(This is posted a day late, but everything still holds true. Except for the delay part—it actually turned into 5 hours.)

I think I’ve officially adopted the habit of writing blog posts from airports… anyway, eleven days have flown by far too quickly and now I’m waiting for my two-and-a-half hour delayed flight in Beijing Capital Airport, anxious to get to my next destination (Tokyo!). Obviously I’m not thrilled with the delay, but it gives me a chance to reflect on what was undoubtedly the best experience of my life: HSYLC.

Though I was in China for 11 days, I only spent a few of those exploring the various tourist points of the city of Beijing itself; most of the time I was living on the campus of Rendafuzhong (RDFZ), or the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, rushing around leading activities and teaching a seminar of my design to high school students from all over China with the Harvard Summit for Young Leaders in China (HSYLC). My days were absolutely packed, but it was more than worth it to see the difference this program made in the lives of the students—and of course, in my own life as well.

Although I was their teacher, I learned so much about the world from all of my incredible students. I learned about the various Chinese provinces they’re from, and how different they are from big cities like Beijing. I learned how different our languages are, and even picked up a few words and phrases in Mandarin. I learned that psychology (I taught a seminar called the Seven Sins of Memory) is a stigmatized subject in China, and these kids who are passionate about it want to change that. Above all, though, I learned that though we come from extremely different places, we are alike in more ways than we know.

Teaching at HSYLC has also given me more confidence in myself and my ability to speak comfortably and lead a crowd. I remember feeling anxious on the first day of seminars, wondering how engaged my students would be and how to keep them on the right track. Eventually, though, I fell into a natural pattern; it was easy to tell when to make them laugh, when to keep things serious, when to encourage questions and when to move quickly or slowly. Some students were naturally more responsive than others, but by going around and listening to them share experiences, I made sure I heard each and every voice.

Us Seminar Leaders had plenty of fun, too—we dressed up and walked in the HSYLC fashion show, danced in the talent show, went out to karaoke bars and clubs at night, and spent our minimal free time lounging around in our dorm hallway together. Before and after the conference, we got to explore Beijing—we took selfies at the Summer Palace, tobogganed down the Great Wall, got lost in the Forbidden City, ate ice cream bars beside the Temple of Heaven, and felt like Olympians at the Bird’s Nest Stadium. All of this sparked a newfound love of China, its people, and its culture, as well as a strong desire to learn and experience more.

So needless to say, I’m sad to leave—I hate goodbyes, after all. HSYLC was incredible beyond words, and China has certainly not seen the last of me. For now, though, it’s off to spend a few days in Japan before heading home, full of lifelong memories of the best people, places, and adventures that I could possibly imagine.

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