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I was not prepared for this.

I saw it coming from miles away. I felt it creeping closer and closer. I braced myself in anticipation. I fortified my walls.

But, it turns out, nothing could truly prepare me for saying goodbye to Zhuhai.

There’s a million things I want to say caught up in a whirlwind of emotions, but I can barely find the words to express a tiny fraction of them.

Our last week in Zhuhai was spent preparing for the final performance that the students in our extracurricular classes would be a part of. It felt strange going to school and not teaching English, but we were kept busy all day planning for the show and working with the students in our extracurricular classes. I was continuously worried and stressed about my acting class because performing Harry Potter was ambitious, and there were many details that still had to come together before Friday. The students knew their lines pretty well, but we still had to figure out staging, costumes, lighting, music, and mics while also getting them to act more rather than just reciting words.

It was raining for most of the week so that meant that there were many times when we could not practice with everything on stage because the stage was outside with no roof. We were all concerned that it would rain on the day of the performance because if we had to move the performance inside, there was little space for people to come and watch. Fortunately, when Friday evening came around, there was no rain, so our students performed outside on the large stage.

The acting students’ Harry Potter play went extremely well despite my excessive worrying about every little detail. I was very proud of all of them, and they all seemed pleased with the result as well. As I said goodbye to my students, I realized that I would miss them a lot. I hadn’t thought about it before because I was too busy worrying about the performance, but saying goodbye was hard; that was just the first of many goodbyes. I hugged and took pictures with so many students that night — both those in my acting class and those in my English classes that had come to see the performance. I was surprised by how many of the students came up to me to ask for pictures. Coming in to the program, I honestly never loved working with kids, yet I still formed meaningful bonds with the students here. I was extremely proud of my acting students, and I knew that I would miss working with them. It was difficult to comprehend that the evening was the last time that I would ever see many of those students.

After the final performance

Saturday was my last full day with my host family. My host mother and Wendy took me shopping near Gongbei in the morning/early afternoon, and then we walked around the parts of Zhuhai near the school after dinner. Some of the streets were ones that I had never walked through before, but others were familiar. As we passed the familiar places, I thought about how much I would miss those areas of Zhuhai and the sense of community found there. I’ll miss the friendly workers at Royal Tea or the noodle shop who started recognizing me and knowing what I wanted before I ordered. I’ll miss going to any of the small local restaurants with students during lunch time. I’ll miss going to the Miniso and Come Buy near our first hotel in Zhuhai with the other people on my DukeEngage team. I’ll miss the walk from my host family’s home to school even though it was long in the hot, humid weather. Sometime during the business and chaos of my time in China, Zhuhai had started to feel like a second home. But, I now had to say goodbye to those familiar places of my second home.

The last meal with our host families

The toughest goodbye came on Sunday, when we left Zhuhai to go to the Guangzhou Airport and fly home. Our host families came to the middle school to see us off along with several students and teachers. The entire time we were there, my host sister, Wendy, kept telling me, “Don’t cry, Megan. You’re going home. Be happy, smile!” And for a while, I was able to hold off my tears. But, as I walked to the bus and hugged Wendy, I saw my host mother start crying, and I couldn’t stop myself from crying anymore. I will miss my host family very much because they were always so friendly and generous to me during my stay in China. They welcomed me quickly and treated me as if I really was a member of their family. Wendy was always energetic and excited to see me, and she brightened my days. She is younger than me but it felt as if she was an older sister many times because she was always looking out for me and translating for me. I couldn’t communicate directly with my host parents very well because they did not know much English and I didn’t know Chinese, but I still enjoyed interacting with them, and they never ceased to show me kindness. I could never thank them enough for everything they have done for me on this trip from giving me food every day to taking me around Zhuhai.

The last people I said goodbye to were Hsiao-Mei, David, and the rest of my DukeEngage team. I felt sad to leave them as well, but I know I can see them again at Duke.

Thank you Hsiao-Mei and David for organizing our activities, helping us out, and providing endless wisdom. Thank you Daniel, Jonah, Aditya, Phyllis, Caroline, Irene, Nadia, Pam, Athina, and Sara for your unwavering support and being the best team I could have ever hoped for. I will miss our group meals, group reflections, time traveling together, KTV, and all of our antics as we worked together each day. For those of you going abroad next semester I hope you have a good time, and for everyone else, I hope to see you around a lot at Duke.

Although I’m sad that my DukeEngage trip is over, I’m extremely grateful for having the opportunity to experience everything that I did during my time in China. I was challenged a lot, and forced to step out of my comfort zone numerous times. From speaking Chinese to teaching acting, every event was a new adventure. I’ve learned so much about Chinese culture and myself by interacting with all of the community members and my team. Thank you again to everyone who made this experience possible: the people at DukeEngage, Hsiao-Mei and David, the teachers at Zhuhai No. 9 Middle school, the host families, the students, and everyone else in the Zhuhai community. I am extremely grateful to all of you. Zài jiàn Zhuhai, farewell. I might not see many of the people I’ve met again, but I can hope that we can remain friends across the world.