[US to China ’15] Lauren McLean: “Saying Goodbye”

06-29-2015 posted by Acypl
Delegation at the aiport in Shangai
The US to China delegation says goodbye to their ACYF program officer Zhou Ji (first on the left) before taking off for the US. 

We have said good-bye to Zhou, who over the course of two weeks has become a friend I hope to see again. He showed us his country, joined in conversation with us, shared stories with us, and even experienced new places and foods in rural China with us. When I think of China, Zhou will always be there.

“What was your favorite part of the trip?” Many people have asked over the last few days.

There is no favorite part, only a kaleidoscope of memories that when combined are an experience and a lesson about a place I would have never otherwise known or been able to slightly understand.

It’s the thousands of pages of history I read before I got there, and then experienced on its streets – because it’s history that shapes our way of thinking, our growth, and our expectations of life.

At Qinghai Lake
Delegation visiting Qinghai Lake with their host Zhou Ji.

It’s learning words from a language I’ll never know, but wishing I could because of the realization that China is rapidly becoming a country whose standing in the world will not be unnoticed.

It’s the millions of people walking the streets and packing trains; the wild rivers and tall “snow mountain” from which water comes and then moves to far-off places.

It’s the conversation around a dinner table late into the night over MaoTai and good wine with Chinese art dealers—an Austro-Chinese who grew up in Hong Kong and has returned to his mother’s country, and a Brit who came and never left—about what this place really is, and what it will be.

It’s the afternoon with college students touring their campus and then talking about energy and environmental issues – in English – before they give me a Chinese name and try to teach me how to write in ancient calligraphy.

Delegates planting their friendship tree with the All Youth China Federation in Qinghai
Delegates planting their friendship tree with the All Youth China Federation in Qinghai Province 

Like the mountains, Boise, and France, this place – her story, her people, and their hope for the future — snuck into my soul.

To be clear, China’s record on human rights, the environment, religious freedom, and more, is abysmal, but it’s also very different than I expected and it’s not going anywhere.

My peers, Chinese young leaders, and students have the same expectations for the future that we do. It’s through their leadership that China will become a modern, open, and reformed country. I look forward to watching that happen from afar.

I’m thankful for having been selected by the American Council of Young Political Leaders to take part in this trip, and I’m thankful to Zhou and the All-China Youth Federation for helping us learn and experience China.

Lauren McLean is a member of the Boise City Council. Follow her on Twitter @laurenmclean and Instagram @laurenmcleanfromboise

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