Shaking, I handed the scrapbook to the orphanage director: “This is my family.” As he flipped through the photos I’d compiled, I looked around, soaking in the worn cinder blocks, sagging red drapes, and chipped floor tiles; I read and reread the shining gold letters that rested across the archway. They spelled: “WELFARE INSTITUTE.” My mind raced as I glimpsed into a life that could have been mine, absorbing it all as if it were my reality. It was my first trip to China since my adoption. That April, the visit was n’ot about visiting Terracotta Warriors, trekking to hidden caves in Guilin, or hiking the Great Wall. It was an exploration of the past and a new perspective onflife’s connections and journey.
Ever since I was young, I have loved being organized, cringing when my pencils are not lined up, my notebooks are not arranged by color, and my sweatshirts are not tucked in meticulous rows. But in that Chinese orphanage, walking among the maze of metal cribs and scattered plastic chairs, it became clear: life is not as simple as a newborn’s laugh. Instead, life is composed of layers that can be peeled back to reveal the truths underneath.
At Davidson, the layers of individuals are even more apparent. We are scholars but there is no shortage of parties. We are cognizant of our peers and their sensitivities, yet we sometimes speak without a filter, causing pain.
Everyone has an exterior, but also a façade that conceals one’s true self. At first glance, people absorb my Chinese exterior — a stark contrast to my Caucasian family. Others observe the Star of David pendant. It is harder at Davidson, where no one knows my history. No one knows the struggles I encountered in elementary school, or the pain I endured during my early teens. When I admit that I know limited Chinese or that I am Jewish, people shrug and nod, but their eyes tell a different tale. Toddlers, teenagers, and adults — they all stare and wonder. Sometimes I stare back, to prove my outward strength. They question but never ask; they don’t care to learn the true story. We come into Davidson with a clean slate, but we must also be responsible for asking questions and learning about the depths of others.
Life is full of contradictions. While I am a dedicated major league baseball fan, I cannot stand playing sports. Even though crowded airports make me anxious, my goal is to place my feet on every continent and embrace each culture. I cherish every experience whether it has been learning didgeridoo from Aboriginals on a jellyfish-infested beach, feeling insignificant under masterpieces in El Prado, or being swept into the crowded streets of Hanoi. It is the strength of each place’s unique history that appeals to me — flaws and all. The bruises of life are so carefully bandaged they hide characteristics that should shine. At Davidson, we need to continue talking with others. We need to get below the surface if we hope to understand our peers.
In that dimly lit orphanage, instead of feeling lucky, I felt guilty that I’d been given a chance. Those sniffling, trembling babies — I was once one of them. Despite the emotions accompanying such awareness, I a’m not a fragile “China doll” that shatters under the slightest pressure. In fact, my inner strength has grown from my experiences; there are many different layers of my life. I cherish the moments that I spent in China and feel fortunate to have the love and support of my family at home and my community at Davidson. Sometimes, it is hard to locate myself in this greater world, or find my purpose, but I am proud to be me.