in the tea or it may have been the regular visits to nearby temples and meditation retreats in the mountains, the late nights eating tasty snacks on sticks, my love for learning Chinese, or the constant thrill of navigating unknown places; but I fell in love with this part of the world and soon returned to live in Jinan, China for several months. Since then, I’ve instructed a summer course (with a different organization) and the fall 2016 course with WTBD.
Chicago has been my most recent home and my point of departure for this journey ahead with all of you. Over the past year, I’ve kept myself busy biking along the lake front trail, curating art and event planning for a small gallery cafe, having numerous photo exhibitions and giving talks (mostly focused on the research I was doing in Egypt in 2015/2016), and hosting breakfasts for friends and strangers in an effort to encourage people to start their mornings well and to build community. Most recently, I’ve had the awesome opportunity to work with a refugee resettlement organization and establish ties with one of Chicago’s most vulnerable populations of people. It’s been the longest time I have lived in one place and the first time that I have lived in the U.S. in over 7 years.
As I transition into this next adventure, I am eager to get to know all of you. I hope you are all gearing up for an exciting new experience. Remember, that this course will be what you make it and if you open up your heart and self to learning and appreciating each other and everything that comes your (and our) way, you won’t have any difficulty seeing the beauty in what lies ahead.
Here’s to our time ahead!