Each year, students take their pick of which NextTerm class they want to take for the three-week mini-semester. And after taking a few world studies and cultural anthropology courses, Xindi Wang ’21 decided that she wanted to take the course “Life Today Among Native Americans”. For ten days, Xindi and her classmates lived amongst a Navajo tribe on a US Indian Reservation in Arizona. After returning home from her travels, Xindi’s life was forever changed.
“That trip to Navajo Nation not only changed my personal life but it also changed my academic life,” Xindi said. “Before taking this course, I didn’t know anything about Native American culture. I realized that I have so much more that I want to learn about Native American culture and I hope to do so in college.”
Next year, Xindi will be studying Anthropology with a focus on Native American culture at University of Michigan.
“Traveling to Navajo Nation really made me aware of all of the false stereotypes that are placed on Native American people,” she said. “I want to learn everything I can about the Native American culture and be able to share my knowledge with people to help them understand that Native American culture is nothing like the stereotypes. Also, this trip made me more aware of the minority groups that exist and now one of my goals in college is to bring awareness to not only this minority group but others throughout the world.”
And although Xindi went on this trip two years ago, she notes that the sights she saw for the first time were simply unforgettable and she often finds herself thinking back on this trip.
“For the first time I was able to really connect with myself, others, and the Earth like never before,” she said. “I still remember the exact moment we all sat on a mountain and watched the sunset. Because of the significant air pollution in China, I was never able to truly watch the sun go down like I did in Arizona. I’ll never forget it, it was truly magical.”
Xindi spent the ten days hiking through canyons, basking in mountain top sunsets, preparing and enjoying traditional Native American meals, and even participating in a traditional Native American sweat lodge ceremony. Xindi notes that the sweat lodge ceremony had the biggest impact on her, so much so that she decided to write her college essay on the experience.
“The sweat lodge ceremony was something I truly will never forget,” she said. “In the sweat lodge, we each shared an unfortunate thing that happened to us in our life and it gave us all a chance to hear from our peers about really personal moments that make them who they are. We all connected with each other so deeply and without any judgement and it really just inspired me to write my college essay about how even across different races, ethnicities, religions, and genders, we are all the same on the inside and people have so much more in common than they think.”
After her sophomore year, Xindi had every intention to not only return to the reservation, but to bring her parents along with her. Despite COVID-19 getting in the way of her plans, she was still able to remain connected to the people she met throughout the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, I just really began to worry about the people I met on the reservation and I wanted to do something to help them,” she said. “I contacted Mr. K, the leader of our trip, and he told me how severe the situation was on the reservation and I was able to send facemasks and hand sanitizer to them.”
Xindi believes that her NextTerm course experience changed her life and she will be forever grateful for the chance to explore Navajo Nation.
“On that trip, I stepped out of my comfort zone for the first time,” she said. “I became so adventurous and learned to embrace nature. It was an experience filled with so many firsts for me and I will never forget a second of it.”