Report by Matthew Sisco
When I first heard of it, I wasn't sure if I would apply to the internship in China. I love to travel and experience new places, but I was quite busy with finishing my undergraduate work at the time. Developing plans to travel across the world was not at the top of my list.
Thankfully, a number of individuals in my life encouraged me to take the time and submit my application, reminding me that such an opportunity is one not to be ignored. Looking back, they were correct.
Key Trip Highlights:
Teaching English and Learning Chinese
The internship consisted of teaching English to Chinese students as part of a cultural exchange program. For about fifteen hours every week I taught a small afterschool class in a high school in the center of Beijing. This private school was one of the top Beijing high schools, so my students were quite advanced in their English. Most had studied the language for more than 8 years, so our conversations were usually an enjoyable exchange of views and ideas.
Throughout my work teaching, I was able to gain more insight into the nuances of traditional and modern Chinese culture. Along with my teaching position, I was granted six hours per week of Mandarin Chinese lessons from native-Chinese teachers. Studying Mandarin while being surrounded by the language was a great opportunity to begin learning it quickly and effectively. By the end of my stay, I established a solid foundation in Mandarin which I am continuing to build upon now at home.
Exploring the City
Beijing is an enormous city, so needless-to-say, there was a lot to explore. One of the aspects of Beijing that I really enjoyed about it was the ancient history of it and exploring the many historic sites that are evidence of its heritage. About a ten minute walk from my dorm was the Forbidden City, which is now open for the public to roam. I found the Forbidden City to be an expansive and beautiful series of temples and buildings. It was hard to believe that it was once historically exclusive to the enjoyment Chinese emperors and select aristocrats. A 40-minute subway ride north from me was the Summer Palace, a sprawling array of imperial gardens and temples which I also enjoyed very much. This was also once a private domain for the emperors. I spent a full days exploring both of these places, but there were many other temples, gardens, and smaller palaces throughout the city which I found equally interesting to adventure into.
Research and Chinese Psychology
Beyond teaching and exploring the city, my time was also invested in working with two psychological research labs at Beijing Normal University (BNU). When I was originally considering this trip, I decided that an excellent way to make great use of my time in China would be to gain some cross-cultural research experience while I was there. After contacting some labs at BNU and formulating plans for working on research there, I was still crossing my fingers upon
arriving in Beijing that my plans would come to fruition. Looking back, they could not have been more fruitful. The two labs that I had made arrangements to be part of welcomed me and were excited to work with me. My contributions to each lab were diverse, but focused largely on English APA manuscript editing. In one lab, everyone spoke English with some fluency, so there were no problems regarding language differences. In the second, larger lab, I was appointed a graduate assistant to translate discussions and my input to them.
At BNU, I was not only able to contribute to current research there, but was able to initiate a new research project with them that I had designed myself. This is one reason why my work was especially fruitful. This project is one that I was very hopeful about the prospect of starting at BNU. China is currently unparalleled in its magnitude of economic growth and environmental destruction. Both are driven by the fundamental assumption that increases in consumption equate to increases in well-being. This research is the first to investigate this relationship in China.
Beyond resume items and specific research projects, the first-hand insight that I gained into the world of Chinese Psychology was also valuable. Soon, I will be starting my graduate program in the U.S. in psychology. The doors that I have opened at BNU for future collaborations and cross-cultural research will be continually useful in my future work.
A Trip to Inner Mongolia
The Chinese National Holiday occurred during my stay, and I decided to use my time off to do some traveling outside of Beijing. I purchased a ticket for a sleeper train to Inner Mongolia and randomly joined a group of French and German interns who were also taking advantage of the holiday. Our first day was spent enjoying the serene expanse of the grasslands and getting to know our native guide, Chaolu. We took the second day to explore a large and functioning Mongolian Buddhist temple. Upon the third day, we ventured out to the Gobi Dessert and explored the area by camel.
Each of sites that we visited was uniquely beautiful. However, along with this beauty came less pleasant realizations as we ventured into the deep countryside of China's territory. Our conversations about Mongolian culture were sometimes disheartening as we noticed the countless coal refineries and excavation sites that we passed along our route. We learned that this activity was forcibly pushing the native Mongolians off of the land where they had lived for hundreds of years. The tone of Chaolu in speaking to us of this struck chords of empathy in the entire group. In me, it also evoked a deep respect for his loyalty to his people. When we asked if he would visit the U.S. or Europe sometime, he responded that he could not because he needed to stay and protect the land of his community.
New Friends Along With New Experiences
Out of all the ways that my time in China was valuable to me, I value most the friendships that I established there. All of the experiences that I enjoyed in China would have been much less meaningful for me if it was not for my new Chinese friends who were there to enjoy them with me and deepen my understanding of them. In many ways, my friends would teach me directly. The game of, "What's this like in your culture?" is one that we would often find ourselves playing. They were happy and proud to show me around the city and to teach me about their ways of life and viewpoints. When they were not teaching me something directly, I was still learning constantly from just interacting with them. This added the depth to my experiences in China. There are many beautiful sights to see in Beijing and larger China, but it is in the Chinese people, in their values, beliefs, and ideologies, that the real meaning of these places resides. My new friendships are important to me beyond their value while I was in Beijing, and I plan to keep them for many years to come.
Looking back, I am aware of several ways that the sum of my experiences in China has affected me. Firstly, experiencing life in a developing country, even within Beijing, allowed me to understand how privileged my normal life is. I've learned that until you experience the different ways that people around the world live, you cannot fully appreciate your own way of life.
Secondly, my time in China helped me to better understand myself and my own culture in ways that I wasn't able to before. The more that Chinese culture was illuminated to me, the more I learned about my own culture in contrast. There are many things about my daily life that I took for granted as normal, until I engaged with Chinese culture and realized that they are simply one way of acting. Lastly, seeing the similarities between these two cultures also allowed me to better understand basic human commonalities. For example, the compassion in the words of my Mongolian friend as he spoke of his native people and land was felt in me unhindered by cultural difference. Both as a psychologist and as someone naturally fascinated by human nature, this aspect of my experience was uniquely gratifying to me.
All in all, my experience in China is one that will stay part of me for the rest of my life. It has opened doors for future research and established friendships for future enjoyment. These relations will endure, as will the mutual learning that I will continually receive and offer through them. Through the sum of my experiences, I gained insight into complexities of Chinese culture that I had never imagined, aspects of American culture that I had never realized, and traces of human nature that I will not forget.
Psychology, Graduated 2011