I’m Madeleine, one of the China semester instructors, along with Zack and Long Yun. It feels strange to introduce myself again, having done it around three months ago on this same Yak board. Then I was saying hello; this time I have to say goodbye.
As students and maybe some families know, I am leaving the course because my mom passed away suddenly last Saturday. It is hard to leave, especially because we were about to go to Xishuangbanna and spend time with some communities that are very close to my heart. But I need to go home, to be with my family, to process, and to grieve.
My mom is from Taiwan; she is my connection to China. She gave me this Chinese name that I wear so proudly, 颜西樱. I took her Chinese last name (my dad doesn’t have one) and every time someone calls my name, I think of her. Because of my mom, I started learning Chinese and because of her, I came to China. It is a sad turn of events that now, because of her, I am leaving China. I will be back though, I know it.
I write this on the plane home to Seattle. Heading across the Pacific Ocean towards an unknown future, I have some time to sit down and reflect on what I am leaving.
My last Yak post was the Tibet puns and since that was so successful—Yak of the Week!—I considered continuing with that theme (“because I knew you, I am a Buddha person” “it sucks to Khata my time on this course short” “you all are Xining examples of smart, considerate young adults” “Thangka you for your willingness to learn and grow”) and honestly, it is kind of a good idea in the same way that trying to build a human pyramid with me on the top was a good idea…but I have more to say than can be said in solely Tibet-related puns.
Students—thank you for everything. As you know, this was my first semester course with Dragons, and I was nervous going into it. Zack and Long Yun carry so many years of Dragons experience, and of rich, interesting life experience. I am only 24. I often felt not much older than you all, unsure of what I could offer or teach you.
I can’t say enough how impressed I am by each and every one of you. You arrived on this course with a hunger to learn about China and yourselves. I admire that so much. You have such an incredible capacity to seize the opportunities that this course presents, whether those are homestays, language learning, new foods, sleeper trains, discussions about group dynamics, ISPs, lessons, or just wandering around a new city, absorbing as much as possible. You are mature, understanding, and compassionate, individually and as a group. I’ve realized that I don’t have to offer anything but a listening ear, and that I can learn so much about myself and the world from spending time with you. Thank you.
It has been a dream to share my experience of China with you. I truly love it here. Like for many of you, China was my first real “adult” experience. I moved here immediately after college and I have grown up here over the last few years. It feels like a place of learning, struggling, nourishing, and coming into my own.
When I first came to China, I thought I’d stay for a year. And yet here I am, halfway through year three. Why am I still here? Because I am deeply inspired by the sense of community that exists, especially in villages and rural areas. So many strangers have been so kind to me—it truly blows my mind. The Dragons community and the community that we’ve built together on our course…these are similarly inspiring. For the past two months, you all have been my friends and family. As we sat around the big round table at 外婆味道 on Monday at lunchtime, the table piled high with all the food I ordered, I felt so much warmth and joy just being surrounded by all of you. What a wonderful way to end my time on this course. I will miss you.
I will miss hearing about your poops every morning. I will miss laughing into the night writing Yak posts. I will miss following you to your ISPs, curious about what you’ve been learning. I will miss your questions. I will miss talking to you on buses and trains. I will miss asking Peter “what’s that plant?!” on those same buses and trains. I will maybe even miss all your “that’s not my dad” jokes. I will miss introducing you to new, delicious foods. I will miss you, and I wish I didn’t have to leave, but I need to go home.
Please trust Dragons with this transition process and open your hearts to the new instructor(s) who will join you for the final few weeks of your course. Please be kind and understanding to Zack and Long Yun as they move forward with the course—they are working so hard. I know you guys can step up. I know you can finish this course with just as much passion, curiosity, openness, and silliness as you started it with.
I look forward to hearing how things go, for the rest of the course and beyond. I’ll be watching the Yak board and you can email me anytime—I mean it. All my love.
To families of students:
The last time I spoke to my mom, last Wednesday, I ran into three students. They spoke into my phone, saying hi to my mom and thanking her for making such a wonderful human being. I am sure she was proud.
I want to say the same thing to all of you. Thank you for giving us such lovely students to work with. Thank you for giving them this opportunity to come to China and learn and grow. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get to know them. I think you will be surprised how much they have grown on this course. We’ve challenged them, we’ve pushed them, and they have really stepped up. They have learned independence as well as interdependence. They’ve realized the importance of expressing themselves, of being grateful, of asking for help when they need it. They have made friends in another language! They have learned so much, and yet still have so much left to learn. I am incredibly proud of them and I hope you are, too.
My mom was always supportive of me coming to China and I have always been grateful for that. Thank you, families, for raising these wonderful children and for supporting them in this experience. Give them a big hug when they get home, then let them spread their wings again.
With warmth, gratitude, and strength,