Kevin Gao
Kevin Gao
China 2017
My parents always said we were from the land of the Dragons and we will never be far from it. Time has changed and now this is my journey back to China, the Land of Dragons, where everything started for my family. Read More About Kevin →

Last day at Cerecare

Oh man, the day is finally here. I can say that it is the last time I will be at Cerecare. At least the last time for now. I knew it was going to be a very emotional day. Two months of bonds and connections are not things that are easy to part with. I love my time here and everything that makes these children strong.

I entered in Cerecare today promising myself I will not cry no matter what. “Good morning!” I greeted everyone as I walked in the class (as I do everyday) and the children would shout back with their best English “Good morning 哥哥!” I gave them presents, cinnamon bun flavored oreos and peanut butter flavored oreos (flavors not in China) and my two favorite books, Oh the places you’ll go and The giving tree. After giving all of the teachers and staff their presents too, I feel like wow this is really going to end.  The day continued as it always had been, physical therapy followed by two classes along with the everyday laughs and cries. Everything felt normal, then one of my favorite children (TaoTao) starts to tear up and eventually cry. This is very emotional for me personally because TaoTao is one of those kids I got to know very well over the past two months. I learned of his history, family, strengths, weaknesses, favorite foods, and so many more. One of the things about TaoTao is that he never cries, in fact he is the only kid I have not seen cry until now! So this was very touching for me and I started to tear up. Tao Tao told me “Don’t go home, this is home for you”.  This is the start of the emotional day of waterworks. Later on the day, I received a surprise a goodbye singing party where all the kids sang! And also one by one cried, and eventually I too was covered in tears. I hate to leave this place, good byes have never been so hard! When one of the kids I am closest with, DuoDuo started to sing the national hymm of Cerecare ( a very touching song about hope) I got not stop the crying.

When it came to the last hour, the children begged me to stay longer today so I agreed. We talked about the future, and how much I hope and optimism I have for all of them. I promised I would come back and visit, and that I would be back sooner than they thought. When it got late, they begged me not to go, and I did not want to go to! They and the teachers and staff thanked me for the past two months, but I should be thanking them for the personal growth, love, and inspiration I acquired these past months. Goodbye was harder then I thought, but it had to be done. A temporary good bye. It was a blessing watching these children these 2 months. The growth they had on how they learned to walk better, use scissors, learn more Chinese and English, use chopsticks, and every experience we saw together was very valuable.

I want to thank Lumos and everyone who made this possible. This experience abroad is more than what I had in mind and it could not be more perfect than it is now. I will never forget this place, Shanghai, Cerecare and all of these memories will always be very dear to me and will always hang above me as an inspiration like the clouds and sun I see everyday.


I am going home!

My project with Lumos and Projects Abroad is about to come to an end, and home is coming. I am going home! No, not in the United States yet, but in Fuzhou China.

The beautiful city of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province of China. This is a city that is touched by the seas and surrounded by mountains with a rich history of Chinese civilization and is renowned for its fresh air and nature. Most importantly it my ancestral home, where everything started for me and my family.

In my culture, family is a big deal in life, perhaps the biggest. When someone turns 70, they will have a birthday celebration in honor of them. And that is what our family did for my grandparents. This is a big deal, my family members from everywhere in China and the United States flew back to Fuzhou just for this occasion so I too traveled back home.

It is always the best feeling when you come home to the warmth of your grandparents. It feels identical to going home in the US. Maybe because I have already accepted China as another home for me. My first task in Fuzhou is go to the small village where we all lived in since my great great grandparents. It is the village where my father is born. It is small but beautiful with blue sky’s and lush forests. The population there is very small, a lot of these folks immigrated to the United States like my parents. In this village, I learned more about my family’s history and felt more connected to my roots as I retraced the footsteps of generation and generation of family members.

In the afternoon, we descended from the mountain back to the main city of Fuzhou, where we currently live. After meeting and remeeting so many friends and family, the big event finally occurred.  The celebration of my grandparents is massive! Friends and families from near and far all dine and share stories and laughter. I wish my grandparents the best of luck and health, and I made a promise to them to visit as often as I can. Coincidentally, that is also what they wished for as they blew out the candles on their cake.

The journey back to Shanghai felt like leaving home. I wished I had more time to spend with my family and to learn more about my past. But strange enough, as I arrived in Shanghai, it also felt like coming back home. I guess home is where you love and home is something that can infinitely exist anywhere.


Here is the “mayor’s” office in our small village home. This is also where we worship. There is temple dedicated to our family and community.


Nothing is better than being with family; that is the best part of being home.

Cerecare week 7

Everything is wrapping up! Everything is coming to a close! Not just for me, but also for the children and staff too. I leave in a bit more than a week and the rest of the people at Cerecare also end their semester. This week is the week of reflection, there was a lot of looking back at the beginning of the semester for everyone. The teachers were busy this whole week filling out report cards and reflecting on what they did well this semester and what to keep or change next semester. The children had individual tasks of finding their own strengths and weaknesses and what they learned throughout the semester. I reflected on my journey this summer and almost everything it encompasses and my own strengths, weaknesses, and takeaways.

Strengths: There were a lot of strengths that were gifted to me through education. To my basic knowledge of medical and nursing science, along with my caring and genuine personality to help, made me feel both confident and capable of doing what I need to assist the people of Cerecare to the best of my abilities. A lot of strengths were also granted through this journey, such as my Chinese language skills and my understanding of culture as a whole and how much of a difference it makes to almost every aspect of life. And of course how important it is to embrace various cultures and to view certain ideas from a different angle.

Weaknesses: I wish I had so much more to offer the children I am working with. They are everything to me during my stay in Shanghai, and to them, there is an innocence that makes them believe anything is possible. This is something I wish to make them hold onto, and I wish I have done more for the children and staff at Cerecare physically and emotionally. I wish I had more patience. I am not going to lie, sometimes it requires a lot of patience to teach and assist the children. And this makes both parties struggle. I wish I had more patience to watch and better assist the children so they can grow.

Takeaways: Through my strengths and weaknesses, I learned that with a genuine compassionate heart, anything is possible. But also, to make everything possible is very very very difficult. Because through the innocence of these children I learned how to be a better person and more ideas to bring back to the United States and add to my knowledge and education. The biggest and most important takeaway, is how much of an inspiration is all is. I came to Shanghai with Lumos through Projects Abroad with many goals in mind. One of the goals is to find an inspiration on what I want to do later in my career. What I found in Shanghai and Cerecare is more than that, I have found my calling. Through this journey, my biggest takeaway is how I want to continue taking care of children with Cerebral Palsy and other neurological conditions in the United States and the world. I want to continue my education and experience to reach my goal. Through this, I have a deeper understanding of what I want to do later in life.

Everything is really ending! As I listen to the reflections of the children, I could not help but smile with glee. But also a cloud of sadness loomed over me. This will all end. I already hear the children telling me to do not go back to America, because China is my home. And how I must visit them every year! I love their innocence but it is because of them that will make next week extremely heartbreaking. We will see what happens.


Lost in Heaven

There is an old Chinese saying, 上有天堂下有苏杭 (Shang you tian tang xia you Su Hang). This means up above us there is the Heaven, down here there is Suzhou and Hangzhou. This saying compares Heaven to Suzhou and Hangzhou; ever since ancient times these cities are renowned for its beauty and civilization.  Last week I visited Suzhou, so it is only fair to visit the beautiful and bigger city of Hangzhou.

Before Shanghai is the megacity as it is today, Eastern China flourished with the cities of Hangzhou and Suzhou. These two served as major economical and cultural centers of ancient China. Hangzhou has even been a capital of China once! Of course we know Marco Polo called Suzhou and its surrounding towns as the Venice of China, but Marco Polo adored Hangzhou the most. Marco Polo visited Hangzhou and fell in love. With the culture, people, and the West Lake. He vowed to come back again. Later in his life, Marco Polo came back to Hangzhou and even served as the mayor of Hangzhou for quite some time.

My journey to Hangzhou is a valuable experience. I woke up and rushed to the station, and in my tight time frame, I forgot to bring my phone charger! So for the entire day I was trying to save my battery (hence there are no pictures in this post). I also forgot my credit card which would come back to haunt me later. I had with me my backpack and some cash.

In Hangzhou, it was indeed  very developed and proud city. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and is considered one of the cultural centers of China. When you enter the city, you feel like you are in any big Chinese city, except Hangzhou made you also feel the years of tradition it has. The main attraction is the West Lake. A beautiful and enormous lake that has attracted many visitors and inspired the works of many Chinese poets and artists. It is not as tranquil as Zhouzhuang, but it was more grand and full of history. I did my best walking through the famous bridges and along the West Lake. It is very big and in the center of the city, it is kind of like Central Park in NYC. One side of the lake you see the tall skyscrapers and the other side you sea dozens of mountains and the blue sky. During my stay, I also visited the site of the Longjing (Dragon Well) tea. The same tea that Emperor Qianlong, Obama, and Queen Elizabeth drank! Hangzhou prides itself with tea and tea plays a huge role in the history and identity of Hangzhou and Zhejiang province. At night, there was the spectacular “Impression West Lake” by the famous Chinese director, Zhang Yimou. This is a play that actually takes place on West Lake! The entire West Lake is the background decorated with lights and an incredible performance of Hangzhou’s traditions, stories, and memories in an East-meets-West style. This show is really something out of this world and needs to be seen to explain.

At the end of my journey, the trouble started. I spent ALL my cash very quick! Oh how I wished I had my credit card. I tried my best to arrive at the train station to catch my train to Shanghai, only to discover there was a problem with my passport that does not let me board the train. After a long time struggling (and no money), I managed to get a ride back to Shanghai but I had to wait A LONG time at the station. I waited, starving (skipped lunch) and thirsty. I had no phone, and no time either! I had to rush back to Shanghai ASAP to catch my metro home before it closes because I have zero cash for a taxi. This experience has been a valuable one. It has taught me first to be more careful, be more humble, and glad that I am bilingual. It made me come back to earth after I was lost in Heaven. It has a difficult journey, but in a way, I am glad it happened. In the end I managed to get on the train (no seat for me) and caught the absolute last metro home. Hangzhou has been a great and valuable experience, but Shanghai welcomed me with open arms and a warm bowl of noodles!

Cerecare Week 6

Time has flown by, and throughout these times, I feel like a lot has changed. It has been a long way since early days of my time here in Shanghai. Back then I was still trying my best to adapt to society and my work. I remember how terrified I was on my first day at work. Now, I feel like I am more than just adapted to life here in Shanghai. I fit right in! No more fear of crossing the street, or ordering new foods, or exploring China. I feel like I belong in Cerecare. I feel very comfortable here doing what I am doing; maybe even too comfortable.

I am used to the recent weather now, raining everyday, high heat and super humid, and bits of uncomfortable pollution. It might seem a bit ominous, but this atmosphere is like home to me and Cerecare is my family. At Cerecare, I feel very acquainted with the staff and children. Every caretaker, teacher, manager, and children all have a story. And with my month and a half time here, I feel like I learned a lot about everyone. Everyone has a story of why they are here and what their current struggles are. I communicate and learn a lot of new things. Personal and public things. Good things and bad things. Tears and laughter. These personal experiences connects me to this place even more, which I guess is why I adapted so easily to where I am. There are many stories I would love to share, but for the privacy of the individuals in Cerecare I will refrain.

The teachers and other workers all know of me as the little brother, and all the children know me as big brother. And in this time, I have done a lot for them and they have done a lot for me. For the little time I have life, I will grasp every opportunity to enjoy every bit I can and learn as much as I can. I really do not want to leave Shanghai or Cerecare; I really do not want to leave my family or home.


The Venice of China

In a small small town right outside of Suzhou (one of the major cities near Shanghai) lies a very renowned place called Zhouzhuang. Zhouzhuang is an ancient water town, like what Shanghai was maybe 800 years ago. It is surrounded by rivers and canals and the architecture still has not changed since ancient times. This is what makes Zhouzhuang so unique and beautiful. It is so beautiful, that when Marco Polo visited Zhouzhuang, he said it is the Venice of China. I have never been to Venice, but after being to Zhouzhuang, Venice must be very beautiful.

Zhouzhuang is kind of hidden away from the major surrounding cities, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, and Nanjing. I took a quick night layover in Suzhou from Shanghai by train, then I headed to the small city of Tongli by metro, then I went to the even smaller town of Jiangfen by bus. From there, I walked to the even smaller Zhouzhuang. What a journey! But it was worth it.

When you enter Zhouzhuang, it is like stepping back in time. Is this even China? It sure isn’t anything like the busy Shanghai life. The locals here were all very much so relaxed and hospitable and welcoming to visitors. Besides the the abundant amount of tourists, everything felt tranquil and at peace. The city is built around canals and rivers and it is connected by bridges everywhere. These bridges have a lot of meaning to them, like the Green Dragon bridge, Double Luck bridge, all have a deep meaning behind them. The main mode of transportation here is of course by boat! A slender wooden and traditional looking boat rowed by locals. They would row across the numerous waterways singing songs in an ancient language. The atmosphere and air of the city was more than just romantic, maybe just like Venice.

I explored Zhouzhuang as best as I can, following every old street and river. I was content with the village and saw the day, night, sunrise, sunset, sunshine, and rain and how it changes the beauty of Zhouzhuang, every time to a different picture.

Zhouzhuang is a hidden gem hidden in some of the most popular and biggest cities in China, it is easy to miss. But a quick escape from the busy city life would take you back in time to a place unlike any. I would really recommend Zhouzhuang to anyone visiting China. After my trip to Zhouzhuang, I am really considering visiting Venice, the Zhouzhuang of Italy.


Boats line up along these old streets and even older canals. Rowing boats is the main mode of transportation here!


The gate and pagoda right outside the border of the village of Zhouzhuang. It was a very warm welcome!


Being at Zhouzhuang, listening to the songs, watching the water flow, appreciating the atmosphere, and living every second of it, is an unforgettable experience.

Cerecare week 5

As of now, I have completed about half of my placement here in Shanghai. A lot has changed, about my views of myself, my setting, and what I do. I want to be a nurse, and that is the main reason why I love Belmont. This week, I will never be more appreciative to the skills I learned at Belmont. So people with Cerebral Palsy, have a weaker immune system than other children their age. Part of the reason is because of the nature of the disorder, but also children with cerebral palsy have weaker muscles than other children, especially the abdominal and core muscles. These muscles are very important to prevent illnesses. The use of the core muscle is needed to move the diaphragm and lungs to make them stronger and repel bacterial and viral infection.

Now in Shanghai, it is the transition period between spring and summer. This brings with it these random cold rains. The frequent change of temperature, hot and cold, makes the children more susceptible to illness. So this week, one of the children were sick with a respiratory infections. And then another, then another, now almost every child is sick! Even some staff! Now is the time to apply and execute what I learned for three years in college. Prevention, hygiene, nutrition, exercise, everything is needed to ensure the safety of these children. Though they are sick, nothing is stopping them to be as happy as they usually are. Joyous and cheerful, they remained optimistic and tried their best to not let their physical state bother them. I also tried by best to encourage the children to practice frequent hand washing and other tips and precautions.

The week’s weather on my app shows that it will keep flipping from cold to hot. I hope everything will be alright for all in Cerecare. It hurts me to see everyone sick, but in reality I should not be worried. The children are resilient, and that is something I need to learn from them. They taught me lessons like this that I never intended to learn. This week is full of coughs and laughter, but it was a valuable learning experience for me. The children all expressed how they appreciated my helping them but I also appreciate their acceptance. And this reminded me why I want to be a nurse.


Corn skyscrapers and Pig brains: Hello Zhengzhou!

After a long week of work there is nothing better than traveling and exploring the vast land of China! One of the top places to see on my list is Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou is a place not so known for its beauty or culture, but it is a place that is special to me because it has some of the best people there. Two semesters ago, there were exchange students to Belmont from Zhengzhou University. After bonding for a semester, I vowed to visit them in their town!

Zhengzhou has a Nashville feel to it. A mid sized city with a very distinct atmosphere. Walking through Zhengzhou University felt like walking in Belmont (Except ZZU is soooo much bigger) there is even a bell tower at ZZU!

Zhengzhou is highly recommended for anyone traveling to Henan province of China. Zhengzhou is diverse and has some very interesting attractions! One of the most famous buildings looks like an ear of corn! It looks like a roasted corn when the lights turn on at night. For me Zhengzhou is always unforgettable. Of course there is the memories of reuniting with close friends, but also because I had some of the weirdest things I have ever had in my life! To name a few: Pig brains, Cow stomach, Duck blood, mountain yam juice, and others. Yum!

Thank you for the hospitality from my friends in Zhengzhou. It is a fantastic city and I even consider it a hidden gem in China.


Reunited with Ivy, Verona, Estelle, and Olivia! These exchange students loved Belmont and Nashville, and they also wanted me to have the same experience in Zhengzhou! Most of the time we just 吃吃吃 (eat eat eat). This is us eating Hot Pot, a most have in China. (Like Chinese fondue) This is also where we had Duck blood and other weird stuff...


Walking through ZZU Campus (second biggest college campus in China; over 100,000 students) felt like being in Belmont again. Seeing nice views, walking with friends, and even a warm welcome from a bell tower!


These are two of the most famous buildings in Zhengzhou. The one on the right is dubbed the Giant Corn!

Cerecare week 4

Love is something that crosses boundaries and is something that does not need to be translated in a certain language. This week, we have another foreign volunteer from Maryland. She is learning Chinese, so there will be some language barriers. She expressed her fear that language being an issue in her work and experiencing her placement to its fullest potential. So for most of her interactions, I was the translator. She was like me when I started, got the orientation and the general introduction to the place, staff, and children. And also like me, she was also very intimidated at first. But, she soon found her place and earned the love and trust of the children and staff very quick. All of the kids were so curious like any other kid their age would be, what is her home like, what is America like, what does she eat, what is her family like, etc. Besides the occasional ” 哥哥! Translate for me!” from the kids, communication never seemed to be an issue. Ali soon realized how special this place is and how the culture of Cerecare is something that can only be found there. With broken Chinese and a lot of nonverbal communication, Ali also experienced everything I did here and more. Though by the obvious physical difference, the children never once thought Ali was any stranger. Their love is mutually existent in both cultures and is not something that is exclusive. To show just how much emotion was present, Ali left after a week and all of the kids cried more than I thought was possible! For them, they were losing a sister that was dear to them.

At the performance from last week, at attendance is one of the directors of Projects Abroad. She was impressed about Cerecare (I am the first person from Projects Abroad at Cerecare). She wanted to introduce more volunteers to Cerecare but knows that now all people are bilingual like me. She asked me if language is a barrier at all to the care given. And my response like I have witnessed, is obvious that even without the language requirements, so much can be done and felt at Cerecare. Cerecare is a place that accepts you as long as you except what you see. Love indeed is a feat that is beyond the boundaries of culture or language.

Cerecare Week 3

Surprises are the best! Especially when they involve you being a MC for a huge event...

So during my orientation to work I was asked whether or not I wanted to be a host for a huge event Cerecare is doing for Children’s day. Due to some language barriers, I agreed to be a host/mc without even knowing it!

So the day came when I was handed a script in Chinese... and you can imagine my face. But over time and lessons from other staff, I managed to “read” Chinese.

Weeks before the event, the children practiced so hard and diligently for their songs and performances. When asked what the dreams of several of these children, a lot of them will want to be singers. So for these children, you can feel their passion as they practiced for an entire half year for this event.

From watching and helping the children practice, you learn two things: First, how difficult it is for these children to learn something that requires a sense of rhythm. A lot of them physically and mentally cannot keep up with the musical piece. And also, you learn how resilient they are and how they will never give up and will be there supporting each other. Just like their current condition, such as learning to read or walk. From where they started to now, they have improved so much. But it is not without a lot of pain and determination and a loving support group from their peers and other staff members. All I can say is no matter what, I will always be proud of these children.

On the actual day of performance, besides me saying some Chinese phrases wrong and minor technical difficulties, was a huge success! All of the children expressed their passion and demonstrated what they have been working on so diligently for the past six months. And the crowd loved it! Parents, friends, strangers, everyone was there with tears in their eyes. It was emotional in the way that everyone got the message: we are all the same.

One of the children, Duo Duo, is the one with the most musical talent in Cerecare. He is extremely extroverted and loves to talk and sing. He had the final piece and did not fail to show his full potential. At that point, I felt tears in my eyes too. Everyone, but especially him, has worked so hard. This is a child who cannot yet walk nor cut paper with scissors. But he is a boy who always tells you how much he loves you and how much he appreciates you helping him. He is a boy who knows about his condition yet never gives up on his dreams. Someday I truly believe that when he sings, his stage is somewhere that can be heard from around the world. I am so proud.