Overall Reflection

There really aren’t that many words that can fully describe how important and incredible this summer was for me. I am incredibly blessed to have been able to spend my time within Asia, and will forever be grateful for the wonderful experiences that I now have.

There are so many things that I learned throughout this time; this summer encompassed traveling alone for the first time, eating new cuisine, meeting new people, seeing new places and learning more about myself. I am really proud of how much I have been able to grow, and am glad that I pushed myself to do new things.

For my last weekend in Asia I decided to travel to Hong Kong alone. This was something that I would never have even dreamed about doing before spending 6 weeks building up my confidence and my determination to enjoy every second that I could. Despite my apprehension, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only was it one of the coolest adventures – traveling around a foreign city entirely alone was incredibly empowering – but it also left me sure of how far I had come in such a short time: I hiked with a group of strangers, ate meals alone, travelled to The Peak and thoroughly enjoyed my final weekend of my Davidson In East Asia.

I began my journey with almost no knowledge of the world that I was able to explore, and now I can say that I’ve hiked The Great Wall, explored the cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo, worked as a journalist, ate an enormous amount of fish, and met some incredible people along the way. I will never forget my time in Asia, and am determined to go back and continue to learn and explore all that it has to offer.

 

During my time there, I took a video of two seconds of each day so that I could keep track of all the different memories I was making. I have attached this video to better show the incredible experiences that I have had.

 

Song Used: The Lotto – Ingrid Michaelson

Internship Experience

My internship search began right after I submitted the grant application. Given my entrepreneurial background, I was on the lookout for a non-traditional internship experience. After many months of research and networking I found exactly what I wanted with an international music company. To put it short – my task was to organize a master-class tour across East Asia for an American choreographer. I was super excited because every part of this project would require me not only answering questions, but coming up with those very questions to begin with.

I started the research a few months before I was planning to leave the U.S. After mapping out the potential locations, I ended up reaching out to the appropriate dance studios. Some got back to me relatively quickly, some never responded. This type of reaching out, or in other words cold calling, was not as easy as it first appeared. I quickly realized that I was missing a lot of information in my business model. But after a few dozens chats and Skype calls, I had meetings aligned along the initial route.

On my way to a meeting in Singapore

 

Meeting with a contact in Shanghai

Physically arriving in Singapore, the first country from the list, brought many questions into my head. What was I doing here? What will be the result of this trip? But only time and willingness to make something out of arising opportunities would provide some answers. The meeting in Singapore was the first on the list, but turned out to be the best of all. The opportunity went beyond a simple planning of a master-class. After the exchange of expectations with the representatives of the dance studio, I quickly realized that their reach continued all the way to the local radio and TV channels. We discussed a potential TV project in order to maximize the audience outreach. Looking back, it is because of moments like this, I can say with full confidence that my internship was a success.

 

Throughout the summer, regardless of the location, each interaction would teach me many lessons.  I finally had a chance to wear the entrepreneur hat. To be fully honest, at times it was quite difficult, and even frightening. But every day I would wake up with a passion to knock on doors to see what is behind them. This internship also allowed me to get a sense of the culture of every place I would visit. The rather flexible schedule and new connections  allowed me to get the non-tourist feel of each country. Looking back at my internship journey, this was one of the most productive and inspiring summers.

Arriving in Shanghai, China

Although the internship required me to visit multiple countries in East Asia, the arrival in Shanghai, China was definitely a memorable experience. Shanghai was my first stop in China. While I had already spent the prior week in Hong Kong and a few more in other East Asian countries, Shanghai’s reality was quick to adjust all of my prior expectations. Recalling some Chinese stories from my textbook, I decided to take the overnight train from Hong Kong to Shanghai. I figured that being in a room with at least three other travelers or locals for about 17 hours wouldn’t be that bad. Besides, the textbook highly advertised this option of getting around as a great way to explore Chinese culture and practice language skills. The reality, however, was me sleeping for all 17 hours in the room all by myself. As I later found out, unless around the holidays, in modern China people prefer flying rather than sleeping overnight in a room full of strangers. Although I was a bit disappointed, I was also very glad to catch up on some sleep.

Getting onto the train in Hong Kong

A look inside the room on the train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About half an hour before the arrival in Shanghai, the attendant lady knocked on the door. She said something that sounded like a question, but since I had not come across that phrase in my previous four semesters of studying the language, I mumbled something along the lines of “Sounds good” and started to get ready. My plan was quite simple: arrive at the train station, exchange some money, eat some breakfast, book a room to stay, and enjoy the high-paced, 23-million-populated city while getting all that done. Well, things did not really go as planed.

First view of Shanghai

After arriving at the station, I headed straight for the exit into the city. I was a bit confused on my exact whereabouts on the map, and was very glad to see a McDonald’s sign not too far away once I stepped into the street. My first wrong move was betting on the public WiFi. In order to use it anywhere in China, you have to first purchase a Chinese phone number/sim-card for authorization purposes. Even at a McDonald’s. After countless attempts to get online by using phone numbers of strangers around me, I decided to postpone the whole internet problem and grab a quick bite to eat. I was not trying to practice my Chinese with the sales person right that moment, so I opted for the machine to take my order. After clicking around and selecting what I wanted, I finally got to the payment options. Among them there even was Face Recognition, but the only one I knew how to use was Apple Pay. It was only after several failed attempts that I remembered that normal card providers do not work in China. As I found out shortly, it was also not that logical to have a bank around the train station, as I might have expected. So far it has been about an hour in Shanghai, and so far the knot of issues just kept on getting tighter.

I’m not kidding about the Face Recognition option

How did I manage to untie it you might wonder? Well, I ended up finding a random lady on the street that quickly agreed to exchange some dollars for me. The rate was awful, but I figured this was the simplest, if not the only option I had at that moment. After a long conversation with a clerk at some restaurant, he helped me finally get online. To my surprise I had zero problems booking myself a room in a very nice area of Shanghai, and in a bit over an hour, I was already unpacking my clothes.

 

The Somewhat Unexpected Internship

One week before I was set to head off to China I received an email from my internship informing me that they would no longer be able to facilitate my working with them for this summer due to unexpected circumstances that were out of their control. I had planned to work with a small NGO called CHDN that worked with people affected by Huntington’s Disease, however the  of organization had to leave Shanghai due to unexpected family circumstances. Although I completely understood why she would now be unable to help me, I was definitely a little unnerved, as I now had to go about finding a new internship, in just one week. Interesting.

I was a little bit at a loss as of what I should do, however I remembered that my roommate had mentioned that her internship was always looking for more people to help write articles about news going on in China… so I figured, why not ask? After Skyping Alex Linder, my soon-to-be boss, I found myself heading off to the world of Chinese news and media outlets. The Shanghaiist here we come. Surprise!

The internship was easy enough, I had to produce 1-3 articles each day about relevant news happening within in China. I would spend the day researching into the variety of different topics, drawing upon different sources to analyze the information provided, and then I would write down my thoughts. Each article would be edited by my boss who would then post it online for the world to see. Although not the most fascinating of atmospheres – being stuck in an office for many hours in the day isn’t my favorite thing – I did thoroughly enjoy learning more about China through this lens. Researching all of the cool and interesting things that were going on within the country, whilst being there, was surreal. It was an incredible way for me to fully immerse myself into the culture, in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

As a political science major, I was able to utilize some of my analytical skills and general interests to help guide my research. For example, during this summer there was a great deal of discussion between China and the US, and I was able to cover much of this within my work. This ensured that I kept up to date with all of the current information, and felt confident coming back to the US with an important, and somewhat unique, outlook on the situation.

I have a few favorite articles that stuck out to me during my time there:

  1. “Man builds himself an illegal swimming pool on top of his apartment building”
  2. “New bio-recognition technologies raise issues of surveillance and privacy in Beijing”
  3. “School buys army tanks for school gates”
  4. “Same-sex couples granted equal visa rights in Hong Kong”
  5. “Top students given chunks of meat for academic excellence”

I learned a great deal from my internship experience, despite it not being my first choice, and I am very grateful that I was able to join the team. I developed an appreciate for the field of journalism that I had never had before, and am now able to fully understand and appreciate the hard work that journalist put into their work. I also was able to begin to understand the reason why journalist do what they do – being on top of the news in the world is an incredibly uplifting and important experience. It actually sparked a new interest in the news for me, and I have kept up with this since getting settled back into Davidson.

Although I was sad that I was not able to work with CHDN (my original internship), I was lucky enough to be able to interview several other members of the organization about their own experiences with Huntington’s Disease within China, and am currently in the stages of wiring an article for the NGO Huntington’s Disease Youth Organization about the differences between the social systems regarding Huntington’s Disease within China.

Settling into Shanghai: the highs and the lows

Having never been to Asia (or anywhere near) and with very little exploration into the culture that I was about to immerse myself in, I was going into this journey with no experience of the language and an incredibly warped view of what I thought Shanghai would be like. You could definitely say that I was nervous as I sat on the plane that flew from England to Shanghai.

Getting settled into life in Shanghai, and the entire journey that I would go upon throughout my 6 weeks there, was an eye-opening experience. I truly believe that my summer experiences have fundamentally changed some things about how I live my life, and will continue to influence the way in which I attempt to tackle the world around me. I am incredibly grateful for opportunity that this program has given me, and it will forever be one of my most important memories whilst at Davidson college.

Making my way from the airport to the apartment was a journey within itself; getting a taxi was an interesting experience on that side of the globe. In all honesty, managing to bargain the price from 650 to 200 yuan, with the non-existent Chinese that I had, is something that I will boast about for many years to come. Despite being a relatively little challenge, it was something that proved to me that, hey, maybe I can actually do this!

The first thing that I remember being struck by once being dropped off, was the intense humidity and general chaos of the streets. Walking through the tightly packed streets, dragging my luggage and holding a heavy sense of jetlag along with me, left me feeling both exhausted and disheartened. I had no idea whether the taxi driver had even dropped me off in the right place, and had no way of contacting anyone to ask whether I was actually in the right area of Shanghai. Daunting is definitely a useful word here. I was feeling very overwhelmed. It, somewhat embarrassingly, took me over an hour and a half to find the apartment that was approximately 100 feet away (not my finest moment). However, I managed it and added it to my list of little accomplishments that I would begin to treasure through my weeks there. After finally managing to get myself to the apartment, I went inside and was somewhat disappointed. Smh had mentioned that it was smaller than we had both envisioned, but seeing my 5ft bed in the corner of the room made me feel slightly apprehensive – I may be short, but I am definitely longer than 5 ft – the next 6 and a half weeks were going to be interesting. However, my feet hanging off of the edge did not stop me from napping… for a very long time.

The next day I was able to explore China with my roommate and fellow Davidson student, Sam Armas. I discovered an incredibly vibrant and chaotic city, with people going to and fro at all times. Wherever you go you have to be aware of fast cars, crazy mopeds and incautious pedestrians. You have to be on guard at all times! It is both incredibly exciting and exhausting. Running through the streets of Shanghai allowed me to soak up as much as I could about the daily life of people. From tai-chi in the park to incredible streets food and bubble tea chains, there so many things that I will remember about my Davidson In East Asia experience, and will forever treasure as what was my first journey to, and around, Asia.

On my third day in the city I badly injured my foot – to the point where I was unable to walk without serious pain. Despite several days of rest and ice, it refused to get any better; here began my trip to a Chinese hospital… not something I had been expecting of my first week in a new city where I didn’t speak the language. Luckily, I had a Chinese co-worker that was willing to accompany me on my day trip to the hospital and I knew full well that it would have been a very different experience had I been alone.

We began the day lining up to get myself registered – there was some trouble with my identification, as the worker had a lot of difficulty understanding why I had a middle name, as this is not common within China – and one difference that I began to realize that there is less of a sense of order within Shanghai. Lining up for registration was chaotic and disorganized, with people pushing and pulling trying to get to the front of the group. I found this infuriating, especially as this was an environment that I expected to be organized.  This is a theme that remains throughout my entire journey within Shanghai – chaos is an environment within which the population thrives.

Throughout the day I had many great conversations with my co-worker, and felt as though I was getting a closer glimpse into Chinese culture. I discovered that being a doctor was not considered to be a prestigious profession. This was shocking to me, as in both the US and the UK, those who are pre-med and go to medical school are considered to be some of the brightest people in the country. This discussion led to my discovery that those who were considered to be the most intelligent were encouraged to go university for things like business and management. This was interesting for me to discover, as it is so different from the cultural and societal norms that I have grown up with. At Davidson, being premed is an incredibly arduous task, and those that attempt it are considered to be some of the most intelligent and hardworking students on campus.

Luckily, after many hours and an X-ray, I discovered that nothing was broken! Yay! In fact, the doctor simply said “flat feet.. better shoes”. I bandaged it up. bought some ice-pack and prepared myself for some serious hobbling as I tried to soak up as much of city as I could. I was not about to let flat feet stop me from experiencing as much as I could.

    

*Disclaimer: I did indeed buy better shoes and am walking around as good as ever before.*

Siân Jessica Lewis

Davidson College 2020

 

 

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