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I have grown in so many different ways since arriving in Zhongdian. Namely, my chopstick skills have seen some major improvement. I eat rice like a pro! I am working on being independent and facing my fears, successfully killing three spiders by myself and braving many glacial showers. I have been pushed outside of my comfort zone to eat Yak cheese and chicken feet (although I couldn’t quite summon up the courage for the fish eyes…maybe next time?). I have danced the Cha-Cha Slide with precious little kiddos and have bonded with my peers while wearing Chinese face-masks in a glass gazebo during a thunderstorm.

In addition to the fun and crazy experiences, I have enjoyed watching documentaries, listening to powerpoint presentations, reading articles, as well as going out and exploring traditional Tibetan sites. Through this interactive style of learning, I have felt immersed in Tibetan culture and have become especially enamored by Tibetan Buddhism.

On the fourth day in China, we visited a Tibetan Monastery. It took my breath away. I mean, that also could have been the combination of a steep flight of stairs, my asthmatic lungs, and the thin, under-oxygenated mountain air, but this place was unlike anything I had seen before. We burned offerings before stepping into the shrine, ensuring we take precaution to keep the demons out. I stood mesmerized by the colors, details, and the stories each mural and tapestry held. The previous night, Dr. Bill, a cofounder of the CERS program which is so generously hosting us, gave us a lecture on the various Deities and what they mean to the people of this religion. Coming in with a bit of background allowed me to ask nuanced questions and better appreciate the intricacy in what I observed. Once outside the shrine, we circumambulated the Monastery clockwise. Red. Green. Yellow. Blue. White: I wandered through a sea of Tibetan Prayer Flags. As we descended back down the long staircase, I spun the prayer wheels and vowed to learn more about various religions around the world.

Two days later, we made the trek (can I use the word trek if we were just singing songs and quoting movies in the back of a van?) across stunning mountains covered in rich green trees split by the winding Yangtze River. After two quick hours we arrived at our destination: A Tibetan nunnery dating back to the 15th century. I can’t seem to describe the feeling evoked while walking around such a spiritual place that has withstood ages of political and religious turmoil. While in the nunnery, I learned that even once many Buddhas reach enlightenment and have the opportunity to escape the harsh cycle of death and rebirth, they compassionately choose to remain on earth to help others reach nirvana and escape suffering. The beautiful, purely selfless component of this belief captivated me.

Although I am not a Tibetan Buddhist, I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for their beliefs and practices. Everything is centralized around working to reduce hardship and suffering for all. Tibetan Buddhists believe charity and philanthropy is essential to improving their future, reincarnate lives. In Buddhism, true enlightenment is reached through the perfect development of wisdom and compassion. Inspired by this, I have written two goals for the remainder of my time in China relating to these qualities.

Wisdom: Approach each moment with an open mind and heart in order to learn as much as I can about this culture and about myself through this experience.

Compassion: Go out of my way to be helpful, grateful, and treat everyone around me with love and kindness, regardless of the situation.

Thank you for reading and, as all the adorable kiddos in our camp say, “Bye-Bye!”

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