Six summers ago, I had the privilege of hosting two students from mainland China at my home for ten days. Middle-schoolers, they were about to enter ninth grade that fall in their home city of Chongqing, a megalopolis of 30 million people.
On the day we met, they proudly introduced themselves to me by their Anglicized names, given to them by their first English language teacher from grade school. Shy at first, they soon felt comfortable in my presence. The language barrier proved easy to scale, as they each had a cell phone with the Google-translate app.
I shared bits of my life with them—hiking on Paine Mountain, kayaking on Blueberry Lake, swimming at the Northfield Pool. We visited an organic farm in Waitsfield, the Montpelier Farmer’s Market, and my church. One afternoon, I taught them to knit. On the Fourth of July, I took them to see a pyrotechnics display at a friend’s farm. Invented in China during the seventh century, fireworks accompany all important Chinese celebrations, so it made me happy to introduce them to this most American of traditions.
Lying on our backs in the field, we looked up at the stars, as red, orange, pink, green, purple, blue, and silver-white rockets whistled and exploded over our heads. The bursts of light seemed close enough to touch, and the girls stretched their arms upward with outstretched hand as if to catch the sparks showering down from the heavens.
The days flew, and in much too short a time we were saying our good-byes. Standing by their luggage next to the bus that would take them to the airport, we held each other tight, posed for photos, and cried. We promised to keep in touch.
In the years since, through email correspondence, we have shared bits our lives with each other. In the photos they attach I have watched them grow from giggling middle-schoolers to sophisticated college juniors. One is studying film production at NYU and came to visit me in March during a snowstorm. The other is studying finance at a prestigious university in Chengdu, and in 17 days I will be traveling to China to visit her.
Six years ago I never would have dreamed of traveling more than 7,000 miles to a country of more than a billion people whose language I do not speak. But if two 14-year-old girls were brave enough to do it, then by golly so am I.