Back to SummaryBreanna Jones - Student Profile
MAJOR: Public Policy
Confined as a child to a lazy town in Central California, I knew early on that I wanted to get out and see the world. I began taking Chinese my freshman year at Stanford, originally just to learn how to speak with my waitressing coworkers back home, but I quickly fell in love. I decided I had to see that strange culture I chattered about in class, so I applied and was fortunate enough to receive a fellowship to work at the International Labour Organization’s Beijing office that first summer. I was ecstatic and almost totally unprepared, so—much to my mother’s distress—I boarded a plane to China that June with only some tenuous leads on housing, which I had received in response to a classified ad. Fortunately for me, enthusiasm and friendliness truly can pull you through in Beijing. From the minute I left the plane, I was helped along by friendly and curious passersby, and I could not have navigated my way to the hotel, found the metro, gotten past the guards into work, and eventually secured my very own apartment if it were not for them.
Sure, I stumbled along a fair amount, committing the occasional cultural transgression (don’t wake a coworker from his wujiao), stretching my measly one year of Chinese thin to order food (the occasional beak or eyeball is just an occupational hazard), mangling the language (my coworkers thought that was great entertainment), getting lost (“I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer when someone asks for directions in China), and drawing stares (apparently running outside makes you look crazy). But with every slip-up, I learned one more piece about the dazzling world around me, and I was constantly humbled by the people, who could be so open, friendly, welcoming, and at the same time incredibly diligent and multi-talented. I kept a journal while I was there, and wrote about how I was fascinated by the efficiency of subway passengers during rush hour, how I was drawn to the social, loud, and messy experience of dining out, and how I gained new perspectives on life and love during my afternoon walks by the river with a coworker. Every day brought new experiences, whether it was in the work that I was doing, the cultural and historical landmarks I was visiting, or the ever-growing bar crowd that teemed with Stanford students, Chinese friends, and new acquaintances who had come from all over the world to share in the magic of China’s burgeoning global influence. I was sorry to leave at the end of the summer, because—as my adviser put it when I recounted my experiences—I had caught the “China bug”.
I wanted badly to go back to China to visit old friends and see the places I had missed with a rigorous work schedule, so I applied for and was admitted to the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Beijing. I thought I was an old pro at the China scene, especially since my quarter in Fall 2010 was the first time the program did require language experience. I was wrong. I still had a lot to learn, and being on a college campus was an entirely different experience than the first. It was exhilarating and a little intimidating to be going to class in the company of some of the most brilliant and hard-working scholars in China, and maybe the world. I chatted endlessly with my language partner about her experiences double-majoring and traveling internationally for her Model United Nations team. And though I quickly learned that we Stanford students were not expected to exert ourselves academically as much as our Beida counterparts, I really enjoyed learning from my esteemed Beida professors and China-mad faculty-in-residence about the China that simply does not appear in American textbooks or newspapers.
I also tried to take advantage of opportunities offered on campus, struggling through the details of the numerous clubs advertising in Beida’s activity fair and attending a some speaker and performance events around campus. I attempted to learn xingyi—a martial art requiring a level of patience that I apparently lack—with a good friend in the program. After that, I moved on to soccer, a sport with which I am much more familiar and Chinese girls appeared to be much less familiar. After a few practices with this new group of subversive Chinese female athletes (one of whom wore a dress and heels), it became apparent that I played a much better role as coach than teammate, and I spent the rest of the time trying to manipulate my limited language abilities to explain the technicalities of soccer. It was in both cases a laugh for everyone, and I think I ultimately learned more from the experience than they did.
By night, I took a cooking class with a couple of Stanford friends, and there I learned what it was like to actually live and eat in a Chinese home. The excitable old grandmother that led the class was a delight every time, and the conversation at the table was always filled with complicated Chinese political conversation that pushed me to the limits of my speaking abilities. I looked forward to those classes, and I always left with more food in my stomach than I ever thought possible (also a veritable Chinese tradition).
One of the most rewarding experiences that I had that quarter, however, was the volunteer research project led by our faculty-in-residence, Scott Rozelle. The project was designed to gather data on Chinese life to create a textbook for American high school students. My team consisted of a Stanford friend, two Chinese students from nearby universities, and myself, and we traveled around the hidden villages away from the main streets of Beijing to interview migrant families about the growing problem of accommodating urbanization in China. The stories we heard were both painful and uplifting, and we have spent many hours compiling the video recordings of moving accounts of hardship, poverty, families rent in pieces, and neglect that millions of people are facing today. That research has inspired my academic studies and research interests in going into my honors thesis today, and I will never forget being exposed to a side of China I had completely missed the first time among the dazzling lights and quick progress that surrounds it.
Finally, I could never forget the trips. The program was exceptionally adept at forcing us to overcome the inertia of gorging on delicious dining hall food and chatting with the Stanford crowd all day. We took our Bing trip to Inner Mongolia, which was a surreal expedition into a land of nomads, Mongolian wrestling, camels, mutton, and yurts. We also went to Taishan and climbed the 6000 steps to the top of the gorgeous religious refuge. On our week off, I traveled with a large group of classmates to Chengdu, a fascinating town in Sichuan province, in search of the spiciest huoguo in China (a need which was quickly and painfully satisfied). For the research project, I traveled with my Chinese partner to a tiny town outside of Xi’an to see first-hand the rural peace and beauty that so many migrants are leaving behind. For my Criminal Justice class, I got the opportunity to attend a criminal trial and visit a Halfway House, experiences which were the perfect marriage of my two favorite interests: China and law. And under the nurturing wing of Shen Laoshi, the class traveled to numerous spots around Beijing to take in the history, culture, and progress that left its mark all over the city.
My only complaint about my BOSP experience in China was that it came to an end too quickly. After a rushed final trip to the “Baozi Shack” to grab a bowl of pumpkin zhou, I said goodbye to China for now. My experiences there have shaped my perception of the world around me and influenced my studies back on campus. It was an experience I will never forget, and I can’t wait for the day when I can finally travel back. Until then, I’ll content myself with helping others avoid the pitfalls that got me to be truly an old pro at China.