After three and a half years,
here's what I'd tell myself
back at the beginning.

There will be too many students for you to know them all.  It's okay.
They will see you and yell hello, hold your hand,
or slip away with an awkward laugh --
it's okay.
By the time you're done, you'll have taught
thirty-seven classes of students,
well over a thousand individuals.
You won't remember all their names,
but you taught them and graded them,
listened to them and laughed with them,
scolded and encouraged them,
and it is enough.

You'll dream of old students sometimes,
despite the intervening years,
and they will remember you, too.
You'll walk the streets of Beijing,
talk about their jobs,
eat meals together.  
It doesn't always end on the last day of class.

You will laugh, and cry, and panic,
and want to give up, and want to throw
a textbook at some of your students.
But you'll settle for throwing chalk,
and laughing, and laughing, and laughing.
It will get easier, 
but there will always be new things
to learn, new challenges.
From left-behind students
to weird classroom setups
to shifting schedules
to miscommunication.

You will cry more than you've ever cried before:
reading picture books
saying goodbye
in the shower
late at night, half asleep
during movies
every time you think about coming home.

And home.  It will mean:
wherever your phone charger is plugged in
Beaver Falls, the Powells', Wheaton,
Chiang Mai, DJY, ChuanWai
wrapped tight in a hug
wherever your people are.

You'll have to learn what matters --
friends, sleep, clean air,
attentive listening, wool socks --
and what does not:
perfect ppts, deadlines,
your footnoted plans for how life should be.

You'll turn 28, and still not have your license.
Amidst all the planes and trains,
tuktuks and songtaos, didis and buses.  
Sometimes that's how it goes.

You will love some classes unexpectedly,
and they will return your affection with interest.
You will all light up when you see each other:
accept that gift with joy.
As you accept apples, Chinglish, hugs, 
selfies, drunk calls, random questions, invitations, titles:
外国人, 阿姨,teacher, master, 桥安宇,
friend, sister.

You will love the mountains
from the day your plane touches down in Sichuan
through the days you can't see them at all
for the glorious mornings:
Lift your eyes to the hills.

You will look out your window 
and see students on rollerblades
weaving between cones
walk down snack street
and have conversations
and you will think, This is my home
in these white fields.

You will rejoice in the vast woods of JingYueTan
and in three falls of golden gingko leaves.
You will laugh and mourn,
be crushed and remade.

And one day, you will leave
and pieces of your heart will be scattered around the world
buried seeds of hope
that may, one day,
bear light.


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