大家好！Hello China semester students!
My name is Madeleine (in Chinese, 颜西樱 Yán Xīyīng) and I will be one of your three instructors this fall, along with Zack and Long Yun. I grew up near Seattle, Washington, though my mom is from Taiwan and my dad is from Texas. I was raised across two very different cultures, celebrating the lunar new year at home, while also learning how to shoot rifles at summer camp in rural Texas. My Pacific Northwest upbringing instilled in me a love of forests, moss, and a good drizzle, so after four years of college in dry Southern California, it made sense to find a second home in the tropical rainforests of southern Yunnan. Upon graduating from Pomona College with a degree in International Relations, I received a Fulbright grant to conduct research about tourism development in ethnic minority villages on China’s borders with Myanmar and Laos. Though I had visited China and Yunnan province several times before to study and travel, the year I spent living in rural villages in Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna prefecture was both the hardest experience of my life and the most rewarding.
During my Fulbright year, I lived mostly in ethnically Jinuo villages, and over the course of several months, I had to entirely re-conceptualize my notions of what it means to be an “ethnic minority” and a “rural villager” in today’s China. I’ve never been so in awe of a community or cried so much at the pure generosity of strangers. Though most people ask either about my research conclusions or about the “wild” and “exotic” things I saw and ate, my fondest memories are the most mundane moments—watching TV after dinner with my family while the kids played on their parents’ phones, joking about tourists with my favorite village grandmas, relishing the delicious sound of torrential rain on a tin roof. Catching and eating giant spiders is not profound, nor is presenting research at a conference; feeling at home halfway across the world is.
Whether your journey in China is just beginning or you have already been here many times, I hope that during our semester together, you can experience this unlikely feeling of being at home so far away from home. For me, at least, it’s why I travel and why I spent so many years struggling to master the Chinese language. There are few things more beautiful than making a friend in a new language, whether that friend is a curious ten-year-old in Bapo Village, Xishuangbanna, or a gruff security guard posted outside your apartment complex in Kunming.
After my Fulbright experience, I worked with international students at a cultural exchange center in Beijing before returning to Yunnan and starting to work with Dragons. I came upon Dragons through a serendipitous encounter in a Kunming Kindergarten back in 2016 and I later helped them organize village homestays in one of my host communities. Living in tourist villages had left me quite cynical about tourism, but I was so impressed by the respectful and reciprocal cultural exchange that I witnessed while coordinating Dragons homestays that I immediately applied to become a Dragons instructor. This will be my second course with Dragons, after leading a Mandarin Language Intensive course this past summer.
China has a tremendous capacity to inspire, annoy, challenge, overwhelm, energize, and exhaust us. You will be pushed and you will be uncomfortable. I hope you come with open hearts and minds, ready to make mistakes and question your assumptions. In preparing for this trip, I encourage you to pack as lightly as possible and to actively read and learn about China from many different perspectives, not just the traditional Western/male ones.
Thank you for your courage in signing up for this program, and to those who support you in this adventure, whether financially, emotionally, or in other ways. I look forward to learning more about you, and to learning about China through your eyes.
Please feel free to reach out to me via email at [email protected] with any questions you have about China, this program, suggested readings, or the intricacies of pig breeding in rural Yunnan.
很期待跟你们见面！I can’t wait to meet you all!
(The photo above is me with Nainai, my favorite grandma in the ethnically Dai village of Manzhang, where I have organized several Dragons homestays. Nainai wants me to move into the Dai-style stilted house in the background and raise pigs and chickens for a living. Hopefully you will also have a chance to meet her and experience her extreme hospitality when we travel down to Xishuangbanna this fall!)