At a young age, UNC student Luci Patton always helped out in her mom's elementary school classroom in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Patton loved learning and being in school, and she credits this experience for her motivation to become a teacher.

As a UNC freshman, Patton enrolled in Chinese 101 with assistant professor Michelle Low, PhD, in order to fulfill a credit requirement for her elementary education English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement.

"At the time, I had not declared Chinese as a minor, so after that first year, I stopped taking Chinese. I returned to Chinese my Junior year when I decided to declare it as a minor."

Patton's Chinese coursework created a new tie back to her heritage as a Chinese-born American.

Born in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China, Patton was adopted by Colorado parents at the age of one. As she pursued her minor in Chinese, Patton desired to learn more about the culture and language of her birth place. An opportunity arose during Patton's junior year when Professor Low planned a five week study abroad to China during the summer of 2017.

"I was very nervous and hesitant to go," says Patton. "It took a lot of support and encouragement from my parents, my boyfriend and Dr. Low to convince me that it would be okay."

Two weeks into the trip, Patton wondered if she should attempt to visit her orphanage.

"I had an image of the orphanage being sad, dark and broken down." says Patton. "But one thing someone said really stuck with me, 'No matter if it's now or in 20 years, you'll never be truly ready or prepared to come face to face with your past. But we are here now, so take the opportunity while you can.'"

In the last week of the trip, Patton visited the orphanage.

Luci Patton

(Above: Luci Patton, center, at the orphanage holding the banner to welcome her "home")

"It was a truly life changing moment. The orphanage was nothing like the picture I had in my head," says Patton. "The orphanage was bright and full of light. The nannies were also very friendly and you could tell that they truly cared for the children and wanted a good future for them. Going to the orphanage made me realize that I was not a product of a sad and broken environment, but one full of life and love."

"It was definitely something special, to see a young person figuring out her identity," says Professor Low. "It is why I encourage my students to study abroad. Trying something new leads to new confidence."

Based on her experience last summer, Patton agrees.

"Study abroad is such a life-changing experience. You learn so much about not only yourself, but the world that you are a part of."

Patton will graduate in December 2018 with a bachelor's degree, minor in Chinese and an ESL endorsement.  She plans to stay in Colorado and teach elementary school at the third, fourth or fifth grade level.

"As a future teacher, I can use my experience in China to influence my teaching in many different ways. There were many times in China that I felt lost and confused, and with some encouragement and guidance I was able to find my way. That would be the biggest take-away for my future as a teacher, that students may feel lost and confused sometimes, and I need to just encourage them and guide them."

Support Study Abroad

A study abroad experience, like Luci Patton's, is a reminder that international education broadens more than the mind, it also can change a life. But often financial barriers limit the number of students able to enroll and study abroad.

Help UNC students like Luci enrich their lives and education when you make a gift in support the the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Study Abroad Fund.

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