Connecting Across the Globe


Four girls from the same Chinese orphanage reunite at ETSU

From right, Abbey Laughlin, Anna Cole, Emily Baker and Gabby Bridges were all adopted from the same Chinese orphanage and reunited as freshmen at ETSU.

By Cassidy Blackwell

Four girls adopted from the same Chinese orphanage have reunited in college at ETSU, connecting with each other and their heritage.

Gabby Bridges, Anna Cole and Abbey Laughlin were all adopted by local families between 2001 and 2002. Their parents became close throughout the process and traveled to China together. Emily Baker was adopted two months after Gabby, Anna and Abbey from the same orphanage.

“The odds of all of us going to ETSU is just crazy,” said Abbey. “I think it’s good to have an Asian community.”

Gabby’s mother, Beth Bridges, described the layout of the orphanage as similar to a small one-story motel. Each room packed children in like sardines having nearly 30 babies with five to a crib. Anna and Gabby actually lived in the same room for the first 10 months of their lives.

After being adopted, the girls and their families spent time together, but eventually went their separate ways. Anna and Abbey stayed close, and both went to Dobyns-Bennett High School, but Gabby moved to North Carolina when she was young, and Emily had not met any of the other girls. It was not until their freshman year of college that they met again.

Beth Bridges noticed a Facebook post from Anna and Abbey’s parents saying they too attended ETSU. She reached out and Gabby was able to reconnect with them. After COVID-19 and quarantine, the girls were in need of friends and began hanging out. Gabby and Anna live in the same residence hall as part of the Pre-Health Living Learning Community and met Emily through this LLC. The three girls then discovered Abbey lives in the residence hall just across the grass from them.

Upon reuniting, they have been inseparable.

“I found community again,” said Emily.

In considering colleges, the girls did not want to move too far away from home and were interested in a school with strong medicine programs, so ETSU was a perfect fit. Anna and Gabby are Pre-Nursing students, and Abbey and Emily are Health Science majors on the Pre-Med track. All the girls attend The Well together, a non-denominational campus ministry. Emily is the treasurer of the new Asian-American Student Association and has encouraged the others to join. With their similar studies and extra-curriculars, being friends was natural.

The girls agree that as adopted children, it is difficult to stay connected to their Asian roots.

Anna and Abbey participated in a China’s Angels group during their childhood where they met other Chinese Americans and celebrated traditions like Chinese New Year. Anna and Abbey keep up with some people from this group, though they attend different colleges.

Emily’s extra-curriculars when she was young exposed her to diverse cultures. She had a best friend in high school whose family maintained their Asian traditions. Emily was able to eat traditional foods with them and learn about Asian culture.

Gabby, Anna, Abbey and Emily are happy to be reunited as it gives them a sense of community and belonging. They are especially excited for the new Asian American Student Association to meet other Asian students at ETSU.

Finding each other across the globe and a decade later has not changed their bond, joining in heritage and friendship.


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