Travel

Lunch in Beijing

“If you ever come to Beijing, you should call me.”

At the start of June, we were sitting in my classroom, the day after final exams ended. My student, C—, had stopped by one last time to drop off a gift: a beautiful little black wallet, adorned with azure flowers and a velvet tassel.

I’d been dreading this day for weeks—excited, of course, to be done with the school year, but saddened at the prospect of losing touch with some of the coolest young people I’d ever met. I held the little wallet in my hands, fiddling with its tassel and smiling brightly to keep my emotions at bay as I received her heartwarming invitation.

“S— will be there too,” she carried on. “And T—. Well, T— is not from China, originally, but he will be there.”

As she spoke, my thoughts wandered from our conversation. I’d known this about T—. He was originally from Cambodia, I believe. He, like many of my students, traveled here to Bradenton, Fl to study and to train as elite athletes. When he graduates, he will go live in China. It never ceases to amaze me how well-traveled the majority of my students are, how they’ve inspired me to be the same.

Me with two dear students on graduation night.

I have students from everywhere. The international boarding school I teach at hosts children and teens from over ninety countries. China. Taiwan. Japan. Spain. Italy. Germany. Denmark. Belgium. Mexico. Colombia. Nigeria…The list goes on. I knew when I took this job that I would fall in love with these countries through the students who represented them. That I would long to visit them.

I looked up because C— had stopped talking. She stared at me now, smiling with expectant eyes, awaiting my acceptance of her invitation.

I felt my eyes zero out the way they do when I’m contemplating something improbable—something I want very badly but cannot picture myself ever achieving. The gears shifted in the back of my mind. How would I get to Beijing?

I zeroed back in and nodded with enthusiasm. “Of course!” I exclaimed, as if there were no question about it at all.

Not only do my students come to our school from all over the world, but they also travel frequently. On weekends. On breaks. I don’t think all of them appreciate this privilege, but many of them do.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with one of them not to long ago. I asked her about her travels and what they meant to her.

This student is from the United Kingdom, but she was adopted from Indonesia and spent eight years of her childhood in China. Our school in Bradenton, Florida is the third boarding school that she’s attended. Since her freshman year in high school, she has traveled with different youth groups, providing services to underserved communities in different parts of the world.

She told me that travel has made her bolder. She’s more inclined to take risks, try new things, and push herself outside of her comfort zone. She also feels that she knows more about the world than most people her age and that she’s more compassionate as a result of it.

In short, my student feels that her travels have made her “a better person.”

This is the same result that I hope for when I travel.

Mary Suzanne Schriber writes about the history of women and travel, how we started out as “accidental tourists” and evolved into “self-motivated travelers.” The one tours the world at the mercy of men, while the other travels for her own interests. For the self-motivated female traveler, travel is a method of self-improvement, a chance to “better [herself] culturally and intellectually.”

I am a nascent “self-motivated traveler” with all the desires of one but without the means. In being traveled to by so many students from so many different places, I have learned a lot about the world; but in order to complete my education, I feel I must travel out into it.

It seems improbable, but not impossible.

In the “Introduction: Travel Writing Today,” Holland and Huggan write that “there is a greater degree of mobility in the world than ever before—a greater movement of ideas, goods, peoples.” I have already seen the evidence of this begin to play out in my own life. Two weeks ago, I visited my brother in Denver, Colorado (video). I remember a time when even a trip like this seemed impossible, when purchasing airline tickets was an unfathomable luxury. I’ve reached a point in life when I can go almost anywhere in the United States almost whenever I want. Who’s to say that one day, I won’t be able to say the same about the world?

That “improbable” trip to Colorado.

Holland and Huggan go on to say that “an uncritical view of travel writing…needs to be adjusted to the modern realities of class, race, and gender privilege.” I came into this world poor, black, and female, and now I feel called to take every advantage of travel and to contribute to a different narrative about black women and, specifically, black women who travel and write. I feel called to join my voice with Chimamanda Adichie’s in fighting the single story.

Single stories make it possible to see people one way and one way only, but by traveling opens up minds. My students know this because they have traveled here and met me.

For now, they come to me and I teach. Soon, I will go to them and learn. I’m looking forward to the day when I dial up an old student and say: “Hey, I’m in Beijing. Let’s have lunch.”

9 Comments

  • Sarah Begovac

    Ty,

    Wow, you have such thoughtful students! I loved reading your post about your students, your reflection on traveling, and your connections to the course readings. Your narrative is engaging, reflective, and well-written -I especially love your attention to detail in your interactions with your students and with your own inner thoughts. Well, done!

    As an outside reader, and as someone who is new to your blog, I wanted to know what class you were teaching at this time. Perhaps this small detail is addressed in other posts, but I think it mentioning it here briefly could help situate your reader! Also, for some reason, I thought student C- was initially a reference to the grade the student received in the class (a C-) rather than a way of protecting their name. Maybe this is just something I interpreted incorrectly!

    Your statement “I knew when I took this job that I would fall in love with these countries through the students who represented them” made me want to know more about your specific job. Is there a large international student population at your school? Is that what drew you to this specific job?

    I love that you incorporated Schriber’s discussion on women and travel, and how women became seen as ‘self-motivated travelers.’ As a reader, I wanted to know more about this idea of a ‘self-motivated traveler.’ Why do you identify as one? Why will traveling make you feel like your education is complete?

    I also love that you conclude your piece with stating that you feel driven to provide a different narrative about black women, specifically, black women who travel. I think this connects nicely to the assigned topic of ‘multiple stories’ and how we need multiple stories in order to avoid the dangers of a single story. Perhaps you could add a few sentences here detailing what Adichie means by a ‘single story’ and why you feel driven to create a new narrative in the genre of travel writing.

    Your pictures work really well to make your reader feel connected to your narrative, I especially love the one of you with your students! I can tell that you really love your job and working with students! I also appreciated that you circled back to your story about potentially visiting Beijing at the end. Great work, Ty! I look forward to reading future posts!

    Sarah Begovac

  • Rosanne Orta

    Lunch in Beijing 6/9
    Ty,
    When I finished reading your entry, I sighed in a way that released emotion that I felt as I read. The connectivity and respect you have for your students is alive in this entry. It is simply beautiful
    The title was unexpected once I read the entry. I expected to read about your lunch in Beijing with a student, but now understand that it’s a goal you have. I understand travel goals. My son is 19 this year, and for the last ten years I’ve had my eye on all of the teacher travel opportunities that exist, but never felt quite right about leaving him for more than a few days. This summer I’m gone for almost a month straight. I am both excited and terrified in all sorts of ways.
    Your connection to other texts is absolutely beautiful, and the points you make through both the stories of your students, and their photos is a perfect presentation that marries all you are writing.
    I don’t have anything to add to this entry, but I think that this might be where I feel you have been the most vulnerable. Although the other two entries have vulnerability, this one is somehow the one that I feel your teacher heart. Perhaps this is why I felt the connection – teacher to teacher.
    We are always inspired by our students, and I feel that sometimes we learn as much or more from them as they do from us.
    Thank you,
    Rosanne

  • Stacy Tejel

    Hello Ty,

    I especially enjoyed your narration of the interaction with your students because it was heartfelt and reflected your voice well. You definitely teach at a school that would be challenging and exciting. Challenging, because it seems like with all of the different cultures and languages to keep track of and be aware of, you would need to be continually looking at how you connect and teach so you could reach everyone. Exciting, because of the opportunities to learn so much from your students and integrate their languages and cultures into your instruction and worldview. I work at a boarding school as well, but we don’t get as many international students as it sounds like you do. However, there is something special about working with boarding kids and being there for them. I think it creates more of a bond than it would at a day school which always makes the end of the year so bittersweet.

    I am wondering if you might be able to integrate some student stories or not? The blog instructions for number 4 talk about interviewing or talking about what other people think about stories, multiple stories, and the single story problem and while you talk about yourself and the single story, what about your students?

    You integrate the readings well, and it is obvious that you have read the material. I like the way you introduce the authors you are quoting so that we get an idea of who the person is and what makes their quote relevant. Also, your discussion of your own ability to travel and how that has evolved helped gives weight to your blog, especially at the end when you talk about the importance of your story. I hope you get to travel to Beijing soon!

  • Amy Ramirez

    Hi Ty!

    I also teach at a school where students come to train in soccer in hopes of becoming professional players. There’s only 15 countries represented at our small school, but I also enjoy hearing stories about their lives back home. We can kind of travel through their eyes without going there. I think that’s why people are drawn to travel writing, because we can’t always afford to travel or have time to do it.

    Your title didn’t make sense until the very end, but I think it was clever because it symbolizes your message of wanting to travel the world to learn from your students. The evidence you used is applicable to your topic, but I wonder if it would be more powerful if you changed the font and separated it, or if it was embedded after you’ve made a statement. The picture you chose helped me to visualize the culture at your school. The main message of the blog was a little difficult for me to find since it shifted from your students to your brother, but I think you were showing us how impromptu travel is one more kind of traveler.

    Thank you for sharing your story and I hope you get to go to Beijing one day!!

    -Amy

  • Maeve Dooley

    Ty,

    I love this blog post. Your title is great, and I love how you tie together the beginning and end of your blog post back to your title. I also so appreciate your discussion on the privilege of travel as well as the idea that sometimes it is not we who travel but are traveling to. You also do a wonderful job naturally integrating course texts into this post. I felt that you introduced them at relevant points and that I totally understood how they fit within the context of your post. Great work, here.

    As you mention Adichie’s “Single Story” talk, I might consider how you can integrate this even more throughout the content of your post. I think that would help tie together your discussion of single stories in travel and also the privilege of getting to know those layered stories.

    Wonderful work, overall!

    Maeve

  • Vance McCormick

    Ty,

    This is a fantastic story. I think it is so creative that you focus on a potential trip rather than a trip you have already made. You do a great job incorporating ideas from the course into your story. Your title keeps the reader hooked; I was reading expecting to hear about your lunch, and I loved the twist that you didn’t actually have lunch in Beijing, but you might. I thought this worked great.

    This is beautifully written, but the only constructive criticism that I will add is that I don’t know if this would count as an “interview” for course purposes. I’m not sure on that, but I would had to see you get points taken off on a piece that is so great, so you might consider adding something from a more traditional interview.

    Great work, and I look forward to reading more.

    • tywashington

      Thanks, Vance. I totally forgot to read the assignment description before writing this post (rookie mistake). I was so swept up in the readings that I knew what I wanted to write about, lol. I have actually been informally interviewing people about travel since we started this course, so I’ll fix it!

  • Allison Dorsey

    Hello, Ty!

    Isn’t it amazing how warm and inviting students can be? Even though it might be hard to get to Beijing (and be in the area where the student lives), the gesture is so kind.

    When you mentioned the student from Cambodia and how to traveled to the USA to train as an elite athlete, it made me think about narratives and how there can never be a single one. I am sure many people are familiar with the atrocities that happened in Cambodia in the 1970s with the Khmer Rouge. Many people might connect T to that situation and ONLY that. But as you pointed out, he has so much more of a story and a list of accomplishments that make him shine.

    You had mentioned that to look to read more about black women travelers because this is a part of your narrative. I was talking with my sister about the course, and she told me about Bessie Stringfield, the first African-American woman to ride on a motorcycle solo across the USA. Check her out if you have the time.

    I am looking forward to your next post!

    Allison

  • Haley Stammen

    Your story reminded me of a sweet Japanese man that I worked with when I was a TA for pre-college writing. He also insisted that I visited him sometime. I loved how you used your conversation with your students as an entry point for exploring your own travel experience.

    The connection between your title, introduction, and conclusion showed growth in yourself as a traveler and ended very optimistically. This neatly “packaged” your writing while still leaving room to revisit this in a future blog. Great strategy for encourage people to revisit your blog!

    The use of the sources from the course readings was effective, though I think you can smooth out the transitions into them by adding a sentence in the paragraph before you launch into the course readings. I agree with our peers that mentioned doing more with the “single story” reference. Your really selected great sources to support your main points throughout your blog entry.

    For visuals, I love the sweet photo with your students! The photo from your Colorado trip speaks to the contemplative nature of this particular blog.

    As always, I enjoyed reading your blog post and look forward to the next one. 🙂

    Haley

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