The most exciting day for many of us who work here at TFAS is the day the students arrive on campus at Georgetown. After months and months of recruitment work, financial aid counseling, internship searching and class and program preparation we finally get to meet the students we’ve only emailed or spoken with on the phone. In many ways it’s a festive day – albeit a long one – with students arriving from around the world, lugging suitcases and boxes, settling into their rooms, meeting their roommates and attending orientation sessions with a pizza party in the evening.
On the morning of June 6 of this year, we welcomed a record class of students from almost every state in the Union and 20 foreign countries. The morning rush of early arrivals had slowed to a trickle and I was sitting at the IPJ registration table taking a break. I looked up and saw a tall young man carrying a huge pack back that must have weighed 60 plus pounds.
He flashed a smile and introduced himself, “Good afternoon, I am Peter Cui from China” he said in almost perfect English. After flying from Beijing to New York and then taking the bus down to D.C., Peter told me he’d been awake for more than 40 hours! He then said something that stuck with me for the rest of the summer: “Mr. Starrs, I would like to experience everything possible while I am here in this wonderful city. I don’t want to miss a thing!”
True to his word, Peter was one of those students who took advantage of every opportunity that came his way. His internship on Voice of America’s Economic and Financial News team required him to be on the job at 6:00 am every morning. Like all IPJ students he was in class 9 hours a week, attended our Wednesday night lecture series, went on site visits at the Pentagon, ESPN and Capitol Hill. On weekends, Peter visited friends in the city, attended church, visited many museums and landmarks.
In short, Peter “maxed out” his time in D.C., and his enthusiasm to see and experience it all and his joie de vivre was infectious. It was this enthusiasm and appreciation that made him an easy choice for the annual IPJ director’s award – given to the student who heartily embraces and excels in every aspect of the program.
Toward the end of the summer I asked Peter if he would be flying home the day after graduation. I have should have known otherwise. “No, I’m going to hit the road ‘Jack Kerouac’ style and explore America for a month” he replied. I’ve got a Greyhound Discover Pass and I’m hoping to see what Americans live like!”
That’s exactly what he did. After graduation he hit the road with his backpack and bus pass and managed to put his footprints in 30 of our 50 states. One of Peter’s TFAS roommates, Garret Boorijian, and his father drove 90 miles from their home in Tampa to pick up Peter and bring him back where he spent a few nights touring the beach and visiting the Gulf of Mexico. From Florida he headed west, stopping in Texas to visit his former supervisor.
“In Dallas I had a great reunion with my former boss at the Dallas Morning News that I worked with exactly one year ago during the Beijing Olympics. On August the 7th, we were hanging out in traditional Texas-style (Fort Worth) and enjoyed a carnival-like evening when it suddenly occurred to me that at the exact same time and the same date one year ago, in the Olympic opening eve, we were walking along crowded streets just looking for a place to eat.”
Throughout his journey, Peter was struck with how hospitable Americans could be, particularly his friends from IPJ.
“I was visiting another roommate, Alex Hankins in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a mix-up at the bus station Alex drove me back and forth from his house to the suburbs to the downtown greyhound station at midnight, just to avoid me staying alone in the station late at night.”
From Texas, Peter visited another IPJ roommate, Jonny Bonner in Idaho. ”We went canoeing along the Boise River and went swimming in the freezing ice cold water and then cycled up the Rocky Mountains to see the sunset into the Pacific Ocean.”
His journey then brought him to Fargo, North Dakota where he was able to reunite with his first American teacher from ten years ago. “My former teacher showed me two homeless shelters run by missionaries. I was impressed with the care given to people who are in such need.”
From Fargo he headed east toward Milwaukee and then down to Chicago with a stop in New York City and then back to D.C. for the flight home.
I asked Peter if there was any one thing that stuck with him on his trip. He responded, “First of all the hospitality and friendship of my fellow TFASers, and former colleagues and teachers was amazing. They made it all possible by kindly offering places to stay. Moreover, my stay with normal Americans granted me the chance to learn more about American’s everyday life and what they think and how they live their life and pursue their American Dream, which to my understanding is Liberty, Freedom and Pursuit of Happiness. I am very grateful for TFAS and especially for the generosity of USCET (US-China Education Trust) which made this summer possible. Without a doubt, this was the most fulfilling summer I’ve ever had in my life. Looking back all I want to do is to appreciate life – C’est la vie!”
Peter is busy back home in China, completing an internship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He sends greeting to all his TFAS friends and colleagues.