There area lot of words to describe how I feel after the end of SOS 2013. Sad. Happy. Homesick. Lonely. Exhausted. Excited. Nostalgic. Confused. The list could go on forever. However, I think the biggest emotion I feel is pride.
When I went to the airport at LA with Maddy and Kai after our layover in Tokyo, we all had to speak with customs officers. Mine asked me where I had been (China), what I had been doing (teaching English), and how my Mandarin was (poor, bordering on nonexistent). After all that, he asked me “did you make a difference?” I had been quick to answer all of his other questions, but that one made me pause for a second. It’s a little arrogant to declare that I went to China for seven weeks and managed to make a difference. However, after contemplating for a little bit, I replied “I think so.” And you know what? I really do. At least, I hope that I, along with the other SOSers, made a difference. I hope that we made an impact on our students (read: friends) that is going to last more than just a couple weeks after PIJ finished. I know that they all made an impact on me, and I’ve definitely learned just as much, if not more, about myself and those around me as I did last summer.
It’s not easy to leave your friends and family for two months to head off to “rural” China. It’s not easy to switch from being a student to being a teacher. It’s not easy to think of lessons every night and teach them every day. It’s not easy adapting to China. It’s not easy to talk in your second language all day everyday for close to six weeks. It’s not easy performing in front of a hundred people. It’s not easy learning to put others before yourself. Nothing that we, or our students, did this summer was easy. But we did it, and we all did it pretty well if I do say so myself. Therefore, looking back on this summer I think the emotion I’m going to remember most and feel for quite a long time is pride. I remembering having some doubts and concerns at the start (what leader doesn’t?), but the SOSers proved to me time and time again that they were more than capable of doing what PIJ asked, and needed, them to do. Our students also put forth phenomenal effort. The difference in their spoken English, and probably more important, confidence levels from the start of the summer to the end was enormous. Seeing how much everyone improved this summer (students and teachers alike) was nothing short of magical. Something that really stuck with me since the start of PIJ is part of what Alex said in his opening speech. He mentioned that we have 11 teachers and a little over a hundred participants in SOS. Those 11 teachers are responsible for teaching those hundred students, who will then go on to have their own classrooms of probably 50 or more students. When it’s put that way, it’s easy to see how far reaching SOS’s influence is. I thought that was slightly terrifying at first, but I honestly couldn’t be prouder of the work that every single SOSer and student put forward this summer. I know that our students are going to have a lot to take away from this program that they can teach their students, and that is simply amazing. When people ask me what I did this summer, I usually reply with an easy “I taught English in China.” However, what we all did this summer was so much more than that (it’s impossible to summarize this summer), and I hope that nobody forgets that.
Some other SOSers have mentioned this, but I really do think that the memories we created this summer deserve to be remembered much longer than I guess what could be called a honeymoon period. Of course everyone said things like let’s keep in touch, we’ll talk every week, and I hope we can see each other again. How long will we really feel like this? My challenge for everyone at the beginning of the summer was to say yes to everything that came their ways, and my challenge for everyone at the end of the summer is to make an honest effort to keep communicating with our Jishou friends going forward. PIA is all about building bridges (have we mentioned this enough times?), which I think we did fantastic job with this summer. That was the easy part. The hard part is maintaining those relationships that we’ve made, and I have the utmost confidence that we’ll all rise to the occasion.
I want to close this last blog with a huge thank you. Thank you SOSers, thank you Alex, thank you Tony, thank you PIJ. Last but not least, thank you PIA. I said it last summer and I’ll say it again, I owe you big time. SOS is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I can’t thank everyone that made this possible enough.
Signing off for the last time,