Hello friends and Peking Alumni from all over the world — it's with great pleasure that, in keeping with the 2020 which has been dominated by online shifts, I join you virtually here today.
2020 — A year that started as any other year for so many of us. My 2020 started amongst friends of the Yenching Academy, toasting in the new year and expressing all that we were excited for - from travel, to research trips to spending warmer days to around Weiming lake. Our 2020 ended up being just slightly different to our expectations!
"Never let a good crisis go to waste," so said my country's leader, Winston Churchill, through some of the toughest times the UK has faced in Modern History during the Second World War. Well Winston, you'll be happy to know your words resonate today. 2020 has been a time for us all to stop, to think and to rethink. Yesterday I was sat in an online symposium discussing "China in the 2020s" - they had professors hailing from some of the best institutions all over the world, MIT, Harvard, Peking, Fudan. One of the incredible speakers had a sudden interruption from her young child asking for a chocolate bar. She grabbed a chocolate, sat him on her lap, introduced him to the crowd and continued to execute an incredibly articulate analysis of China 2025 technological innovation. In hailed comments from all over the world commending her with great respect for her multi-tasking, her quick-thinking and problem-solving skills. This was most definitely an analogy of 2020 — things may not always go as expected, but we have to pick up our realities and keep on striving!
This incident was a striking reminder that behind every academic, every businessperson, every student is a human being. This is 2020, it has fostered us to remember, we are all just people getting on with our lives and trying to do our best each day.
My 2020 has fostered cohesion, room to build resilience, and immense educational opportunities. In January, a 2-week trip back to the UK to visit my family and friends has turned into a full-year stint. Initially I feared this would implicate my learning of China, my Mandarin retention and my friendships I had built in a country now 8000 KM away. How wrong I was. The Yenching Academy delivered an incredible online transition, where, in my house in the UK, I am still connected to scholars all over the world and able to communicate and learn from some of the best and brightest in weekly seminars.
I was granted the opportunity to rethink my own gratitude, and channel it into teaching refugees in the UK and young women in rural China. Indeed, as a voluntary teacher with Educating Girls of Rural China and Refunet in the UK, I have not just been exposed to some incredible young women from Gansu province, and some incredible families that have faced hardship and sought refuge in the UK, but also built friendships that will last a lifetime. Old habits turned into new hobbies, and new opportunities presented themselves. I picked up my dusty old violin from when I was 10 years old, and have started, albeit not very well, attempting to learn the works of Mozart and Vivaldi. I sought a new challenge in studying Russian. I spent an incredible weekend with my sisters hiking the peaks of England's beautiful national parks.
I challenge you to take a few minutes out of your day to sit down and think to yourself — what has 2020 offered you that has built your own story of resilience, opportunity and cohesion.
Thank you, keep safe and hope to see you soon!