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#1 Before starting my first week of DukeEngage Zhuhai, I began with the first step to every successful project: research. I read a handful of blogs written by previous cohorts in pre-pandemic years, about their flight to China, their first few days in Guangzhou, and how they realized authentic Chinese food is not even close to Panda Express. As it is with every travel diary, I could almost feel the experience myself—the silent excitement in the air at the airport, the change of your heartbeat as the plane takes off, and the hot breeze of summer welcoming you after landing. And yet, while reading through clicks after clicks of blogs, I could not help but think about how different my experience would be to theirs.

#2 The night of my first teaching session, I was too preoccupied with my nervousness to think about how different the virtual environment will be to pre-COVID DukeEngage. I hopped on my zoom about ten minutes before the actual class started and waited for another five minutes for all the students to join. During the fifteen minutes, I was chanting a mantra in my head, please no zoom freeze, but when I saw the first student pop up on my screen, I realized I should have instead been praying that I won’t freeze myself.

#3 All the classes had an energetic, curious, youthful vibe that reminded me of when I was in middle school. From the shy students who still gave their best answers when called, the spirited students who waved and said Hi in their loudest voices, and the ENFJ students who helped their friends turn their cameras on and yelled 是你啊! when their friends did not quite hear us asking them to introduce themselves, the classroom dynamic was all too familiar. I was one of them some six or seven years back. Seeing the excitement in the students’ eyes when they first joined class, watching them get competitive as they yelled out the answers, and smiling back to their See you next week! and Byebye’s were enough to erase all previous worries.

#4 This past week was a crash course on hope, determination, and gratitude: hope that gives confidence and conviction; determination to make the best out of uncertain circumstances; and gratitude to the program directors, Hsiao-mei and Sara, the Zhuhai and Nanping school faculty, students, and my cohort members, who put so much time and effort to make DukeEngage Zhuhai 2021 happen.

#5 Sure, the experience will be different this year, but it won’t be any less fun, meaningful, or memorable.