Morris Zhonglun Sun ’17 had plans to become a barber during his gap year between his junior and senior years at Pomona.

A philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) and German studies double major at Pomona, Sun found more meaning in life partially through reading Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hegel, Narcissus and Goldmund, among other authors and works.

Sun realized during his junior year at Pomona that he needed a type of experiential learning that would allow him to “see the world through his own eyes”—one that would eventually become the subject of his book, The Return.

Sun did not quite become a barber during his college gap year, but he did return to his home country of China, taking on different roles and challenges across everyday professions to truly see the often-hidden realities in society and along the way, get to know himself better.

From working long hours and living with his co-workers in factories in poverty-stricken parts of the country, to teaching at a rural middle school, to apprenticing at a literary magazine, Sun used his writing as his platform to document and absorb what he had been observing and experiencing on a daily basis.

The son of a literature-loving couple, Sun had started writing from a young age. At first, he considered writing as a way of meeting his parents’ expectations for him to develop and strengthen his literary capacity from childhood. Sun confessed that publishing his first book, The Talent Show on a Crazy Train, in secondary school and regularly updating the blog that he started back at the age of 11 were relatively forced decisions.

Over time, however, writing has become a lifestyle for Sun, who began to feel incomplete without it.

“Writing enables me to find another dimension of life,” says Sun, who aims to be a person with sharp ideas who can speak about anything in society.

Sun’s return to China inspired The Return, where Sun shares his growing understanding of his home country -- and himself -- through anecdotes and critical reflections from his gap year.

Sun’s ‘return’ involves two layers of meanings. On a literal level, it was a return to the land where he was born and raised, but a land whose people, according to himself, he had not truly gotten to know. On a metaphorical level, it was a return to the questions that he did not want to confront before.

One of the book reviews featured on the cover page comes from Pomona College’s E. Wilson Lyon Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy Stephen A. Erickson, who was the first professor to remind him of his talent at times when he was feeling lost. The mentor figure’s words felt like ‘salvation’ that renewed Sun’s confidence in himself and his ambitious projects.

Sun was selected as one of fourteen finalists from across China for the Rhodes Scholarship during his senior year at Pomona. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge, where he continues to seek answers to fundamental questions to the human condition through writing and beyond.

“I learned so much through my conversations with Morris,” says Professor Erickson. “Through exploring some ideas together I came to see a number of things differently. Pomona is so fortunate to get the special kind of students that it does. Morris was even unusual amidst the unusual. Would he be able to travel as he did, and in the midst of this gather material for a book? He has, and he has written that book.”