When two international freshmen found themselves unable to go home for the holidays, they began to plan a trip to the city of Fayetteville, N.C.—about 90 miles away. An error in planning, however, left Cassie Yuan and Florence Tesha over 1,000 miles away in Fayetteville, Ark. A run in with the local media gave way to an instant status of town celebrities for the two girls, who ended up enjoying their holiday by being welcomed by their new midwestern friends. The Chronicle’s Carleigh Stiehm sat down with Yuan to discuss her winter adventure.
The Chronicle: Can you describe how you ended up in Arkansas?
Cassie Yuan: I was looking for a travel companion, and Tesha happened to be looking for one as well. That’s how we came together. We were trying to decide on where to go when one of her family friends who lives in North Carolina booked her a hotel in and flight to Fayetteville, N.C. However, later we found out that they accidentally booked a flight to Fayetteville, Arkansas instead of North Carolina. But since neither of us had been to Northwest Arkansas anyway, we decided that we would just go with it.
TC: What did you end up doing while you were there?
CY: The plan was to stay at the hotel, explore the surrounding area and just chill for three weeks. However, on Christmas Day, we were walking on the empty neighborhood and desperately [trying to] find a place to go, but all the businesses were closed. Then a car drove by and we were like, ‘finally there is someone else on the street.’ So we waved to them and walked on. A few minutes later, the car came by again and pulled off by us. It turned out that they were reporters from KNWA—a local NBC news channel—and they were desperately looking for people to talk to as well. They were looking around for people to take videos of saying their thoughts on Christmas as a holiday. So we told them our story and how we ended up in Arkansas. After we parted, we saw their car following us again, and this time they asked if we’d be willing to let them do a news package on our story. This news piece later gathered some attention from some really hospitable families and individuals in Northwest Arkansas, and we spent the rest of break with these local people who reached out to us through the news station. Some of them had us over to stay with their family, some showed us around the town or took us out for dinner, some invited us to their New Years celebration. So we got to meet and become friends with a lot of kind people that were eager to know about us also.
TC: What did your friends and family say when they found out about your adventure?
CY: My family was very much confused. Because at first I was planning on going to Canada, then I told them no, I am going to somewhere in North Carolina, and then when I called them again I was in Arkansas. But to them it was all the same—I was not anywhere close to home. So as along as I kept calling them and told them that I was safe and eating well, they were fine. My friends who knew me for a long time were not surprised that this craziness happened to me, but for those who just got to know me this year, they were just glad that we made it safe and sound, and were excited for us that it turned out to be quite an adventure.
TC: Did you learn anything from your experience?
CY: Every second was part of a learning process. I am especially grateful for Tesha because I not only got to learn about her home country more, but also because of her company I was able to take some risks that I would not otherwise be taking on my own. Having a friend with me the whole journey definitely made all the miracles that happened possible.
TC: Did the Duke staff help you in any way?
CY: We did not seek, nor did we expect, any help from Duke anyways because we knew we were supposed to be on our own during the break. If we needed help we would not have chosen to go off campus in the first place—there was on campus housing available during the break for international students. However, Duke helped spread the story through social media—Facebook and Twitter—and that got us in touch with some people that cared about us. Since we came back on campus, we have had people... come up to us, ask us about our trip and tell us how worried they were—that meant a lot to us. We also met up with a Duke Divinity student who lives in Arkansas when we were there. She was of great help to us as well.