So far, life is good.
Having never been to China before, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. My flight domestic transfer flight from Shanghai to Chengdu was delayed. Luckily for me, a middle-aged couple adopted me for the day, but since I speak no Mandarin and they spoke no English, our interactions were limited to smiling and them feeding me, which I had no problem with.
Once I finally got to Chengdu, however, things became much more enjoyable and a little less sweaty (air conditioning, u r bae). To reference Ferris Bueller, I did things. I ate brains and yak meat. I (didn’t) feel my mouth go numb from murderously hot Sichuan peppers.
I was asked to take photos with many strangers. I got lost on my first day of work (sorry again). I ate far too much yogurt. I collected photos of bad translations.
So far, life is good.
I learned that traffic laws and seat belts are more mild suggestions than standards. I went on a quest for yoga shorts, and discovered spandex is nearly impossible to find. I visited a dog rescue center (the one Kelly talked about). I played with an adorable puppy.
Lark Trumbly is going to be a junior at Stanford University studying psychology, with a double minor in computer science (hard) and history (fun). As a member of Nerd Nation, she does crosswords and watches Jeopardy for fun. She is a California free spirit.
Here I am, my homeland, China. It’s been almost a year since the last time I left this nation and what on earth could be better than going backing home?
Sichuan is not the place where I group up but it’s fantastic here. On July 6th we went on a climbing tour of Emei Mountain that is famous for its Emei Kungfu and Buddhism. At least that's what I had heard previously. There were cable cars on Emei, but the whole team chose to climb it up step by step. The stairs seemed infinitely long, as we didn’t know how many stairs were still remaining. We started to breathe harder as the altitude increased. But, the feeling of accomplishment when we finally reach the Golden Peak made us feel that the pain was worth of it.
Today, we visited the Leshan Big Buddha. Leshan appears to be a small hill compared to Emei Mountain. As we went over the large crowd, as you typically would see in every tour sites in China, the huge Buddha sitting next to the river appeared in front of us. The erosion caused by acid rain seemed obvious all over the Buddha’s face. It is said that there used to be gold and jade covering its body, but they have vanished for some reason you might or might not know.
Everything in Sichuan is fresh to me and I look forward to the future trips.
Shawn Cheng is an upcoming junior at University of Michigan, majoring in Industrial and Operations Engineering. He grew up in China and went to USA for college. He enjoys tennis and working out (beginner) in his leisure time.
Our final day in Shanghai had come. After an interesting month, I was heading out to meet the other interns. I was effectively trading my three Shanghai aunts for three Chengdu interns. In a day’s time, all of the Educatrium interns, minus Matthew (I miss you my child), would be starting our vacation tour in Beijing.
The air was cleaner than I had imagined. The sky was surprisingly blue. The gray smog I had been expecting was nowhere to be found. Meeting us at the arrival hall was our tour guide, John. He brought us to our hotel, located close to Tiananmen Square, before letting us settle in for the night. As it was quite late, I did the only logical thing: challenge my boss to a game of billiards. I lost. I blame the fact that I’m smaller than the cue stick. But it’s fine.
Between Shanghai and Beijing was a seven-hour long train ride. Since our vacation technically did not begin until we hit Beijing, Zubair and I had a productive train ride. Along with my two suitcases (I didn’t overpack I swear), I brought my excel talents with me onto the train. As the miles went by, so to did the spreadsheets. Hundreds of miles and hundreds of cells (Excells, not eukaryotic ones… sorry, biology major Vincent) later, our train pulled into Beijing.
Grace is a sophomore at Yale University who plans to major in Applied Math and English. In her free time, she enjoys petting dogs, reading post-modern lit, and picking puns out of rap songs. She is highly proficient in Excel.
When I left home to go to Washington DC’s Dulles International airport at the bright and early time of 7am, I was expecting to be on a flight to Shanghai in just a couple of hours. I had been waiting for this day for a while – I had just finished finals week (whoo!) at the University of Chicago the week before and had been busy packing in the days leading up to the long flight. Little did I know that my flight would be cancelled. Frantically, I had managed to rebook my flight to Beijing and travel to Guangzhou from there. In Guangzhou, I would finally meet the rest of the interns at Educatrium, the education startup I would be working at for the summer.
My first day in Guangzhou turned out to be incredibly busy, fun, and unexpected. When I got to the office, I immediately plunged into the constantly moving and buzzing atmosphere of Educatrium. I spent the day presenting information on the college application to wide-eyed, impressionable high school students, bonding and joking with my fellow interns (and new friends!), and being surprised by the eagerness and openness of the students I was talking to. Before I knew it, the time was approaching 6pm, and I was starving. With all of our responsibilities done for the day, the other interns and I packed up and grabbed a delicious dinner of 排骨 (Chinese spare ribs) and fried rice at a nearby restaurant. Feeling a bit heavier (with my eyelids taking most of the weight – it had been a long day), I walked off our meal on the frenetic streets of Guangzhou.
It was a whirlwind of a few days, starting off with a cancelled flight and ending with the rather pleasant feeling of a full stomach after a meal with friends, the hum of upbeat conversation almost lulling me to sleep. After collapsing onto my bed and pulling the covers over me, I had one last thought for the night: this was the beginning of a two month-long adventure in China, and I was already looking forward to the next day.
Stacey Chiu is a junior at the University of Chicago. She has just discovered the amazing show, Dance Moms, and has been trying to stream it on spotty hotel WiFi since coming to China. When not marathon-ing Lifetime reality shows, she likes to play tennis and eat.
Here I am, four months later, back in Chengdu. Chengdu is pretty: the scenery, the people, and the pandas. Unfortunately, Chengdu is also hot and humid. The weather never goes below 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, nor does the humidity dip below 85% either. Coming from the Wisconsin border of Illinois, the polar opposite of Chengdu, I am suffering. I like the cold and I like dry. 65 degrees and slightly breezy is my definition of perfect weather.
In addition to temperature, the food in Chengdu is extremely hot, temperature-wise as well as number of chili peppers on the menu-wise. And, don’t mean flaming hot Cheetos spicy. I mean, my mouth is completely numb spicy. I generally try to only eat food that doesn’t hurt me. Sauce has never been my thing, let alone spices. I’m working on it though, taking little, baby steps to adjust to the food. Currently, I can handle two chili peppers on the menu… while being in immense pain that is. I can’t say that it’s all that enjoyable though. It’s ok though, I’ll stick to the bigger chain restaurants. In the words of Mentor Grace (Yale University ‘18), “it's fine it's fine.”
Apart from the general heat, I like Chengdu a lot. It’s clean, cheap(ish), has fewer people than Shanghai, and everything is located within a five block radius. On that note, I’m excited to spend the next month here. Maybe I’ll even develop an affinity for spicy food… once I can feel my tongue again that is.
Vincent Song is a Junior at Columbia University. In Shanghai, he is most looking forward to exploring the nightlife, as he grew up in a small town in upstate Illinois.
I arrived in Guangzhou on Friday in the early afternoon, a half a day before the rest of the team. After checking into my hotel, I met up with an employee from Great China, who offered to take me around the city for a bit and get dinner with me. Being in a foreign city with no language skills, it is exponentially better having someone take you around to avoid any translation problems or getting lost. I met up with Selena, and we started our afternoon adventures in the humid city of Guangzhou.
Our first stop was priority was obviously getting bubble tea. I got a taro flavored bubble tea (a regular, delicious staple of my diet), while she settled for a traditional milk tea. We took the subway to the Tiahne district, famous for shopping, and meandered through a few clothing shops. She wanted to take me to her favorite dumpling restaurant, so our next stop was this little nook restaurant in a different part of the city. I was glad to have some not-so-spicy foods again. We talked about favorite foods and Cantonese dishes during dinner, and she shared a bit about Guangzhou’s history while we walked back to the subway and finally to our last destination.
As it was getting later in the evening, we arrived at the the city-center near the river waterfront, a very open and pleasant place to walk around. It is a perfect place to be just as the sun is setting, as the Guangzhou (Canton) Tower lights up, ferries float down the river, and the skyline is picturesque. We shared more stories of families, cultural differences, and future goals. It was so much fun, and I felt like I learned so much from our conversation.
At times in our conversation, we had trouble communicating, as there were language barriers. I had to think of other words or simpler phrases to communicate my message or ask a question, and many times when we would realize we misunderstood each other, we would just end up looking confused and laughing. This conversation clearly demonstrated how important it is to be an effective communicator, whether in a college essay or just while making a new friend in a foreign country, and how the simplest things can be confusing and laughably misunderstood to another person. Overall, I had a great day back in Guangzhou and am excited for all that is to come!
Molly is a recent grad from Yale with a B.S. in Psychology and a concentration in Education Studies. She loves traveling and experiencing new cultures. Follow her photo journey in China on Instagram: instagram.com/mollymichaels.
Talk cute, furry animal to me. Do it. If there’s anything in the world that makes my little heart beat, it’s the entire, whopping spectrum of cat-dog-animal-creatures. When I found out that there was an opportunity to follow some of our students to one of China’s largest cat/dog rescue centers, there was really only one response: Hell yes.
The story goes that a Chinese woman chose to dedicate her entire life to saving stray cats and dogs all over Chengdu. She bought a huge plot of land, and created a sanctuary for the little critters, who can safely do-dog-and-cat-stuff while waiting for their next home. Rumor has it that her children were so jealous of the cats/dogs, they now refuse to speak to her on virtue of feeling unloved (sad face).
Staircase to heaven.
We (fellow mentors Trey, Rena, Lark and 8 students) all headed out in the early morning to play with and bathe the fluffy monsters.
The best welcome I’ve ever received.
Poor baby is being surrounded by 4 large, scary humans who wield water.
We quickly realized that there was a problem. A little soapy bath is hardly enough to create an actual difference. As Mentor Rena put it: What’s the point in bathing a dog that will just get dirty again? It was great that students were taking the time to help take care of these animals, but cleaning two dogs is hardly impactful. “But we can’t do anything else,” the students insisted at 11 am, a mere two hours after arriving. “We’ve already tried everything we could,” they claimed, after only washing two dogs.
“Is this all you wanted to accomplish?” we responded.
Correct answer: No
“What’s the real goal?” we continued.
Adoption. Love. A new friendly family to call one’s own.
So think bigger. If you want to create meaningful change, you have to work hard to make it happen. Maybe the your first few campaigns didn’t work out. So what? Try again.
Think further. If a simple, direct campaign isn’t enough, how about a sensational one? Why was the ALS ice bucket challenge so popular?
Think deeper. How is hype created? How are some student campaigns so viral, and why are some so unknown?
And that’s really what we were there for: to help students do more than think. To help students think big. To examine this activity, and to deconstruct its effect. To help students find a way to leave a sustainable and meaningful impact on their intended community. The furry angels were just a (very, very, very wonderful) bonus.
Kelly Luc is a junior at Brown University studying public health and visual arts. Kelly enjoys candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach. In her free time, Kelly can be found shamelessly posting photos of herself on her instagram (@kelchupp).
It’s been a few days since I’ve touched down in Shanghai and I’ve been working around the clock on getting our database up and running. I’m mostly server side, so I’ve been setting up our SQL servers and writing the PHP that queries our servers for data and spits it back into the servers. It’s grueling and tedious, but it needs to get done before we can move on to the fun stuff!
When I’m off work though, I spend my time searching the streets of Shanghai for the coolest (and cheapest) eats. Below is the Chinese twist on shawarma. For those of you who don’t know, shwarma is meat placed on a vertical spit and slowly grilled throughout the entire day. It keeps it nice and warm until the street cart vendor slices it off for you. He gives it a quick one-two on a hotplate along with a few vegetables and sprinkles Chinese chili pepper all over it. The whole thing goes into a warm bun and you take it to go. I keep coming back to it because of how freaking good it is.
Also classic are xiaolongbao and jiaozi. Both of them are meat wrapped inside flour and fried on the bottom, but the difference is all in the preparation. Xiaolongbao are shaped like little buns and they have their own meat juice inside. It’s almost like a little bite of soup inside each one. When eating them, you need to be careful because the juice is prone to squirting all over you as you bite it. That’s why the preferred method is to eat it in one gulp! Jiaozi are more like fried dumplings. You sprinkle a little soy sauce on it and the sourness really accents the flavor of the meat while adding a little softness to the crispiness of the bottom.
I honestly have no idea what this baby is called, but I like it. It’s sort of like an omelet, in that there is an egg being fried and things being wrapped in the egg. That’s where the similarities stop though. This has some flour stuff mixed in, some mushrooms, spam, cut up hot dogs, spices, soy sauce, cheese, and I don’t even know what the rest of the stuff is. I asked the guy to put everything in there and he may have asked me some questions that I didn’t understand. Whatever it was though, it’s definitely worth trying!
One last honorable mention goes to the Chinese fried chicken that tastes delicious but threatens to give me a mini heart attack every time I even look at it. It’s essentially pieces of breaded chicken thrown into a pot of oil and deepfried (yeah, that’s a trend here, I know). It gets sprinkled with a delicious mix of chili peppers, green onions, and other spices that you can smell from a block away. Honestly it’s fantastic, but I need to stop getting this or else my belly will have words with me.
Benjamin is a Junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying physics and mechanical engineering. Going by the nickname "Jiang", he is passionate about coding, computer games, and reading manga. An adventurous eater, he is most excited for the food!
After work each day, I’m usually faced with a dilemma: should I go dinner and go straight home and rest, or should I wander around and explore the beautiful city of Shanghai? Usually I go straight to our apartment because I’m tired, but last night, I decided to wander around our area more with my fellow tech intern Namit. After walking around looking for a pre-dinner snack (#alwayshungry), we decided to go into a huge mall called Raffles City.
Malls in general in China bring shopping to the next level, and since this particular shopping center was located next to one of the busiest metro stations in Shanghai, it was especially spectacular. As soon as Namit and I entered the mall, we were greeted with a HUGE wall made out of about 50,000 Pocky boxes...forming someone’s face. It turns out that Pocky was doing a promotion where it would take a picture of you and form it using Pocky boxes as pixels! It seemed like one of those ideas where someone on the Pocky marketing team originally suggested it as a joke, and everyone else took it seriously and made it happen. Namit and I got in line, feeling both eager and confused. Our excitement grew as one by one, each person ahead of us got their face displayed onto the Pocky wall.
Eventually, I got to the front of the line, stepped onto the pedestal, and cheesed at the wall of Pocky. The wall displayed a countdown: 3…2…1 and boom. My face, in all its glory, was plastered across a 100ft wall made out of Pocky for the hundreds of people in the mall to see.
While that only lasted for about 30 seconds, I’m sure that it is enough for all my friends at home to be jealous. Afterwards, I got a bunch of other Pocky swag, including three boxes of chocolate Pocky, a Pocky tote, and a box of Pocky with my face on it. I hope that this won’t be the last that I’ll see of ridiculous advertising in China.
Erica is an MIT student studying computer science. She is passionate about increasing interest in STEM fields through outreach programs and empowering women using education . She also loves to dance, run, and try new foods.
My mind swelled up with some weird feeling as I found a packet with my name—“Educatrium / Ji Yun.” It could have been joy, excitement, nervousness, exhaustion, or all of the above. One thing I knew for sure was that despite my 19-hour flight and my day that was ongoing for its 27th hour, I was happy. I was in Shanghai, the second biggest city in China, a city that is full with beautiful memories, beautiful views, and—now I know—beautiful people.
My boss lead me straight to the office, not to the apartment. To be honest, I was pretty self-conscious at first. My hair was all oily, my face was dry, and most of all, I didn’t know what was going on. My co-workers, however, all looked very professional and seemed to know exactly what they are doing. If I were them, I would avoid getting near me ;) Despite my worries, however, they cordially welcomed me and patiently taught me whatever I needed or wanted to know. As I was standing in the glass-wall room what they called “Think Tank,” half-listening and half-“tiring”, I could feel my tense gage go down. I told myself, “ok, I can do this.”
Now, I have been here for six days. The city still treats me as a foreigner, but to me, Shanghai does not feel as foreign anymore. In fact, this city has been a place of new adventures and inner growth. I am truly happy to be here, in Shanghai, with my soon-to-be-friends co-workers.
Over the next few days, I roamed around the foreign city, using my broken (almost non-existent) Chinese, trying new Chinese food, taking pictures, and watching a circus. There was always that awkward moment when Shanghainese people speak freely to me in Chinese—because I look Chinese—and then be startled as I just return a blank expression. But they soon understand that I am Korean and kindly try to explain with body language. Oh, and don’t forget, my co-workers have been kind enough to translate anything that I need in Chinese—to the best of their ability.
Jiyun attends Dartmouth College. She enjoys playing video games, learning new languages, and reading "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." In fact, on average she has read 1 novel per week over the course of the last decade. That's over 520 books!
View of the Ancient Anshun Bridge rebuilt in 2002 based on the original 1746 wooden version, nestled among multiple high-rises in downtown Chengdu, five minutes from my hotel.
Ah…Chengdu. This is my fifth visit to this amazing city and it never gets old. Quite literally, this city showcases a breathtaking merge of new developments and constant construction next to incredible cultural monuments.
Did I mention this place was gorgeous at night?
From the views to the impressive carved motifs scattered throughout the city to the lively groups of elderly citizens ballroom dancing in the night, there is no lack of excitement in Chengdu. Even my tongue is oftentimes on fire—or numb, and on fire.
Whatever I do, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that this place has an unhealthy obsession with something. Now that I think about it, a lot of my colleagues have been telling me that this city is known for its large number of beautiful young women so I suppose I understand why there are so many shopping malls here.
Unsurprisingly, many of the top American brands are here, including Gucci, Prada—wait, what is that? A bird, a plane?
Pandazilla, escaped from the Chengdu Panda Research Base to wreck all kinds of cuteness upon the city!
Run for it!!!
As I count down the days, I’m excited to finally meet the rest of the summer team soon and look forward to working together as we prepare to help students discover just how high they can reach.
SuperPanda to the Rescue!
The other obsession, of course, is everything related to the two-tone national icon, the panda. Every year, countless visitors arrive at the research base hoping for a glimpse of the animals munching on bamboo or active at play. If you arrive too late in the day, however, you may be disappointed with photos of only napping pandas, which ooze cuteness nonetheless.
Rena graduated from Princeton too many years ago but can’t seem to get away from working in the classroom. She majored in Anthropology with certificates in Urban Studies and Environmental Studies. She enjoys giving her dogs piggy-back rides.
Devoting my attention to this social venture has been rewarding both personally and professionally. I’m excited to meet the rest of the Educatrium team and look forward to what’s to come this summer.
Trey Miller studies Bioengineering at University of Pennsylvania. He is passionate about sustainable development and believes education is the first step. In his free time, Trey enjoys cooking with his friends and fostering stray cats.
Three weeks ago today was the day I came to China. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for that long. Every day becomes an adventure so I haven’t really had any time to be bored enough to count the days. So far, I’ve visited Chengdu, Chongqing, and Guangzhou. Some of my favorite moments so far have come from wandering around the streets with students and observing everyday life. This is my first time in western China. I’m inclined to say I prefer the pace of life here as opposed to the stressful coastal cities.
Working with Educatrium has already taught me so much. I started meeting students during my first day in the office. I’ve visited schools and met with teachers and parents. From these discussions, I’ve learned to understand many of the challenges students face whether they be structural, personal, or social. These students face tremendous barriers to higher education and I’ve been working with them to develop solutions so they can achieve their goals.
June 1st. The start of a new month and the start of a summer filled with new experiences.
After enjoying a traditional Shanghai breakfast of porridge and pickled vegetables expertly prepared by my gracious host, I headed to the airport to meet up with the rest of the crew. Despite the throng of anxious jet-setters crowding the arrival terminal stricken with post-flight malaise, they were easy enough to spot, all decked out in their respective college gear (with the exception of Zubair, whose straw fedora nevertheless made a powerful fashion statement).
Checking into our apartment, I felt a melange of varied and conflicting emotions: initial shock and jubilation at how beautiful everything was (the vibrant color palette of the rooms, the amazing view, the fuzzy throw pillows) as well a small tinge of sadness upon realizing that the best room had already been claimed by fellow mentor and new housemate Grace (a Yalie!). Nevertheless, I am more than satisfied with my clean and colorful room, nicely outfitted with monkey decals and an abundance of electrical outlets.
For dinner, we wandered into a randomly-chosen restaurant and sat down with high expectations for our first official meal together in China. It did not disappoint - while several members of the team expressed disappointment at the odd repertoire of Italian fusion food and the dwindling selection of choice cuts, the hot sparks from the crackling grill and the peppery flavor of the ordered steaks over the sounds of our chatter and laughter ultimately left us with our tongues ablaze and our hearts pounding with anticipation for the days to come.
Anne is a student at Columbia University. She is passionate about social justice, education, and literature. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, and visiting museums.