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Three Lessons I Learned From an 11-year-old in China

Jackie school deskLast year I had the privilege of traveling to Quan Zhou, China to do research for the now open Take Me There:® China exhibit at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It was my job to photo-document and interview the Wang family who is represented in the exhibit. I was only there three days, but I was completely immersed in their day-to-day life. This family was one of the kindest, most generous, most hardworking families I’ve ever met.

I grew especially fond of eleven-year-old Wang Yijie (Jackie). These are three lessons I learned from Jackie that I still carry with me today.

1. Eat Bitterness. 
This means that when hard things happen, you have to endure them in order to accomplish your long term goals. It’s a common saying in the Chinese culture, but to hear it come from an eleven-year-old is pretty special, in my opinion. When I was interviewing Jackie he told me this was a lesson he learned from his parents and grandparents and something he really admired about them. Any time I am struggling I think of this phrase.

2. You can communicate without speaking the same language.
While I did travel with a fantastic translator there were times when I sat with Jackie alone in the back seat of the car as we were traveling to our next destination. Jackie speaks some English, but my Mandarin-speaking skills are, well, non-existent to say the least. It was ok, though! We communicated with hand gestures and facial expressions and still managed to form a strong bond over those three days. Often when we sat down to a meal Jackie would watch my facial expression. If he thought I didn’t know how to eat a certain food he would get my attention and show me so I didn’t feel awkward. It’s not always about what you say, it’s your actions that can matter the most.

3. Challenge yourself.
One of Jackie’s favorite activities is chess. Why you ask? Because it’s complicated and it helps with your critical thinking and strategic planning (these words are coming from an eleven-year-old, remember!) I was so impressed when I heard this response to my interview question. When I think back on this it reminds me that I should challenge myself every day. If Jackie can do it, I can do it! 

What unexpected lessons have you learned from a child?

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Categories: China, Exhibits,
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