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.
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.
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).
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.
Before I left Boston earlier this week for Shanghai, I set some goals for myself for the summer:
After being in China for only three days, I realized that these goals were far too easy, for I have already succeeded in fulfilling them. First of all, my fellow interns already feel like a new family. Each one of them offers an amazing amount of talent and passion. The combination of our unique backgrounds contribute to our team’s ability to incorporate diverse perspectives into our vision for the company. Between our discussions, adventures, and laughter, I feel like I have learned so much from them. I cannot wait to meet the other interns and students in Chengdu next month!
Between wandering through the bustle of Shanghai at night to trying new foods, this internship has already contributed to the countless amazing memories of this summer. These experiences have forced me to practice my Chinese, and the full immersion of the language has definitely improved my ability to communicate with it. While I have mostly met my goals for this summer in such a short amount of time, I realize that these goals were too centered on myself.
These three days in Shanghai have allowed me to recognize the ineffable greatness of this city. I am currently writing this blog post while admiring the great view of the skyline from my apartment. Of the thousands of buildings I see, each one has hundreds of little lit square windows, each of which belong to a family, and each of those consist of several people with their own stories and dreams. In recognizing that each of the thousands of people I see every day in Shanghai has his or her aspirations, I have changed my goals to be more community-centered. By working for the social venture Educatrium, I am making a direct impact on people. Its small size allows my insights to significantly contribute to the company and the individualized support I receive in connection with team work helps to fuel my personal growth. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer holds!
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.