Pre-Departure Orientation in Newark: The Adventure Begins!
At 8:00 am on the long-anticipated morning of June 23rd, 2019, we program participants from across the country met each other for the first time… minus AJ whose several unfortunate flight delays led him to be introduced to us that evening, instead. Chatting over a generous Hilton breakfast, we slowly grew more comfortable with each other, bonding over our mutual anxiety for the upcoming placement test and excitement for the unknown experiences that lay ahead. Next on the agenda, we sat down in our assigned seats to hear several informative presentations from Dr. Chen, Program Director, Mr. Chris Schwab, Program Officer of NSLIY at ECA of the State Department, Dr. Cai, Program Coordinator, Ms. Barylski (or Yifen by her Chinese name), Program Head Chaperon, and an alum named Terrence. Dr. Chen, Dr. Cai, and Yifen helped us understand the logistics and expectations of the six weeks adventure on which we are to embark. Mr. Schwab video called in to talk to us about the NSLI-Y mission, how we fit into this fabric of global citizenship, and the many study and career opportunities available where we can apply and expand on the skills we learn. Terrence gave us a glimpse into the perspective of a student traveler like ourselves with helpful tips about communicating with our future host families and navigating the Xiamen University campus. Fortunately, all of our burning questions about the initiative were carefully answered either by the speakers or the program information packet provided to each of us. Whenever Dr. Chen told us a particularly interesting story referencing his past experiences as the NSLIY program director, we would exchange shocked or giggly looks across the tables to our newfound friends, further cementing the bonds we had already begun forming.
By lunch time, we had relaxed a bit more and were able to chat together with a growing sense of ease. The same is true after taking the extensive reading and writing placement test. Waiting in the hallway, we talked to each other frantically about the many worries we shared regarding our scores, knowing that, regardless of which class level into which we are placed, every one of us has plenty of room to grow. It was certainly the most difficult Mandarin test I have ever taken, and from those moments of confiding in the other program goers afterwards, I’m most certainly not the only one who felt that way. With this said, if today’s outline of the expansive array of activities on our program agenda taught me anything, it’s that this is barely the beginning of the countless new, challenging, and invigorating experiences to come.
In the afternoon, we listened to the more insightful lectures by Dr. Chen. We also played our second icebreaker activity of the day led by Dr. Cai and Yifen. I loved all these icebreaker activities because they gave us the chance to loosen up and learn more about each other’s unique ways of expressing ourselves based on the ways we mimed out each action to our group members. It was indeed a thoughtful and well-organized PDO!
After a lively dinner together in the evening, the program participants wrapped up the day by congregating in one room to talk, text, and watch videos together. A popular recurring topic of conversation was, of course, all the impressive stories Dr. Chen had told us. He has an excellent way of telling these stories that always holds our attention and delights our interest. By this point, everyone was laughing with each other like old friends… except poor AJ who had still not arrived. By then, AJ was a celebrity among the already present program participants eager to meet this last mysterious student. Thankfully, he arrived safely and in time to meet us all in room 202 where we hid with the lights off to surprise him. As soon as he walked in, we welcomed him with an eruption of applause and questions. Looking around room 202 while we chatted, laughed hysterically, and shared our hopes and wonders about our upcoming adventure, I felt an unmistakable bond to these twenty-seven other high schoolers who had been complete strangers to me just that morning. The best part about this bond is knowing that it will only grow stronger from here.
In the meantime, we’re off to Shanghai!