It sounds clichéd to say that “study abroad changed my life.” But after spending one summer participating in the Associated Colleges in China (ACC) program, I found it difficult to describe my experience in Beijing any other way. ACC was about much more than a program for improving my Chinese language proficiency and cultural understanding. It was an opportunity to immerse myself in a different environment and reflect on my own identity as a Chinese-American.
Without a doubt, ACC improved my Chinese. While the language pledge was strictly enforced, I had fun getting creative when I did not know how to express myself in Chinese. Since all program participants were expected to speak Chinese, it also created a culture of constant learning. Outside of the small classes and individual sessions with professors, simply being immersed in Beijing helped dramatically with learning the practical application of the language.
Not only could I earn academic credits that would seamlessly transfer to Hamilton toward my Chinese major, I also had the opportunity to intern for a hedge fund while I was in Beijing. Through a Hamilton alumnus connection, I was able to conduct equity research on Chinese technology, media, and telecommunications companies. At the beginning of the summer, they gave us a list of major internet companies to pay attention to. Initially, I would just order items online from different websites so I could report back on the pros and cons of each website. As I became more fascinated by the growing e-commerce industry in China and more comfortable with my Chinese, I experimented with other research methods, like surveying locals on their user experiences.
Being away from everything that is familiar challenged me to see things from a different perspective. While I traveled to other countries in the past, this was the first time that I was alone without my family. By actually immersing myself with locals, I took the time to actually learn about the complexities of culture and to find out more than what the textbooks say.
As I was uncovering layers of my identity, I realized that being Chinese-American meant more than just getting both red envelopes on Chinese New Year and presents on Christmas. Through my experience in ACC, I have been able to develop my global awareness and my ability to communicate cross-culturally. While living in Beijing, I realized that even as a Chinese-American that I had misconception about the Chinese. When other students in the program would assume that I would know something because I am Chinese, it was humbling to admit that I actually did not. In fact, my lack of knowledge in certain areas made me even more curious and contributed to my eagerness to learn.
Learning Chinese has opened so many doors for me, and I am sure it will continue to. For example, having a global experience helped me obtain my internship for Hamilton’s macroeconomics New York City Program, where I interned in international sales for Tory Burch. Also, simply learning how to be independent in a foreign country eased my transition to living in a large city. Even as a senior about to graduate, I continue to be grateful for the friends I made and skills I gained from ACC.