Working at a Non-Profit in Beijing : Americans Promoting Study Abroad

My experience at Americans Promoting Study Abroad has confirmed quite a few things I have read about working with non-profit organizations. First of all I would like to point out that this is an organization I have had quite a big insight and familiarity with before asking for an internship position for. APSA began with partnerships with quite a few other non-profit organizations. The idea was to have these other organizations who were more well established help APSA get on its feet and walk alone. However, that was never really achieved. Thus, we have the situation I am in now. An organization that is about eight years old yet does not have the stable base that it should have at this point. In our team of three, with two staff members from the One World Now organization, this summer we have a group of 21 students and a curriculum that we build as we go. There is far too much work to be done and there is only one full time staff member here in Beijing, our Executive Director. Being overworked and understaffed, that was my impression of a non-profit organization.

But many people would never believe the results we are able to churn out. To get so much done, with only a few staff members, within a limited amount of time, and resources, in my opinion we are all amazing here at APSA. And I am sure this is true for many other non-profits. The amount of fun and self discovery I have been able to enjoy during my internship has only left me with a positive impression. My research skills came in handy when it came to formulating short summaries of sites with hundreds of years of history and significance. My experience at Davidson College has taught me to wear many hats at one time in order to help us stick to a schedule or program. Although I have yet to actually find myself applying what I have learned in classes, other than my Chinese language classes, I have taken at Davidson College, my experience with extra-curricular clubs and networking has given me a better grasp of the real world and what it means to get work done at Americans Promoting Study Abroad.

Tower of Buddhist Incense

(Students of the APSA-OWN program in the Tower of Buddhist Incense of the Summer Palace)

Touring vs. Study Abroad : Americans Promoting Study Abroad

The first time I was here in Beijing was four years ago when I earned a study abroad scholarship by Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA), a non-profit organization, for five weeks in the summer of 2012. I found the program so impactful that I applied to the APSA Alumni Student Mentor Position in 2014 when the non-profit branched off into Shanghai, China; I was no longer a scholar of the program, I was a mentor. APSA’s mission is to not only promote global citizenship but also to give opportunities to students of color and low-income households who usually do not have the resources to study abroad. Founded by a small group of Americans who wanted to provide this chance of growth only some in our country can so easily afford, it was launched in 2008. It is part of the 100 thousand Strong Initiative, which was pushed forth because there were actually more Chinese students coming to America to study abroad than there were American students coming to China to study abroad. One of the graduates of the program, Jeffrey Wood, was even able to interview Michelle Obama during her first trip to China. APSA accepts scholars from all over the United States, from Boston, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc.

Right now the non-profit organization is experiencing a transition of Program Management and so it feels like starting anew. We have a new Executive Director whom I have been working with as intern. My work, in the beginning, consisted of data dumps of major sites around the city of Beijing such as the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, The Forbidden City, 798 Art District, etc. I would also compile historical facts and innovative methods that were used in order to build, preserve, and enjoy these structures and sites.

In a way, the program is almost like a tourist company. I say “almost” because it is the very mission of APSA to not be a tourist company. You know, the ones where you have a guide with a microphone attached to the hip and a tall stick with some colorful flag on it. The one that makes frequent stops and just regurgitate interesting fun facts around the area that you’re touring. We’re not that. Never that. The implementation of the curriculum that APSA provides to its scholars is not just about cultural exchange, cultural immersion, and global citizenship. It is also about leadership development. And being a completely different country is a great way for students to get out of their comfort zone and enter that special place where they learn as independent scholars and leaders. The learning is put mostly on the students to achieve while we have staff members who are there to help facilitate them along the way as we visit each excursion site.

So far we have allied with another non-profit known as “One World Now” and are testing out our new curriculum with their students. We have had good feedback so far as we have reached our learning outcomes but difficulties lie in how our organization, APSA, flows with the One World Now organization. Both simply operate differently in their approach to student learning and teaching. But part of my work lies in accompanying the students to areas such as the ones mentioned earlier and watching as they explore and take in the experience of being abroad. I can only hope that it instills in them the importance of studying abroad and that everyone should have an opportunity like this.

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北京

Ahhhh, Beijing, China, the city with something old and something new all in one place. I only have about seven weeks here and I know with all my heart that I cannot experience this city all in just seven weeks. If that were to be my goal, I would surely fail. So instead, my goal is to simply learn as much as possible from my internship position and to enjoy myself along the way. It isn’t my first time here but I am always simply amazed by the whiff of an almost rancid sickly sweet smell whenever I turn the corner, the leisurely old people dancing at night in parks, the use of squat toilets, and the power of the USD here in this country. That is my broad sense of the city, my more in-tune sense of wonderment overpowers any level of minor discomfort I may have about some of the cultural differences in lifestyle between America and China.

I was lucky enough to be connected to someone who knew almost every ex-pat in Beijing by my Executive Director. I was able to visit the local Queer Space that was actually really close to my apartment. Finding a queer community in Beijing was something I thought would be hard to near to impossible. But I was lucky enough to meet some amazing queer community members here in Beijing. I was amazed at how active the ex-pat community was as well. There were always group invitations to hangouts such as Friday restaurant nights and Sunday movie nights. With the freedom and opportunity I have, I was able to freely explore and enjoy my time here in Beijing as I work for the Americans Promoting Study Abroad non-profit organization.

 

It’s good to be back.

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