Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Melton Fellows in China by Ayanna Woolfork '16

Traveling abroad brings about many emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. Since I left the U.S. I have been on a constant cycle through anxiety, homesickness, excitement, and intrigue. When our group from Dillard first arrived, we were all sent to stay with a family. The first thing that I noticed was that even though both the mom and dad in our family are both university professors, they lived in an apartment and I literally saw no single family homes. When I asked them where the houses were, they said that because of the sheer amount of people in China, they are pretty much forced to build up and only the very rich can afford to buy land and build a home. They also fed me constantly! Every few hours they would have a large spread of food and they wanted me to try everything! The first meal they fed me had beans, salmon, chicken, fish, rice, noodles, soup, tofu, salted veggies, fruit, duck, and shrimp. And before I could digest that, there was a meal of a similar caliber in front of me again. Overall, my honestly was a great experience.

Quite possibly the experience that had the biggest impact on me so far has been going out in public, in China, as a black woman, with a weave. On the first day (Saturday) we went out to the most popular tourist destination in the Hangzhou area, Westlake. I stopped with my host mom to take a picture and the next thing I knew, there was a crowd of people around me, staring at me, and taking pictures of me. One guy asked if he could take a selfie with me and then even more people showed up. I was confused and honestly wanted to cry. I felt like a circus. Throughout the day, it didn't stop and my host family either didn't notice or didn't think anything of it. For me it was degrading and disrespectful, but I on the second day I tried to make the best of it by smiling and saying "ni-hao" to those I caught staring.....and by telling people who I caught taking pictures of me that I was famous in the U.S. It made me feel better so I guess it worked!

Overall my experience in China and within Melton has been amazing. I've gotten to see old friends and make new ones (specifically the new fellows from Ashesi University in Ghana). it's also been interesting to realize that all people of color are not minorities and to think of all people of color as minorities, is very distinctly American. Being in China and with the Melton Foundation has opened my heart and my eyes to a very different reality and I couldn't be more grateful for this experience!
Ayanna Woolfork is a senior public health major from Houston TX, reporting from China!