Lessons from Beijing: giving and sharing love, be grateful and be humble

Nathan Brown Jr. is a student (Political Science Major, Criminology Minor) at the University of Denver and a member of Denver African American Philanthropists. Below are his reflections from studying abroad in Beijing from August-December 2012.

Nathan and others from the Chinese Studies Institute

Nathan (2nd row, far left) and others from the Chinese Studies Institute

In the Fall of 2012, I participated in an amazing opportunity and journey abroad to Beijing, China. The decision to go to China stemmed from my exposure to the Chinese culture at an earlier age that eventually formed into deeper interest. My enrollment at the University of Denver four years ago permitted me to take a foreign language and the opportunity to study aboard. I recognized this and planned my first three years of college so that I would have only foreign language and elective courses remain my senior year so I could study abroad in China.

After tedious execution, I boarded a United Airlines flight to China on August 28th 2012. Throughout the 14 hour plane ride I found myself battling between two emotions of fear and excitement. Both emotions were sparking off the same fuel, which was the realization that I was traveling across the world by myself. When I arrived in Beijing colleagues from my program, China Studies Institute managed through Peking University, were there to greet me with endless smiles.

While the pollution hit me hard the first day, the gathering of students and the introductions that took place inside the dorms set the tone for my study abroad experience. Throughout the semester I was able to explore the city, learn about the government and the Communist Party of China, meet people and create friendships with people from all over the world, and learn Mandarin. The highlights and most appreciated moments and rewards from my journey to China were my travels and visits while in China included The Shaolin Temple, The Forbidden City, Xi’ning, Xi’an, Chengdu, The Great Wall, Tibet, and many other places.


Nathan standing in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

I can actually say that my trip to Tibet was a highlight of my semester abroad. Tibet was a community filled with love and support even in the midst of suppression. The level of hospitality shown to our group, but probably to foreigners in general, was at a level I have not seen before. When I used to think of philanthropy, I used to associate its definition with a mass level of support through time, talent, and treasures. After my trip to Tibet, I learned the true value of supporting through love.

While yes philanthropy entails giving your time, talent, and treasure, Tibet taught me that philanthropy at its best is giving and sharing love. Tibet embodied a community held together despite or as a result of the political implications, or a result of culture, the bond and level of mutual support that is viewed as a norm is priceless.

Overall my experience in China was worthwhile. In such a short period of time I was able to grow as an individual, as a friend, as a family member, and as a community member, both locally and globally. I must admit my stay got rough at times, nevertheless, the mere fact of my location always brought light and understanding.

I experienced a lot of difficult times in China because of the culture shock that I experienced. Everyday, I would have to battle with the pollution and unsanitary conditions in public. However, dealing with those everyday challenges lead to my most valuable lesson while abroad: be grateful and be humble.  My time abroad taught me that life is simple, live it that way.

My friends, the Chinese locals who were always fascinated by and interested in an African American and other foreigners, the cultural traditions and norms, and the authentic Chinese cuisine filled me with excitement and laughter.  My stay got cut short for future academic opportunities, so I returned to Denver on December 14, 2012. Every day back, I have daydreamed about being back in China. I highly encourage anyone with the ability to go abroad to be brave and try something new. It will change your life.


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