study abroad is never an end destination, but only the first page of a story
Wow… I can’t believe it has been 3 months since I returned home to the United States. And yes, you might be thinking “Didn’t you leave Shanghai in June?” Well, yes I did. But I didn’t leave China until August (and unfortuately wasn’t able to blog during that in-between time because of lack of blogging technology). So here’s a quick synopsis for those who missed it my follow on project back in the States:
Shanghai was a great place to start my experience in China, but it left me with more questions than answers. I felt like I was living in a showroom, a city designed for foreign businessmen and set on a pedestal for international visitors. It seemed fake to me, almost plastic, and I had a burning feeling to see how Chinese people lived outside this sea of skyscrapers. And so, at the end of my semester in Shanghai, I decided to extend my stay in China until August, 2014. During this time, I backpacked throughout the country. I travelled to 16 cities across mainland China and also visited Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. These experiences sharpened my conversational language skills and taught me more about China, especially about ethnic minorities. I learned about the island people of Hainan and the Tibetan population in Sichuan province. I visited historical landmarks in Beijing, and went to the birthplace of Kung Fu in Kaifeng.
But I also saw underlying unrest or disagreements in China. Many people had negative views towards Japan, and Chinese elderly had shrines to Mao in their homes. When I visited Hong Kong, I witnessed first-hand the tension between the Hong Kong people and the Central Communist Party of China. The majority of young people I met hated the communist party, and said they would flee to another country if the communists became too strong. I also saw protests of migrant laborers from Indonesia and the Philippians. And after spending six months in a highly-censored environment, open protests shocked me.
While I say I learned more about China during my 9 weeks of travel, I recognize the foundation of it was built in Shanghai. I see my semester in Shanghai as my first building blocks: my first introduction to Chinese language, first time visiting China, and first time giving myself the opportunity to explore my surroundings. It was the catalyst. I believe study abroad is never an end destination, but only the first page of a story.
My story began in Shanghai and who knows where it will end. I am still planning to pursue a career in Global Public Health, and Chinese language skills will enable me to be an effective international health worker. I have recently secured a Health Policy Internship at the American Enterprise Institute and an internship with the Foreign Service for the summers of 2015 and 2016.
Now that I am home in the United States, I desperately want others to have similar experiences as me. More importantly, I see a lack of international experience among my fellow STEM majors. Of the hundreds of science majors I know, only two others had chosen to study abroad the same semester I did. So, for my follow on project, I spoke to 200 freshman and sophomores in the Life Science Scholars Program. The majority of these students are majoring in Biology, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Psychology, or Community Health, and therefore fall into an “under-represented” category in study abraod.
My main objective was to show STEM majors that studying abroad for a full academic semester is possible. I know from first-hand experience that dedicating a full semester to study abroad can be taxing on graduation requirements for STEM majors. Many STEM majors also worry about financing study abroad, as many want to save money for professional school. I wanted to speak with underclassmen, as I believe they had enough time to re-arrange their academic plans to fit in a semester abroad.
During my presentation, I spoke about the importance of study abroad, common myths preventing STEM majors from going abroad, and funding opportunities. I emphasized that, as upcoming leaders in the scientific fields, we must have international experiences that shape our academic outlook and enable better cross-cultural collaborations. I also said that, for those hoping to go medical school, studying abroad during the spring semester of their sophomore year enables them to dedicate all of their junior year to MCAT preparation. I also spoke of the FEA Scholarship as well as other scholarships that welcome STEM majors to apply. At the close of my presentation, I handed out a synthesized list of STEM-friendly study abroad scholarships, which included a short description, requirements, and application timeline of each.
Since speaking with Life Sciences Scholars, I have been contacted by many of the students I interacted with. Several of them are interested in applying to FEA and asked me questions about the application process. I am also continuing my Chinese language study independently through textbooks I purchased in China, and I participate in Chinese language hours at my university’s Confucius Institute.
It’s hard for me to proces everything I learned while abroad, and I’m definitely still sifting through all of it in my head. I know I want to learn more about China and about the East Asia region, but I often feel stuck. Stuck in my life at school, stuck doing papers and projects, and stuck in my own complatency. I am working hard to remember the feelings I had while in China: of complete wonder and joy. And I look for that same novelty while I am here in the U.S. I have learned that my experiences will always be a part of me, and that I can always find a connection back to my time abroad if I look for it. I have learned that I can do things I never thought I could, and that I can make a difference even in small ways (like I did in the elderly communities in Shanghai). I learned that awful sterotypes exist and that wrongful judgment is passed every day. And I learned, most importantly, that I want to dedicate my life to an international career. And so, I wanted to say thank you again to everyone who helped make my experience in Shanghai a reality. Thank you FEA!