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Two summers ago, I told myself, was going to be the best summer of my life – a whole summer in China. Being 20 years old at the time, the toughest thing about life is doing all the right things in order to ensure that after college you have some sort of job waiting for you. For most college sophomores and juniors summer is about trying to put something amazing on your resume. I was thinking of teaching English, interning or doing anything to make my resume pop. Before I hopped on that plane I was excited, because this summer was the summer that I wasn’t going to sit at home – I was actually going to do something that may land me a job someday. Little did I know at the time, I would be coming home a month early with little to nothing to put on my resume. However, traveling is not always going to be about another bullet point on your resume, but learning about yourself.
One of my greatest experiences in China was climbing Wu Dong Mountain. For everyone who hates the stairs or the steppers at the gym – ME- this is all out-of-shape people’s biggest fear – a 3 mile hike ALL UP STAIRS. 30 minutes into this hike when all of the track and field stars and gym fanatics wiz passed you – you feel the tenseness in those muscles from the hips down, and the burning in your abs. It’s one of those moments when you hate yourself for not taking the cable car. As you ascend, the steps get steeper and at some places you are pulling yourself up the mountain, the chains clicking with lovers’ locks. The sun has a chance to rise and peak through the trees, covering you in its unwanted heat. I made it to the top sticky, out of breath, and surprised by the shops around me selling tea eggs and starchy corn.
There is a mist covering the trees, making it feel like only the clouds and soaring birds were higher than I was. The view from a top takes the last remaining breath I have out of me. The view isn’t very clear at all. I found that no matter where you are in China- in the cities, on the mountain tops – you always have the feeling that China is hiding something from you.
Hidden here at Wu Dong Mountain for 20 years is a Daoist monk named Hermit Jia. He is a little old man with wrinkles and a huge smile that touches your heart. He lives in a cave overlooking the world in a place where it seems like time has stopped. There is no television, cellphones, jeans or T-shirts. If you’re a fan of Chinese movies you have seen his outfit, the black and white curled up shoes, loose pants and a traditional three button shirt.
He is befriended only by bees buzzing from inside of the cabinets with yellow honey comb shining through the cracks of the wood. A boy asked if he was ever stung by the bees – he smiled and everyone couldn’t resist to smile with him. No, he answered, I leave them alone and they leave me alone.
I traveled half way around the world, and I came upon this little piece of paradise and a smile that was so welcoming you didn’t need to speak the same language to understand the simple, simplistic but very powerful life you could have as long as you did what made you happy. Sheltered only by a dark cave this man on top of the mountain lived by one philosophy: being.
I wasn’t able to find a job or any “resume poppers” that summer; however, my discovery of a little old man on top of the world was the greatest treasure of my summer. In many ways this man reminded me of grandfather. Both men with heart melting smiles, and the courage to do what they loved most. For my pap it was gardening, for Hermit Jia is was simply being. In this big bustling world we live in we become human doings instead of just human beings.
Wow! I can hardly believe that it’s week 4 of college already. It felt like only yesterday that I was studying abroad in Lille, France, last June, and attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia the following month! As an Eagles Abroad Scholar for French, I am required to study in a French speaking country, which I started by participating in the European Summer Program (ESP) at The Catholic University of Lille or La Catho for short. I enrolled in a French level 10 course, which, as a Francophone, allowed me to improve my writing tremendously. My professor was very dynamic and gave us many opportunities to discuss our ideas and debate in French. We talked about various topics ranging from Francophone cultures and arts to racism and politics, given our various countries of origins such as, Burundi, Colombia, Syria, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, India, China, the Philippines, the US and so many more. In addition, I took an elective course called European Integration: Borders in Turmoil, which taught me about the functions of the EU and its potential future; the course was a great supplement to my politics studies as it provided me with a unique insight on the EU from an actual European, and particularly French perspective.
Of course, I did not miss out on the amazing French cuisine. Every day, I got breakfast from the local boulangerie-bakery- right around the corner of La Catho: croissants, brioches, pain au chocolats and hot choco were life! Every so often, I would also visit an Ivorian restaurant called La Main Magique: Chez Josie, which I absolutely adored! Knowing the popularity of the appetizing attiéké dish of Côte d’Ivoire, I pointed the restaurants out to other Africans that I met in Lille. We visited the beautiful cathedral, Notre-Dame d’Amiens-Our Lady of Amiens-and ate some delicious crêpes! We also traveled to the beaches of Normandy, the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint-Michelle!
While I was sad to leave Lille, I was also excited to come back to the States and attend the DNC in Philly, 2 weeks later! The DNC was indeed an experience like no other. I had the pleasure of meeting the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, Leah Daughtry, an amazing and charismatic speaker. She inspired me with her saying “In their minds, this is not a ceiling. It’s a starting point.” I felt empowered to pursue endless opportunities knowing that the sky is not my limit but rather my starting point. Daughtry also made me appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those who paved the way in order for me to be successful.
I had the chance to work with the State Department Foreign Press, which gave me access to the convention hall every nights. I had the opportunity to meet various foreign journalists whom I interviewed for my article assignments. Indeed, the work load was very demanding, but I had fun doing interviews, visiting the city of brotherly love, networking and meeting my favorite journalists, The Young Turks! I will never forget the moment when Hilary took the stage on the last day of the DNC. The crowd roared and cheered and I never felt more fortunate in my life; I was witnessing history in the making and breathing the same air as the first woman presidential nominee in the history of the United States!
My summer experiences make me so proud of being at Juniata and thankful for such wonderful opportunities. I am happy to announce that after the DNC, I will be attending the 2017 Presidential Inauguration and witnessing history in the making once again, regardless of whom she might be!!!