Archives for September 2017

Internship at AmCham China: Beijing Post 2

I arrived an hour early to my first day of work at the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China, or AmCham China. I arrived at 9, the doors didn’t open until 9:30, and I wasn’t expected to arrive until 10.  I was given a brief tour of the office, introduced to the other interns—all of whom were Chinese—and I was shown to my desk. I sat there for a while, nervously refreshing my email every few minutes.  After about an hour, I got an assignment: polish the English for an event advertisement. It was only about 6-7 sentences, so it didn’t take long. That was my only assignment that day.

My official role was to provide support for the company’s Training and Professional Development services and its lecture events. This meant preparing advertisements for the events, calling attendees, managing each event’s budget, facilitating the check-in processes, and taking notes at each event.  

By the end of my internship, I had helped to run about ten events, some more general professional development events and some programs more tailored to an attendee’s specific line of work. I also helped to facilitate events with a few speakers, such as David Dollar from the Brookings Institute and a prominent Beijing executive coach named Gao Lin.

The most valuable part of this internship was getting to connect with so many people working in Government Affairs roles in the commercial sector, a career path that I was highly interested in when entering into this role. A lot of our training sessions were tailored to Government Affairs practitioners who worked for consulting firms or American MNCs operating in China. After this experience, I’m more interested in exploring experiences in other sectors.

Pictured with the US Ambassador to China at AmCham’s Annual July 4th Party. 

AmCham’s lobby.

My Chinese business card to use for collecting Fapiao and exchanging contact information with members of the Chamber.

Jakarta, Indonesia Part 2: Working with Rumah Belajar Students

At YCAB Foundation, I had the opportunity to work with both the Partnership and Program Development Teams. One project that I was particularly invested in was a partnership program between YCAB and Danone Indonesia. Danone wanted to fund a nutrition-oriented program for YCAB’s beneficiaries, so YCAB was in charge of designing a nutrition intervention and education program based on the needs of its beneficiaries and some criteria provided by the funder.

Several YCAB Partnership Team members

The first task assigned to me was needs assessment. My mentor, who is also the head of the Partnership Team, helped me to think through the logic of developing a program, and one of the first things she encouraged me to do was to figure out the various potential stakeholders of a nutrition-oriented program. I decided that in the case of nutrition intervention, potential stakeholders would include children, teachers, parents, as well as expecting parents. Reaching out to parents and expecting parents can come in the form of training and education, which can be provided through community events or directly given at the homes of YCAB beneficiaries on a weekly basis. Similarly, teachers can also be trained to integrate nutrition education into the curriculum. The stakeholders that I was most interested in, however, were the children themselves. As an intern, I had direct access to the Rumah Belajar (Learning House) students, so I set out to observe the students’ eating habits during snack times and interview them to get a better sense of their daily eating habits in general.

I found that there were many issues involved with the students’ eating habits. First of all, there are two groups of students that attend Rumah Belajar: the morning students that come from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the afternoon students that come from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. After interviewing the morning students, I quickly found that many come to school without having breakfast. At first, I thought that this problem would be less prominent for the afternoon students, but it turns out that the majority of the afternoon students also come to school on an empty stomach. Both morning and afternoon students are given a 30-minute snack time in the middle of their school hours, and based on my observation and conversation with the students and teachers, I found that the students can be grouped into three categories. First, there are students who come to school with pocket money, ranging from Rp. 5,000-10,000 (approximately  50-75 cents). These students end up buying snacks from street vendors, but none of these vendors serve healthy options. Most students rotate between buying cold sugary drinks served in a plastic bag or meatballs that are mostly made of flour. Second, there are students who pack their own lunch, and these packed lunches are very modest, often consisting of rice and egg or rice and a small portion of fried chicken. Lastly, there are also students who neither bring pocket money nor packed lunch, and spend their snack time simply playing or chatting with friends. Other problems that come up frequently during interviews include having less than 3 meals per day and the absence of milk consumption.

Rumah Belajar students during snack time

At the end of my internship, I compiled the results of my observation and interviews, and presented them to my mentors at the Partnership Team. I also provided them with suggestions for program components and different types of interventions that can be considred. For example, I suggested some improvements for the clinic located at Rumah Belajar. I noticed that the clinic operates on a treatment-based approach, but does not emphasize prevention and health promotion. Therefore, I suggested that the clinic can offer workshop days where students are given vitamin deficiency check-ups and nutritional supplements. Working on this nutrition project with YCAB also led me to do more personal research on the relationship between nutrition and educational outcomes. I learned that nutrition and education are very much interconnected. When working to improve education, it is not only important for us to consider the information and skills we teach to students, but also the nutrition we supply so that students can perform optimally. Although I did not stay long enough to be able to fully participate in the long-term project with Danone, I was glad that that I can contribute my knowledge in Public Health to the team, and I am very much looking forward to the implementation of a nutrtion program at YCAB.


Jakarta, Indonesia Part 1: Home at YCAB Foundation

I’ve always had bittersweet feelings towards Indonesia. On one hand, I feel a lot of love for the country. It is, after all, my birthplace and the country where I spent the first 10 years of my life. But I also harbor a lot of frustrations towards Indonesia. The corrupt government. Endless loopholes within the country’s laws. The people’s resistance towards change and progress. Prior to my internship this summer, I had not been back to Indonesia for more than 4 years. Honestly, I was not sure what to expect out of the next two months living and working in Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta. In fact, just a couple of weeks before my departure to Jakarta, the city was politically and socially unstable. The controversial imprisonment of Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese and Christian governor had generated much racial tension and religious divide throughout the country. I knew that I would be living in Indonesia as an ethnic and religious minority during a sensitive time, and I was concerned about how well I could integrate myself into the society. Turns out, the two months I spent in Jakarta would become such an invaluable experience. If anything, my experience there only made me realize even more how much my heart still reaches out to Indonesia, particularly the progress of its underprivileged population.

Jakarta was PACKED. Traffic jams were unavoidable. Malls are ubiquitous. Something new in the streets of Jakarta that I did not see four years ago was the presence of Gojek and Grab motorbikers. Gojek and Grab operate based on a mobile application and offer various services, such as ride, courier, and food delivery service. GoFood, a branch of Gojek, is the Indonesian version of UberEat that provides food delivery service via motorcycles; and I found this service extremly helpful since it allowed me to survive two months in Indonesia without having to cook my own meals everyday. I found this new development in the city very interesting. On one end, it created a lot new jobs for the lower-middle class of the society.  At the same time, however, it was perpetuating the severity of Jakarta’s traffic problem.

Gojek driver and his passenger on the street of Jakarta

But despite the hectic city life, I found home within my workplace at YCAB Foundation. I’ve always had a lot of interest in social enterprises, so being able to witness how to run an actual social enterprise was a dream come true. YCAB focuses on youth development and empowerment, and one of the organization’s main channel of impact is the Rumah Belajar (Learning House). Rumah Belajar are built across the country to give underprivileged children the opportunity to receive quality education. On my first day at YCAB, I was taken on a tour around a Rumah Belajar located at Duri Kepa. The Rumah Belajar offers both basic education and vocational training for enrolled students. Vocational training includes certified programs in sewing, hairdressing, and mechanical skills.

A sewing classroom in Rumah Belajar Duri Kepa

A classroom in Rumah Belajar Duri Kepa

Some of the works created by Rumah Jahit (Sewing House) students

In addition to working with underprivileged children, YCAB also works with the mothers of these children through their microfinancing program. The program allows these mothers to receive small loans to expand their modest business efforts. I had a chance to witness one of the microfinance transaction process at one of the houses of YCAB’s beneficiaries. Through a conversation with one of the beneficiaries, I discovered that she was able to expand her business by opening a second street stall through the microfinancing program.

Microfinance transaction at a beneficiary’s house

Being able to interact with the children of Rumah Belajar and chat with benefiacries of the microloan program allowed me to understand the impact of social innovation from a closer perspective. I saw a two-pronged approach in the way that YCAB puts children in school. One was the brick-and-mortar approach of building the Rumah Belajar itself, and the other was the community development approach that allows women to participate in the microfinance program under the condition that their children are enrolled in school. I realized that opening a modest street stall may not seem like a big deal to many people, but to these women, it is a symbol of empowerment and a step closer towards having a self-sustaining family. I learned that impact is most complete when people are able to stand up on their own feet, and continue that chain of impact by channeling the positive changes that took place in their lives to those around them.

2018 Summer research funding for East Asia

Chase Conrad and a friend snapped by a Yangjuan student who had a knack for his camera.

Davidson students are eligible to apply for the Hirose Award, which will fund independent projects in East Asia. This year, the Dean Rusk Program will make three Hirose awards of up to $6,000 each, but funding cannot be used for study abroad programs or group trips. Applications are due February 17, 2018.
For more information, contact Dr. Chris Alexander, chalexander [at]

3/3 The Views Make Up for the Flight Delays

Looking back on my two months in Asia, I had many incredible experiences and learned a few lessons along the way thanks in part to my first year at Davidson College. One of my goals for this trip was to improve my fluency and confidence in speaking Chinese. What began with me hesitating when trying to speak Chinese during daily conversations such as ordering lunch and buying a train ticket quickly turned into me being able to hold conversations I never imagined possible. Long flights to destinations that I did not know existed before arriving in China often turned into Chinese practice sessions. Whether the passenger seated next to me was a schoolgirl from Chongqing, or three teachers from Mongolia headed to Guilin, or a flight attendant on a Cathay Dragon flight departing Hong Kong, I found myself delighting in the shocked expressions of people throughout China who were excited to learn about who I was and what had brought me to China, while I was able to learn about their life and our cultural differences in return.


Caroline, Alex, and I at the top of Elephant Hill in Guilin, China.


More than practicing my Chinese, this ability, along with an East Asian History class I took my freshman year at Davidson, landed my friends and I in situations and places that were as incredible as they were, for lack of a better word, quite sketchy. My friends and I were wandering through the city of Guilin one night trying to enter a park when a simple “hello” on the street turned into a man telling me that he wanted to show us a temple that was a twenty-minute walk from where we were. While we followed him through a run-down, dimly lit alley alongside Guilin’s Karst Hills, I was feeling considerably uncomfortable as this man did not speak any English and I was not sure if I was even correctly understanding where he was taking us. After walking in near silence for a while, we came across this beautifully detailed and elaborate Buddhist temple nestled into a cave. From what I could understand, the man explained to the monks that we were foreigners and simply wanted to take a look around the inside of the temple. We were shocked when the monks allowed us to enter the temple since only a few weeks earlier, we were denied access to a temple in Beijing (the monks believed we were Christians and therefore said we could not enter). For some reason, the monks allowed us to enter this temple, walk around and take pictures, which I am grateful for as I have not been able to find any trace of this temple existing in Guilin anywhere online. I was able to understand from our new friend that the temple was built about 300 years ago during the Qing Dynasty after connecting the dots between the word “Qing” because of learning about it in my East Asian history class and the Chinese word for dynasty, which I did not previously know.