11 April, 2012


This is me, being serene.
Notice my favourite
Chengdu food
Looking back through my written blogs, after Model School, there is a break. After a bit of thought, I remembered this was the most anxious time of PSTwe were interviewing to determine our site placement. Then, that fateful Wednesday, we all met for a long morning (that no one remembers) before being given our placements after lunch. 

Everyone was so nervous. I tried to approach the day with serenity. There was nothing I could do to affect where I was going, so why worry about it. The Peace Corps goal was to choose a school where I could flourish. I trusted them to do just that... I mean, my other option was to go home? Not happening. I remember how electric with anticipation the room was—not a loud stadium electric, though. It seemed like most everyone was quiet and reflective with their emotional amalgamation of excitement and dread. 

I had my Kindle ready. I promised friends and family back home I would live-update facebook and twitter as soon as I knew where I was going. In hindsight, this ended up being an unknowingly introverted decision. While everyone else was flying around the room to see where their friends were headed for the next two years, I was hunched over my Kindle, reflecting and typing; by the time I had successfully updated both, much of the buzz had died down (it is labour-intensive task to type on the Kindle's keyboard).

As it would turn out, I was headed north to Gansu province, the one place most volunteers talked about not wanting to go. At the time, I was ambivalent. If my first month in China had taught me one thing, it was to avoid expectations, because they will never be accurate. And in no time, we were all headed away from Chengdu to the new horizons of our future sites. We spent a week visiting and staying with a new host family, the goal being to start integrating into our new campus community and get some ideas of what we will be teaching in the fall. 

The long break in my writing was caused by this excitement, then my week in Lanzhou. I found that I only wrote one thing during my time visiting site. It was an email. The email was to Fred Berger.

Fred and I at Kitty Hawk.
I met Fred as a student at my alma mater, Saint Joseph's College. He is a professor of Communications, but I met him through Habitat for Humanity. Even though I never had the honour of Fred as my teacher, still he had one of the greatest impacts on my collegiate life...

Fred, in Guatemala.
When packing for China, I grabbed a notebook under my bed I’ve not used in years, thinking an extra notebook cannot hurt. During my site visit, I took this notebook with me. I wasn’t going to have my laptop for the week, so I thought it could serve as a place for me to write down thoughts, observations, new Chinese words... whatever. When I opened the notebook in Lanzhou, I discovered this was the notebook I bought in Guatemala to use as my personal Habitat journal.

Reading that journal was what motivated my email. Below is just an excerpt from it.

Rereading [my Guatemala journal] was quite the trip. Haha! Part of it reads like the manifesto to a “Fred Berger” fan club... If I wasn’t embarrassed about how gushing parts of it were, I’d ask you to read it.

A couple of things really stuck out to me now as noteworthy. During a portion of it, I was writing about a discussion you were having with the group, and I talk at length about ethnocentricity. I clearly tried to remember and write everything you said, but ended the paragraph with, “Fred says it’s something taught in Core 7. Even though we’re currently in Latin America, Fred’s China stories are always much more fascinating”.

There is another portion where I talk about lengthy conversation you and I had at the work site. I don’t know if you remember, but you and I were bending pieces of metal into a C-shape to wrap around the rebar that was going to reinforce the walls of the house (my journal entries have a fairly vivid attention to detail). I do remember talking with you that day, because I remember being incredibly amused. You told me that the only reason you’d remember your anniversary was because the date was 6-7-08. In my journal on this day, I explain that after talking to you, not only was really considering travelling and volunteering as two things I wanted to do with my life, but even though I “had never thought about it at any significant length or with any seriousness”, after hearing you talk about it, I actually wrote “the Peace Corps was something I should consider doing after I graduate”.

I do not know if many people can pinpoint inspiration to the exact moment in time when it happened, but when I did, it was humbling. I often say that I'm living the dream, and when I was in Lanzhou for the first time, I knew who to thank for giving me the courage to dream it. If you are ever around the Rensselaer area, he and his amazing wife are the innkeepers of a wonderful bed and breakfast. It would be remiss of you not to stop. 

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