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.