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A couple nights ago started like the rest of the nights in Shangri-la. We had finished dinner, walked around exploring the town a bit, and finally got back to hotel with the hopes of playing some cards before we all headed to bed. I dropped off some of the things I had bought in town in my room; when I walked out of my room I was stopped by the sound of singing coming from the lobby, and I could distinctively hear Ryan’s voice. I was curious because I knew most of the group was still out exploring. So Jenna, Arden, and I went down to see what was going on.

When we got to the lobby, we saw Ryan and Izzy sitting down with a group of six or so locals talking and laughing. I whispered to Ryan, “What’s going on?” and before he could answer there were shouts of “Yay!” and “Join us!”

“It is my birthday!” cheered the women sitting at the head of the table.

The women introduced herself as CeCe, and asked us to join her in celebrating her birthday. We were delighted to join, and when we sat down CeCe and the rest of the group exclaimed their excitement. We introduced ourselves, sang “Happy Birthday,” CeCe blew out the candles, we all ate cake, and we made new friends.

The whole experience was so sudden and unexpected that I didn’t really have time to fully comprehend what was going on. I think we all just got swept up in the excitement and just talked and laughed with our new friends.

“I hope that when I get back home that openness and acceptance is something I bring back with me.”

After some time to actually digest what had just happened, I was incredibly humbled by the whole experience. Complete strangers to us invited us without hesitation to their birthday party, shared their cake with us, and had zero pause for suspicion or anything. If roles were reversed, I would have never considered reaching out to random foreign strangers like that before this trip. But the openness of CeCe and her friends was something incredible to experience and be a part of.

I hope that when I get back home that openness and acceptance is something I bring back with me. While it is incredibly difficult to show that openness and acceptance, after celebrating with CeCe and her friends I can say firsthand that it is something very powerful and humbling to receive.

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