One in a Billion: Reflections on my summer trip to China

Aundrea Koger, of Osage City, middle row, second from the right, and 17 other American NSLI-Y scholarship recipients gather with their host siblings in front of the school where they stayed in  Jiaxing during a summer trip to China.

Guest column by Aundrea Koger

One in a billion … that describes my experience in China this summer perfectly in almost any situation that I found myself in during my six weeks there. I thought it was a one in a billion chance that I would earn the scholarship that paid my way to a country where I was just one amongst a billion people, yet I received it and had the greatest experience in my life thus far. The memories I acquired are all truly one in a billion, because I will never again be able to relive them. I will cherish them always as I go about my life.

Just like I cherish my memories now, I knew a year ago when I applied for the National Security Language Initiative For Youth (NSLI-Y) scholarship that my parents cherished their financial stability. That’s why I dedicated over seven months of my time in the past year to the application and acceptance process of this U.S. Department of State funded program. I had (and still have) a growing passion for world travel, and I wanted to be able to chase that dream without emptying my parents’ wallets. The NSLI-Y program solved that problem for me! It’s a U.S. Department of State funded full-merit scholarship that sends high school kids all over the world to learn the language in countries with vital connections to America, but their languages aren’t commonly spoken here. Even though I thought my chances of getting accepted were slim, being that only 650 out of the almost 4,000 kids that apply get in, I figured it was worth a try. To my surprise, last April I received a letter of acceptance. I was going to China! I could hardly contain my excitement in the two months I had to prepare for my departure. But my preparation seems irrelevant now compared to the experiences I had in my host country.

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Shanghai, I knew I was in for a bit of a shock. I had landed in a country with a culture unknown to me with virtually no ability to communicate with natives. Despite the drastic changes though, I tried my hardest to not be ethnocentric. I was eager to learn about Chinese life and thankful that I was given the chance to really become integrated. I was truly living like a Chinese student in Jiaxing (a “small” city of 4 million just south of Shanghai).

During the week my host sister and I stayed at her boarding school along with 17 other American kids that had received the NSLI-Y scholarship. While the host siblings of all the Americans were in their summer courses, we would attend language classes. On the weekends, my host sister and I would go to her home and spend time with her family. By the end of the program though, I felt like a part of the family, just as I felt integrated into the culture.

At first, using squat toilets, eating chicken feet, and seeing men of all ages (and sizes) walk around with their shirts half off to stay cool was more than a bit strange to me. But at the end of the six weeks, things like cars parked on sidewalks, eating jellyfish, using chopsticks, not being able to understand the conversations around me, sleeping on a bamboo mat with a mosquito net, sweating all day every day in the horrendous (and record breaking) China heat, and never really knowing what was going to happen next became very much the norm.

When my group landed in San Francisco at the end of the six weeks, we realized how much we missed even the little things about China that we took for granted. The people, both Chinese and American, who I bonded with while I was there were so incredible I struggle to put it into words. And the sense of contentment, yet at the same time ambition to excel, amongst the Chinese populace was truly grounding. It made me realize how unappreciative Americans can be for what they have and who they have supporting them.

China’s standard of living is increasing rapidly, but not everyone in the country is reaping those benefits. I saw that reality in the eyes of the orphans that I volunteered my time with, and in the faces of those trying to make their living selling goods on the streets. Despite these hardships though, everyone I met was so friendly and welcoming. That’s probably the one thing I miss most. Americans get so caught up in their lives that they forget to stop and smell the roses. The Chinese are very good about appreciating the little things in life, like taking a daily afternoon nap (a must at the school I was staying at), or spending time with family and friends. And they know that everything they want will not be handed to them on a silver platter. A person there must earn their way to success because they are just one in a country of over 1 billion. They don’t feel any more special than anyone else.

The Chinese mindset is very humbling and inspiring to me, and I hope to carry those ideals with me forever. The people I met and experiences I had this summer truly changed my life. I wish to return to China someday, even though the chances may be one in a billion. I now know though, that odds like those haven’t stopped me before, and I don’t plan on them stopping me in the future.

On a side note, if you or anyone you know would be interested in the NSLI-Y scholarship don’t be afraid to contact me at [email protected]! I highly recommend it if you have an interest in world travel and learning about other languages and cultures. I will answer any questions that I can and if there are any questions I can’t answer I can get you in contact with someone who can!

汤安亚 Aundrea Koger


Aundrea Koger is a junior at Osage City High School, where she serves as editor of the high school newspaper, the PowWow, which first published this article. Printed with permission.

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas