Since receiving my NSLI-Y notification in April… some things have happened.
And by “some things” I mean…
- Visiting Shanghai (and China) for the first time since I left in 2017 to tour NYU Shanghai
- Committing to Duke Kunshan University’s Class of 2024 (which you all already know about, of course)
- Getting to know my NSLI-Y Beijing 2019-2020 AY Cohort (a.k.a. some of the best, most entertaining humans I’ve ever met)
- Attending my third year at the HOBY Leadership seminar (which never fails to change my life)
- Graduating high school
- Struggles in the visa process
- Pre-Program (Everything) Preparation
and so, so, so much more. I could fill an entire blog with the crazy shenanigans I’ve been a part of since my life changed on that magical day in early April. But here’s the short version.
Visiting NYU Shanghai
This honestly deserves its own blog post (which I might eventually write), because so much happened on this whirlwind of a trip.
For those of you who don’t know, each year, NYU Shanghai has a lottery for their International Admitted Students Weekend. If you are chosen from this lottery, NYU Shanghai will pay everything (except for the visa charges, if you don’t already have one) for you to visit their Shanghai Campus, tour around, meet amazing people, and altogether have a blast. After being accepted to NYU Shanghai, I submitted my name into the lottery, and ended up being chosen to go to the Admitted Students Weekend!
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. “But Bethany, aren’t you attending DKU? Why were you attending NYU Shanghai’s admitted students weekend if you were just going to end up picking their rival school in the end?”
The answer is twofold. First (and most importantly), I hadn’t 100% chosen where I was going to school when I went on the NYU Shanghai trip. I knew that I wanted to attend school in China, and I was very interested in seeing all that the international college experience had to offer. I didn’t go into the NYU Shanghai Admitted Students Weekend (ASW) thinking of it as a free trip to China- on the contrary, I was hyperaware of the importance of this trip in my college decision process, and spent the entire trip thinking of how college in China (whether through NYUSH or DKU) would affect my academic pursuits and overall future. Secondly, I knew that wherever I chose to go to college, making friends (who would also be experiencing college life in China) wouldn’t hurt me. And I was right!!! The friends I met while on the NYU Shanghai ASW trip continue to make me excited to go to college abroad, and make me particularly eager to find ways to foster a friendship, rather than a rivalry, between the two schools.
The biggest highlight of my NYU Shanghai trip, though, was getting to see my Chinese host family for the first time since 2017 (well… except for my host sister. But that was a special case, and it was in early 2018). Through a series of fortuitous events while in Shanghai, I had the opportunity to have dinner in Yu Garden with my host family. After being gone for nearly 2 years, seeing my host family again was like returning home. In the time since I returned home from Shanghai, my life experiences and Chinese abilities have expanded beyond anything I could’ve ever dreamed possible. During my hour with my host family, we talked in Mandarin about everything from major life changes to everyday school life and the weather. Seeing how my Chinese level has grown since the last time I saw my host family made me both ecstatic and profoundly grateful: without the kindness of this family (and my remarkable host mom, in particular), I know for a certainty that my life would not be on the trajectory that it is today.
Of all the experiences that I had in Shanghai, my time with my host family reinvigorated, refreshed, and reminded me about why I’m passionate about studying Chinese. After months of struggling through senioritis, deadlines, and difficult homework, my NYU Shanghai ASW experience was exactly what I needed to help push me to the end of the school year.
Committing to DKU’s Class of 2024
*Tonal Shift Alert!!*
I’m going to be brief about this because I already talked about it, but I’m officially committed to Duke Kunshan University’s Class of 2024. I can’t wait to spend my college experience between Kunshan, China (at DKU) and Durham, North Carolina (at Duke), and am eager to see how DKU’s international focus (and Duke-level academics) transform my learning experience.
After considering all of my options (NYU Shanghai, BYU, Grinnell, and others), DKU truly felt like the best fit. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s like when you meet a person for the first time, and you can just tell that you’re going to be friends. And then you get to know each other better, and every interaction that you have just reaffirms your initial reaction. That’s how it felt (and still feels) when I think about DKU. I know there will be difficulties, but I’m excited to see all of the remarkable places that DKU will take me over the next 5 (minus 1) years.
Getting to Know the Beijing Family!
One thing that absolutely terrified me about my decision to go on my gap year with NSLI-Y was the possibility for pettiness, drama, and altogether “fakery” among my Beijing AY cohort. As somebody (can’t remember who) in our Beijing AY group chat said, “There’s just some stuff socially that you can get away with on a summer program that you can’t on a year program.” And it’s so true! Speaking from personal experience, it’s totally okay (and normal… and survivable) to experience cliquey-ness for 6 or 7 weeks on a program where you have 20+ kids all spending time with each other. But when it’s 9 months… and you’re living in dorms… and you’re literally spending more than 10 hours a day together… and there’s only 15(ish) of you… cliquey-ness needs to be stopped in its tracks. Hard.
But as I’ve gotten to know the friends that will become my family over the course of my 9 months abroad, I only feel eagerness and excitement. These people are truly some of the most generous, funny, friendly, outgoing, kind, and talented people I’ve ever met! I truly feel that the people who are going on this year program are the people who are meant to be there, and that this group will make the NSLI-Y AY experience what it is. Here’s to the next year we’ll be spending together!
Going to keep it short because this technically isn’t a “Bethany Goes Abroad” topic and more of a “Bethany’s General Lifey-ness” topic, but going back for my 3rd year at HOBY was AMAZING!!!!! If you don’t know what HOBY is, go look it up! It’ll change your life, and you should totally get involved if you have the chance.
I get something new out of HOBY every single time I go. I feel like the most powerful lessons I learned this year were:
- “Someone is in need of a thing only you can provide.” This quote stood out to me so much at HOBY. Sometimes we can get caught up in ourselves, and just want to stick to all the things we ordinarily do, rather than reaching out and looking for ways to experience life! But it’s absolutely vital that we do reach out, because each of us is a unique individual who touches the lives of everybody around us. When we go out into the world, especially with the purpose of serving others, we allow ourselves to be guided to the people who are “in need of a thing only [we] can provide.”
- We’re never as excluded as we think we are. This has been a big thing for me. For a long time now, and particularly over the last three years, I’ve struggled with feelings of abandonment and loneliness, from my peers. One important thing I was reminded of at HOBY is, even if many of the feelings of abandonment and loneliness we feel seem entirely justified, we are truly never as excluded as we think we are. To all those who might be struggling with similar issues, please don’t give up hope! I promise, there will come a day when the loneliness you’re feeling will fade. It may never go away completely- deep emotional trauma sometimes takes an eternity to heal- but you are welcome and loved. Don’t let anything take that feeling away from you.
Graduating High School
To some, it’s the ending to “the best 4 years” of their life. (Which, to be honest, is a load of crap. If you peak in high school… that’s baaaaaaad. DON’T LET IT BE THE BEST 4 YEARS OF YOUR LIFE, what kind of a life would that be? 🙂 ) To others, it’s the conclusion to 4 years of work, determination, stress, sweat, and tears. I felt a lot of that at graduation- my hard work had paid dividends, I was going to a college that fills me with a sense of wonder, excitement, and anticipation after the “gap year to end all gap years”, preparing to sally forth into the rest of my (undoubtedly crazy) life.
But even more than that, my high school graduation felt like the opening of a doorway into a magical world of infinite possibility.
I have my whole life ahead of me!!!!!!! It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s terrifying, and it’s true. Rather than reflecting on the past four years, my mind turned entirely to the future. High school was hard, and I knew that the future would be even harder. But, as is the case with most things, the harder the fight, the sweeter the victory.
The good things are still coming- and I’m finally on my way to meet them.
The Visa Process and NSLI-Y Pre-Program (Everything) Course
Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Utah, Bethany Thackeray decided to procrastinate on a set of important forms for her Chinese student visa. At first, Bethany thought she had everything under control. But then, NSLI-Y sent a new visa form, one that had to be signed, notarized, and sealed with a magical thing called an “apostille stamp”. And unfortunately for the (fair) Bethany, the apostille stamp-getting process would end up taking much longer than she’d initially thought. So long, in fact, that she had to have her mother mail the forms to the NSLI-Y American Councils office while she drove across the state to go to Youth Conference in Flaming Gorge. And, in her foolishness, Bethany didn’t choose a trackable method of transport for her time-consuming and irritating apostille form. No, she decided to send it like you’d send a letter, using regular postage (as in a stamp).
And now, Bethany’s mythical apostille form is nowhere to be found.
In all seriousness, my apostille form wasn’t in Washington D.C. as of (checks calendar) Thursday, June 13, 2019. Which is bad when it comes to the NSLI-Y Chinese visa process, because the student visa process takes an eternity and a half to get done. Hooooopefully it’ll turn up in the NSLI-Y Placement Office sometime in the next day or so (it was mailed out on Tuesday, June 4, for context). BASICALLY I’M FREAKING OUT BUT IT’S FINE. So if I never make it to Beijing after all… well… now we know why.
Other than my fiasco of an apostille stamp mailing experience, NSLI-Y Prep has been coming along nicely. I’m using the last of my school Skritter subscription to study HSK 6 words over the summer, in the hope of improving my Chinese writing skills as much as possible before heading to China. I’m reading the handbook, completing the FlipGrid videos and Eliademy assignments necessary to ensure my thorough preparation for my time in Beijing. All in all, it’s been good! As long as my visa situation gets sorted out, everything is looking A-OK for my Beijing experience.
That’s basically it. I know the NSLI-Y Kaohsiung 2019 Summer Cohort has their PDO this week, preparing to embark on the same crazy 7-week adventure that transformed my life last summer. To them, I say 加油！你们一定会有很多忘不了的经验。
See you guys later (hopefully with good news about the visa process)!