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It all started with

China

China. I don’t think there’s any way our year in Mexico would have happened without China.

I’ve wanted to visit China since I was a kid. I was obsessed with anything Chinese (while other kids wanted to be doctors when they grew up, I wanted to be the US Ambassador to China). I got to visit China for the first time in 2008, and it was every bit as amazing as I hoped. But the real game-changer came years later. I was teaching college English and our department was starting an exchange program with a university in Nanjing, China. The department needed someone to lead a group of students to Nanjing for the first summer exchange.

Immediately, I applied. And to my great joy and surprise (I had no seniority), I got the job of co-leading the trip with my coworker and friend Michelle. We had no idea then how hard it would be putting this trip together—nor how rewarding, how life changing.

The first time we met with the university’s study abroad coordinator, he warned us that past trips to China had failed to recruit the minimum number of students (which I think was six, if memory serves me). For some reason, he told us, our students just don’t seem to want to go to China.

Michelle and I aren’t the type of people who give up easily, and telling us something is unlikely only makes us work harder. So we threw ourselves into designing the best-ever study abroad trip and marketing it hard. By our deadline, we had recruited 17 students and had our program fully paid for.

The summer of 2014, we took off for a month in China with the students. That month was incredible and took us to Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and other beautiful places.

After the program wrapped and the students and Michelle were back to the States, Jesse and I stayed in China three more weeks, traveling back to Beijing and then on to Jiuzhaigou, Leshan, Xi’An, Chengdu, Yangshou, and Hong Kong.

That trip made us start asking questions about our lives…questions that would eventually lead us, a few years later, to ditching our regular lives and setting off on another grand adventure.

Here are a few of my favorite videos from that trip.