When Yunyun told them that I go to a famous school in America, they looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and amazement. The father told us, even if Jian-mei could get into college, they wouldn't be able to afford to send her. He then looked at me again and asked, your family must be very wealthy. It made me embarrassed and I told him that schools in America have better scholarship programs. Poor families can send their kids to school on scholarships and student loans. He nodded but didn't say more. When interacting with parents like Jian-mei's father, I am always struck by that lingering look they give me, the rich American girl from Stanford. It's something made up of curiosity, envy, and shame. But we remained in silence. The father didn't say much, perhaps because he is uneducated and self-conscious. He doesn't talk about his emotions often, either. But I can see that this doesn't mean that he doesn't experience those complex, rich emotions described in poetry and novels. But he is silent.
When we left, I told Jian-mei that being able to attend college is a wonderful thing. I hope she does if she wants to. But I hope she can find her own path and know that college is not the only way to get there. Ultimately, I hope that in generations to come, rural children gain a critical perspective on the culture in which they reside. I hope they develop the cognitive skills to examine and understand their own situations. In turn, they can live with a sense of legitimacy and confidence that they are no lesser than people more economically privileged, and their pasts do not determine where they can go in the future.