Now boarding PEK --> DTW. So it was the big 1-0 week, and I wasn't ready to leave China, or all the incredible people I’d met and worked with.
In what ended up being a culmination of all the work I’ve done this summer, an organizer at Zhicheng Public Interest Law Firm (where Dorronda works) invited me to give a presentation about OPO and their mission. Although nerve-wracking, I felt really proud to give a presentation about my NGO, and completely forgot to be humble as I talked about Peony, Cai Cong, Xie Yan, and all the other amazing people at OPO.
But, beyond pride, the presentation gave me an opportunity to be publicly introspective. As I explained OPO’s work and mission, I reflected on all my experiences this summer, and I realized how much I’d learned in a fairly short amount of time. And it did feel short! I clearly remember the first day I rolled my uncooperative suitcases through the residential area near my hotel and tried to take in everything around me – seeing only unfamiliar faces and Mandarin signage and wondering how I was going to survive.
And I remember times when I stumbled – literally, as in the time when I fell and caught my hand in the subway door; but also figuratively, when I struggled to communicate and accidentally told a co-worker I liked her “ripples” instead of her dress.
While I continued to misspeak and mistranslate throughout my internship, I did learn a WHOLE LOT. I look back in the journal I bought for work and then quickly converted to learning Mandarin, and see “ni3ha3o” and “xie4xie4” at the very top. At the bottom I see full sentences (usually related to ordering food) and legal jargon. It’s not language proficiency by any means, but it’s progress – and I am determined to keep learning when I return to the States.
I think the same can be said for my work at OPO. The first week, I perused all of our magazines, radio shows, and website pages to learn as much as I could about the DPO. During my last week, I condensed all that information into a presentation for Zhicheng, and I included all the personal research projects I’d been asked to complete. It all seemed so much bigger on the screen during the presentation. Yes, it was enlarged by the projector; but I couldn’t believe how big my experience was this summer. I worked with an amazing NGO that’s inspiring real and practical change in mainland China. I read hundreds of articles about disability laws in China and attended a UN conference for disability rights! I completed focused projects on women with disabilities and offered a comparative legal perspective to my working group. I established relationships with several local NGOs and law firms. I learned from people who devote 100% of their day to disability advocacy and now know I want to do the same in my professional career.
Aside: If you ended up at my blog because you are interested in Professor Warren’s Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding program, OPO’s work, or disability rights in general, please feel free to reach out! 可以!
As I look out the window of the airplane during takeoff, the city of Beijing unfolds – a metropolitan lotus flower – but quickly zooms out, the details fading with altitude. Eventually, the great city disappears, winking in-between lazy puffs of white clouds. Nostalgia sets in as we pass over the northern grasslands. I imagine the plane chasing after the end of the mighty Great Wall, which stretches across the landscape below.
It is with equal parts sadness and excitement that I close my window shade and open a map of the plane’s route to Detroit. I will leave with OPO’s motto prominently on my mind: “Change – It’s not just up to me!” 加油! It is a big change to return home from China, but it is a change that will bring me closer to my goal and the kind of work OPO practices. I welcome the change, and I am grateful to have the experiences from China and OPO to carry off the plane and back to school!
To OPO, Peony, and my directors, 谢谢! Thank you! I valued every moment, every opportunity, and every noodle (hot pot was great!). 再见. Let’s meet again, someday.