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Direct from China

August, 2009


I wasn’t sure what I would say when I saw Yuan for the first time. Maybe, “Welcome to the USA.” No, maybe “Welcome to America.” Or maybe just “Welcome” would be sufficient—said with a genuine, warm smile, of course. At least, that’s what I thought I would appreciate if I had just packed up my life into three huge suitcases and left for China without knowing exactly who I would be staying with, where I would end up living, or if I was somehow being taken advantage of. Or even “set up?” (When you take such a big step into the unknown, your mind plays all kinds of games with you.) To my surprise there were lots of other Anglos in the Waiting Area of MSP, where all the international flights empty out, each ready with their warm smiles and rehearsed lines to say when “their” student appeared. Then, as if on cue, as each “Chinese-looking-student” appeared from out of the Customs area, we each held up our hand-made cards with the name of our student printed in large black letters. And each of the students would carefully scan each card—without appearing to scan each card, of course, since they still had that “teen-age edge” to them. As each student spotted “their” name and Host Family they suddenly broke into a huge smile, and you could watch a sense of relief and calm unfold across their face. I caught Yuan’s eye as he appeared from out of Customs. He had emailed a picture of himself, as I had to him, so I had a sense of what he looked like. Our eyes met and locked. Somehow… we just knew. I held up my card anyway and he came straight-away toward me, with—you guessed it—a huge smile. We shook hands and after saying “hello” I uttered my line, “Welcome to America.” It’s amazing, really, that two strangers who live 7,000 miles from each other, can, upon meeting each other, break out in genuine warm smiles and greet each other. Which says that… when you get right down to it, we’re all pretty much the same, aren’t we?

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