My name is Maddie and I can’t wait to share in this Dragons adventure with you this semester in China as one of your instructors!
Similar to the moment most of you are living right now as you prepare for this journey, I came to China for the first time as a study abroad student when I was sixteen. I lived with a host family in Beijing for nine months, biking to school in my uniform each day through the autumn leaves, the grey winter, and the flurry of spring poplar flowers. My Mandarin language skills grew tremendously that year, as did my knowledge of Chinese history, geography, and that elusive thing called “culture.” As importantly, or perhaps even more so, that year also had a dramatic and more personal impact on my confidence, my independence, my happiness, and my sense of adventure.
During our time together this fall, you will see and experience so much that has the potential to change the way you understand not only China and the wider world, but also yourself. Maybe these will be things that become immediately apparent during the program or when you return home, maybe they will be things that will emerge many years later. Maybe you will share these stories with your classmates and instructors or here on the Yak Board, or maybe they will remain deeply private and personal. Regardless, it is both my love of Chinese language and the potential for transformation in study abroad and experiential education experiences that shape my passion for this work and bring me here to be transformed once again alongside you!
After I left Beijing, I spent an additional two years finishing high school at a boarding school in Hong Kong with classmates from around the world, gaining new perspectives on China through the complicated lens of the former British colony in the south. From there, I moved to South Africa for university where I found a home for my fascination with culture and identity in the study of Anthropology. During my holidays in college and graduate school, I returned to China to work as a facilitator on high school language-intensive study abroad programs in Beijing, learning from and sharing with inspiring students over two amazing summers. Last year, I finally spent some time back in the U.S., hiking 2,652 miles from the Mexican to Canadian borders out west on the Pacific Crest Trail. An all-American experience that was only possible because of the ways I grew during my time overseas.
Now, after a few years away, I’m excited to be living mostly full-time in China again and to have found a home for so many of my passions here in my work at Dragons. I delight in trains, maps, 20th century Chinese history, reading novels in Chinese and English, Yunnan cuisine, the mountains, scuba diving, random & rugged travel, and everything outdoors.
In Chinese, a 成语 chéngyǔ is an idiomatic expression, typically four characters long and often with a historical or literary etymology. The chengyu that has spoken to me most for many years is 四海为家 sìhǎi wéi jiā. It literally means “four seas for a home,” but can be translated in many different ways. To make the world your home. To be at home everywhere and nowhere. To be well-traveled, to seek adventure, to strike out on the four seas.
I can’t wait to meet you soon! This semester, I’m excited to be one of your instructors as you step outside your comfort zone, explore a new country, and find joy in the unfamiliar and unexpected! To spend a moment in time living a life on the four seas. Whatever has brought you here, whatever this course means to you as part of your story in China and the story of your life, I feel so privileged to be a part of it.
Welcome to China! 中国欢迎你！
In eager anticipation,
P.S. The first photo is me in my Chinese school uniform in 2011, shortly before concluding my first year of study abroad in Beijing. The second is from a few days ago, taken on a high-altitude hike at 四姑娘山 sì gūniáng shān, Four Sisters Moutain, in Sichuan province!