In a rural village surrounded by rice paddies her ancestors once tended, social studies–teaching major Lauren Angarola (BA ’12) was literally handed her heritage, thanks to her professor Yee Kong Peter Chan (MS ’01, PhD ’03).
The two were in Guangzhou, China, last summer with a new McKay School program, one that immersed eight students in a new culture and let them sharpen their skills teaching English-language learners. But for Angarola, who is a quarter Chinese, the experience was much more.
Angarola is the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her family, and none of her relatives in America speaks Chinese. So Angarola enlisted the help of China native Chan, codirector of the program, to help her trace her family history.
Chan tirelessly searched Chinese databases for villages with Angarola’s family names, researching even during layovers while traveling to China. When they arrived at their apartments in Guangzhou, says Angarola, “I happened to go down to the lobby and found Dr. Chan sitting there, sweating in the heat, on the computer and on the phone.” When Chan looked up and saw Angarola, he gave her the news she’d been praying for: “I found where your family is from.”
He arranged a trip for Angarola to meet her relatives and visit her great-grandfather’s home the next day. “Of all the cities in China, we were [teaching] only two hours from the village where my family is from,” says Angarola.
The other BYU students—and a handful of smiling, curious Chinese villagers—tagged along as Angarola walked through her ancestral village. Angarola got to meet her great-grandfather’s half siblings, and a village leader who knew her family gave her two books outlining her ancestors’ history back to 900 A.D.
“It was a miraculous experience,” says Chan.
“I loved the experience of being in China,” says Angarola. But even more, she says, “I feel confirmed in my testimony of family history and eternal families.”—Sara D. Smith (BA ’10)