Spotlights
Travel that teaches: BCPS alumna discovers life’s passion through China Cultural Exchange program
06/15/2016

Spotlight
Javins receives a certificate for her work with the Peace Corps.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you see yourself as a doctor, or did you imagine being an astronaut? Did you aspire to be a teacher, or did you wonder about being an artist?

For Lauren Javins, the answer has always been the same: She wanted to help people – and, if possible, travel the world. But, as a junior at Dulaney High School in 2006, Javins wasn’t sure how she could serve others, especially if doing so would mean living away from home.

“I always wanted to volunteer with the Peace Corps,” she said about her aspirations growing up. “I [had] traveled abroad for vacations but had never stayed for a long time.”

That lack of long-term travel experience wasn’t enough to stop Javins from pursuing her goals, though. In fact, with help from the BCPS China Cultural Exchange program, she not only pursued her goals but realized them, too.

Seeking Adventure

When Javins first applied to the China Cultural Exchange program in fall 2006, she said it was hard to know what to expect. During her past vacations abroad, she hadn’t visited China, nor did she have any classmates who had traveled there through the program. Instead, her only exposure came from a few classes she had taken.

“I took a class in Mandarin Chinese,” she said, “and learned a little [about Chinese culture] in history class.”

Spotlight Javins and the other girls who participated in the 2007 exchange gather at a restaurant in China.

SpotlightJavins and Sherry pose for a picture at a restaurant in the United States.

SpotlightJavins and her host family stand outside the high school she attended in China.

SpotlightJavins bonds with Sherry and her grandmother.

SpotlightJavins and her classmates draw for an arts appreciation day.

SpotlightJavins visits Tiananmen Square. In 2012, she wrote her undergraduate thesis on the site’s history.

But, while that limited exposure might have deterred others from applying to the program, it’s exactly what interested Javins the most. If accepted, she knew she’d not only be part of the first BCPS exchange with China; she’d also gain a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It was going to be an adventure,” she said about the opportunity.

When Javins received her acceptance later that fall, she was one of five BCPS students selected for the exchange with Tie Yi (First Railway) School, the BCPS partner school. Responsible for hosting students from Xi’an, China, the BCPS “ambassadors” met their guests in January 2007. For the next two months, Javins and her family hosted a student named Sherry.

“Once, we took my host sister, Sherry, to eat barbeque at The Corner Stable,” Javins said. “We thought it was a fun cultural experience to eat barbeque ribs and thought she would enjoy them. In fact, she loved them and ate every last bite and wanted more.”

Javins said the ease with which she and her exchange student bonded helped make the experience memorable. When Javins traveled to China a few months later, she added that she and her exchange student created other memories, too. From learning tai chi to riding the bus and trying Chinese cuisine with new friends, the experiences Javins had helped teach her about people from different cultures.

“I learned that really all teenagers are the same,” she said. “Even if we have grown up in a different country, we still are all trying to figure out who we are.”

Javins said she also learned about herself through the China Cultural Exchange program. She said the program helped her discover her life’s passion.

“The tides of my life, so to speak, have been altered,” Javins said. “Without this program, I would not have realized my love for Chinese language.”

Traveling Again

After graduating from Dulaney High in 2008, Javins continued to pursue her interest in Mandarin and Chinese culture at Gettysburg College. Majoring in Chinese studies, she spent a year abroad and became part of the American Mandarin Society, an organization supporting careers in U.S.— China relations. In 2012, she served as the president of her college’s China Club before earning her bachelor’s degree.

For the next two years, Javins took on a few jobs and internships in Maryland and the District of Columbia. During that time, she also came across the opportunity she’d been looking for: a chance to volunteer with Peace Corps. Though initially hesitant to apply, Javins said her experiences in the China Cultural Exchange program ultimately convinced her to try.

“I know that living abroad with a host family when I was younger greatly influenced my decision to apply,” she said about pursuing volunteer work with the Peace Corps. “I had confidence in myself that I could persevere and succeed because I had done it before.”

That confidence paid off: In 2014, Javins traveled to Mongolia (which borders China) to work on two projects with the Peace Corps. While the first project focused on teaching English at a secondary school, the second centered on enabling individuals with disabilities (EIWD).

“I am a Peace Corps Mongolia EIWD task force leader,” Javins said about her current role. “[I] teach disabled children life skills, such as mathematics, reading, and creative arts. I also have created a network of individuals who work together to produce documentaries that encourage integration and social inclusion in schools.”

Because Javins has lived in Mongolia while working on her two projects, she has had to learn to adapt to a new culture. But, as with applying to the Peace Corps, she said her experiences in the China Cultural Exchange program have helped her adjust.

“The cultural sensitivity that I learned then has gotten me very far adapting to Mongolian culture in the Peace Corps,” she said.

Although Javins will finish her work in Mongolia later this summer, she plans to continue learning about other cultures. In August, she will begin attending Georgetown University, where she will pursue a master’s degree in international conflict resolution. Through her study, Javins said she hopes to understand more about China’s role as a peacemaker in Asia and the preservation of human rights around the world.

“My respect for all cultures has widened,” Javins said, reflecting on her experiences from the last decade. “I will always have an affinity to learn Asian cultures. China greatly influenced many of them.”

Established in 2007, the BCPS China Cultural Exchange program is in the midst of its 10th exchange. To read about the current tour group’s experiences abroad, visit www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/dwilsonmatusky/2/tpod.html. For more information about the program, visit www.bcps.org/offices/world_languages/misc/culturalExchangePrograms.html.

Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos by Lauren Javins, 2008 graduate, Dulaney High School.
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