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Zhanran LiZhanran Li

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From Sea to Sea, We All Share Something

A year ago, a 17-year-old girl arrived at Portland International Airport (PDX) late at night. She was tired after 30 sleepless hours, but curious and insecure at the same time. She was eager to explore the unknown world that lay ahead of her, but first all she cared about was finding a soft bed for a good night's sleep.

This girl was me on Aug. 26, 2006.

My name, as it is written on my passport, is Zhanran Li. All of my friends call me Jazmyn. I was born in Weihai, a small town by the ocean in eastern China, and I grew up in Jinan. When I was little, I wondered what the world looked like on the other side of the sea. My mother told me that people who lived on the other side of the sea looked different from us. This made me even more curious.

As I got older, I learned more and more about the world outside my country. I learned about histories and cultures very different from my own. I also studied English. I wanted to do something besides preparing for college, so I decided to become an exchange student for my last year of high school. I never thought that this year would become a milestone in my life.

As an exchange student at La Center High School in Washington state, I felt that I couldn't have been placed in a better or more close-knit town. The town of La Center gave me memories, laughs, smiles and tears as well. It impacted my life dramatically by giving me an experience different from anything I have ever known.

Being a senior in an American high school is definitely something I could never have imagined back home in China. From spirit week to pep rallies and games, from homecoming to prom, from dance performances to state softball competitions, I filled my last year of high school with excitement, happiness and adventure.

However, I cannot forget all the culture shocks and homesick days that went along with this rosy picture.

On Sept. 1, 2006, I wrote in my journal that I missed everything back home, but that I was happy to be where I was.

I went to my first football game on Sept. 3. Kathi, a senior cheerleader who later became my best friend, took me to the game. That night, for the first time, I witnessed how crazy American drivers can be.

The winter was not the best period of the year. I was homesick for the first time since I'd left home. I was not as strong as I had thought. I guess there is a soft spot in every heart.

In March the rain finally stopped and the sunshine was back. I joined the softball team. Even though I had never played before, Oz, the softball coach, accepted me as a member of the team. I went to practice with the softball girls after school, I cheered with them at all the games, and I traveled with the team, which took fifth in the state.

On June 9, 2007, along with the other 88 students of the La Center class of 2007, I graduated. Although the diploma I received from LCHS was not real, the ceremony meant something special to me.

It represented my step into adulthood. Because of my experience abroad in the U.S., I am now better prepared for challenges and responsibilities that life will bring.

It was hard to say goodbye, especially to those to whom I was close and about whom I cared a great deal. I laughed when I saw a page of my diary saying that I wanted to go home as soon as possible. When the departure came closer, all I wanted was to stay — stay with all the wonderful memories and wonderful people.

On Aug. 18, 2007, I arrived once again at PDX late at night. I didn't feel insecure anymore because I had grown so much throughout the past year. I knew myself better.

My high school abroad experience gave me so much that I could never explain everything in words. Even facing the unknown, I am now willing to try, fail, and try again.

Now I am at Willamette, again starting something new. I enjoy my days exploring new things and making new friends. Being an international student doesn't mean being an outsider. It doesn't matter what nationality you are, what race or what religion. From sea to sea, we are all people; we all share something deep in our hearts.

I hope my four years at Willamette will be filled with fun and exploration. From what I've seen, Willamette offers all kinds of opportunities to learn more about the world. Take a chance and step out; there is always something different worth discovering.

Jazmyn Li is a freshman at Willamette this fall. This essay originally appeared in The Collegian, Willamette's student newspaper, on Sept. 19, 2007. Reprinted with permission.