7,758 miles from home and only one choice

Adrian Wan edits his trend story by Lake Michigan. Photo by Bobby Kirschenbaum

Adrian Wan edits his trend story by Lake Michigan. Photo by Bobby Kirschenbaum.

Five months ago, I found the 2015 Medill cherubs website by chance while searching for a place to spend my summer. Out of curiosity, I sent an email to Roger Boye, the program director, to ask about the application process.

As a Chinese student 7,758 miles from Evanston, I had no connection with the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, a program that seemed too prestigious to have me as a student. I never expected to receive a response.

But Boye did respond, only seven hours later.

In the reply, he answered all my questions and, as brief as the reply was, his amiable image was imprinted in my mind.

It’s difficult to acclimate to another culture. Instructors’ words were like machine guns shooting gibberish into my ears. Cherubs were always telling jokes I didn’t understand. Watching other international cherubs chatting lightheartedly with them, I lamented my awkward spoken English.

After I submitted one of my earliest assignments to my instructor, Sophia Bollag, I went to the shore of Lake Michigan. Staring at the boundless night sky, I called my mom.

I was complaining, and she was listening. I was crying, and she was sighing until check-in time at our dorm.

Lying on the bed in East Fairchild that night, I gave myself two options: leave the program or improve through hard work.

I chose the latter.

On the next morning, I received feedback for my work from Bollag, whose densely packed comments devastated my confidence but gave me inspiration at the same time. I became the first person to arrive to our writing rooms in Fisk Hall and the last one to leave, even sacrificing mealtimes to work in the newsroom, determined to rewrite and learn further.

While I struggled with the feature assignment, other cherubs had already finished and were hanging out together. I heard Boye’s slow footsteps echoing in the corridor. As he entered the newsroom, he greeted me with a comforting smile, his octagonal wire-framed glasses and beige-brown hair glistening under the flickering light.

“We have to close the door because of security reasons,” Boye said gently. “Remember to check in at 10 p.m., and good luck!”

I stood by the window, watching the sprightly man become a silhouette under the ethereal moonlight as he walked away from Fisk Hall.

Two minutes before check-in, I had my feature story printed and turned in to Bollag’s mailbox. As I rushed back to the dorm, a meadowlark flew over my head and a breeze from Lake Michigan shook the vines covering East Fairchild. This soothed my exhausted mind.

“Adrian, you are good,” all the community associates said together.