Please, PLEASE read this to the end.
Dear my cherished readers,
I am writing to all of you because about 13 minutes ago, I received horrible news. Usually, I wait to gather my thoughts and then begin to write, but I simply can’t wait right now. I need to write this down, and I need to reach out to all of you, and I don’t care how much homework I should be doing instead because this is a real issue that actually matters.
I apologize for my sloppy writing, but it’s late and I need to get this out.
I am in desperate need of your help. I do not know if you’re aware, but due to changes in budget, the Trump administration is threatening to cut NSLI-Y and other State Department programs that promote positive international relations through cultural exchanges with American teens.
The NSLI-Y program– MY program– is in danger. And I need your help.
This week, in Washington D.C., there will be a meeting with AFS representatives and State representatives for discussing the future of my program and others similar to it. Let me provide you all with a quote from the letter that will be read at the conference supporting the continuation of State Department exchange programs:
“Chinese President Xi Jinping’s return visit to Muscatine, Iowa in 2012– where he did a family home stay in 1985 while on a State Department exchange– demonstrates the importance of cultivating relationships with current and future foreign leaders throughout these programs. Exchange program alumni include almost 565 current and former Heads of State, more than 1,700 cabinet-level ministers, and key leaders from around the world such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff; Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine LaGarde; the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakul Karman; former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to name just a few. 89 members of the 114th U.S. Congress participated in the Department of State’s International Exchange Program, in addition to 82 Nobel Prize winners and 88 Pulitzer Prize winners.”
I can’t even begin to describe the profound level of personal injury that I feel from the threat against these programs that produce such innovative leaders.
The program that allowed me to explore myself. To find my passion. To find my drive. To find the people that make me the best version of myself that I can be. To find the rest of my family. To finally realize that neither race, nor background, nor native language can ever prevent people from connecting.
I remember coming home from China and thinking, “now what?”
Nothing else seemed to matter. I was making a difference in the world when I was on that program. I was creating ties, breaking stereotypes, and mending wounds by simply smiling at one old man that I saw every day on the corner of my street.
I never wrote about this man because I never knew how to, since I never spoke a word to him. I noticed him on my first day of school when I was walking the path for the first time that I would walk a countless amount of times over the following 6 weeks. He ran the little shop on the corner across from the police car outside of my apartment’s courtyard. He sold overpriced water bottles and brightly colored packages of Chinese candy. He opened his store at right about the time I stepped around his corner. I always watched his arms quiver as he lifted up his metal divider that closed off his booth from the street, and his back hunch over as he dragged his stool out under a patch of shade from a nearby pole, and his chest puff out as he let out a relaxing breath once he slumped into his seat and fanned himself with a thin, plastic circle taped to a ruler. He had deep scarring across his face that pulled on one side of his mouth, nose and left eye. The scars spanned across his neck and shoulder down to the fingers on his left hand.
I hate to admit it, but when he looked up at me, I was too shocked to hold eye contact. I just dropped my chin, hugged my bag closer under my arm, and kept walking.
Now, the first few times I walked to school alone, this was my reaction to nearly everyone because I was so afraid of the people around me. But, as you know if you’ve followed my blog posts, I quickly found my confidence.
Over the 6 weeks, I continued to watch his routine. And every morning, he would be crouched down on his stool just as I rounded that corner. But as I grew more comfortable in my new home city, I started to seek out his eyes, and I started to try and catch his gaze, just so that I could smile at him.
He never smiled back. But after a few weeks, a woman started to join him out in front of his store. She helped him raise the gate, and she dragged her own stool next to his, and she found a little fan of her own, and they would both lock eyes with me every morning as I passed.
Maybe they just saw how much I was sweating in the unfamiliar sauna that is China and they expected me to buy their water; but regardless, they always looked up at me. They started to expect to see me, I think. And their eyes started to fill with warmth as I continued to smile at them every single morning.
I’m going to give you another quote, but this one will seem a little more familiar, because it’s from the one person that everyone asks me about after reading my blog…
“Now more than ever, we must use our gift of words to sow harmony rather than discord.” -Nolan
Well, you all like to call him Nolan, but I like to call him Noah. Noah Watson. Look him up. Great kid. He texted that sentence to me when I was getting really emotional about the budget cut… he then proceeded to inform me that I had his permission to quote him… Thanks, Noah. Luv ya, miss ya.
So, that’s what I’m doing! I don’t necessarily think I have a “gift of words,” but NSLI-Y gave me the best gift in the world, so it’s about time I repay them.
I’m going to shift gears for a second and talk about all of you.
Most of you are wonderful family friends, or my beloved teachers, or my nosy friends wanting to read about all the stupid stuff I did across the world. But then there’s all of you that I really don’t know at all.
I mean you: my 4,783 views from the United States, my 252 readers from China, 12 readers in Brazil, 4 in Italy, my 2 readers in India, 46 in Germany, and countless others scattered across France, Greece, Puerto Rico, Guyana, Singapore, Canada, Bermuda, England, Indonesia, Portugal, and Russia.
WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!! I honestly cannot believe it. And I’m going to give a special shoutout to that one reader in Brazil that visits my blog everyday. Why? I don’t know. But I love you.
Thank you all for your incredible support. But I need one last thing from you all.
Here’s a link to an electronic form where you can enter your name and email to count as a signature of support– support for NSLY-Y and other international exchange programs. Please also read the letter attached to it.
There’s so much to be said and I don’t know how to say it, but please, if you ever connected to something I wrote, please show your support for the program. It’s not about me. It’s about the countless amount of people that these programs help everyday. These programs are irreplaceable and must be protected at all costs.
Thank you again for following my journey. It’s incredible to know that when I write, people will read it all over the world. And right now, I’m calling on all of my readers. Keeping these programs alive is definitely worth the money.
Let’s encourage harmony no matter the cost.