Why did you choose this program?
I chose LoPair after doing A LOT of research. My gap year was always something I took very seriously so it was important to me to choose the right program.
I wanted a program that would throw me into a completely different culture but more importantly, I wanted a program that I knew would be safe and give me my money's worth. With the arrival orientation, weekly Chinese lessons, monthly culture lessons, and overall great staff, my expectations with LoPair were exceeded.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
I'd say "do it". When you're abroad, you learn so much about other beautiful, different cultures. However, I think the true value is learning more about yourself, and what you're capable of.
How do you react to a situation of surreal culture shock? How easily do you adapt to a completely dissimilar way of life?
In the midst of it all, you grasp perspective on a whole new level. By looking through their cultural lens, you are able to learn from them, take the best of their ways and add it to yourself.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
When you're abroad be conscious of what you do and how you present yourself. You represent your country even when you think you don't. You have the chance to break stereotypes and be the best person you can be.
Be open-minded to the Chinese culture and take on tough situations with optimism. You'll notice they don't wait in a line. You'll hear they eat with their mouth open. But you'll also see their warm smiles when you attempt Chinese conversation and you'll have the biggest, yummiest food babies after every meal in a Chinese household.
Don't question the way they are - accept it and embrace the beauty in it. Remind yourself how privileged you are to be there. It will all be over in a flash, and you'll just have the memories and lessons learned. So make the most of it!
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
Thinking of my time in China, I also come back to Chinese New Year 2014. Yes, making dumplings from scratch with my host grandmother was fun and so was lighting fireworks. However, it was the unexpected funeral of my host mother's grandmother we attended that really left an impact on me.
A funeral is not something everyone experiences when they're abroad, which don't get me wrong is a good thing, but it gave me insight into Chinese culture in a way I never thought I would experience.
In a setting so foreign, I grasped that the ways we as human beings mark life’s milestones are limitless, but the emotions that accompany these milestones are shared by us all. They are universal. The scent of the incense that burned those three days returns whenever I face the unknown - a reminder that embracing it can bring new perspective
What was your greatest fear before you arrived in China and how did it turn out?
As the day for leaving to China came closer, I was extremely excited and nervous. Yet, a couple "what ifs" ran through my head. The one that came up the most was "what if I don't have a good connection with my host family and things don't work out?".
Welp, after day one in China, that worry was gone. My host family and I clicked. Two years later and we are still in contact. We send each other birthday packages and Skype every now and then. They even came to visit me last summer which was their first time in America! However, not everyone will click with the first family they match with.
As I said before, open-mindedness and optimism are key. If you obtain those, you're golden. Keep in mind, there is always an option to switch families so it really isn't the end of the world. Just another bump in the road you can learn from. But nine times out of ten, it won't happen.