by Lee Mook

“And do not even think about touching the cute kittens! Just remember cute kittens = rabies when in China!” I have been to China before last summer, so I thought I had a good idea about what the next nine months would entail. However, when my program director told us that cute kittens are one of the largest threats roaming the streets, I realized that things this time around will be very different.

I embark on the second leg of my gap year: China. I will be staying in Beijing for nine months learning Mandarin Chinese with a fellowship called the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). The fellowship is run by the state department and covers almost all costs involved in studying abroad including airfare, food, accommodations, classes and textbooks, visa costs, cell phone and sim card, health insurance, and excursions. The program is very rigorous, in fact only 8 people were selected from a nationwide competition to study in Beijing! I hope to use my language classes to help my service work!

In addition to learning Chinese, I will start a sports program on my school’s campus and within the community as a service project. Through my service work I will be able to witness and study the role of sports and education in youth culture, a curiosity that I have been interested in since creating a program called “Language for Youth” in high school. “Language for Youth” was a program I started in which high school students taught middle school students languages unavailable to the middle school students. My goals for starting the program were to give middle school students the chance to explore languages they would not have otherwise been exposed to, and by making classes fun and interactive try to forge a culture in which learning languages is cool. I am now interested studying and applying similar principles to fitness as well as language learning, because I think that living a fit life, both physically and mentally, is essential to long, fulfilling, and healthy lives.

There are a number of new experiences that I will have during my time in China. For example, I will be staying in a dorm throughout the school year except on weekends, I will have a school uniform, which has been described to me as a blue and black jumpsuit, I will have a very structured day with almost every hour planned out for me, and I will be able to speak nothing but Chinese.

The coming year will be full of challenges and successes, but I feel confident that I will be able to tackle any issue with support from the Campus-Y and members of the Global Gap Year Fellowship Team. I hope to continue the success of Nicaragua, so to start things off right I, of course, got UNC hats and gear for my host family!