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 Back to SummaryJessica Talbert - Student Advisor Profile

photo of Jessica Talbert
Stanford in Beijing -

MAJOR: International Relations


Prior to coming to Stanford my international experience chalked up to a band trip to Vancouver in my senior year of high school and a couple of Mexico trips with my family. Like many, however, I had aspirations of traveling far away, to countries different in almost every aspect from what I had grown up with. As it turns out, despite large gaps in cultural differences, people can be pretty similar, even if thousands of years of culture, massive geographical gaps, and language barriers might suggest otherwise. This is a truth I soon encountered after studying abroad in Beijing Fall Quarter of my junior year.

I started Stanford with a keen interest in international affairs, particularly in comparative politics and national security. After a bit of soul searching I decided to try Chinese as my next language after Spanish. If you have taken Chinese before, you may have realized that a tonal language is no joke. However, there is nothing more rewarding than actually hearing it come out of your mouth and seeing that another person can understand you.

After two years of Chinese classes, my first year with the famous Zeng Laoshi, I applied and was accepted into the study abroad program in Beijing. Overjoyed with my acceptance, I began gearing myself up for my first international “other experience”.

The summer prior to departure was spent at Stanford Sierra Camp, where I gorged on chicken dinos and hamburgers and pizza. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the campy aspect of the food and culture of sierra camp would provide a stark contrast to the country I was about to spend the next three months in. Culture shock? Yes.

While on Stanford campus, I play for Stanford Women’s Rugby. I was warned before departure not to come back without having touched a rugby ball in three months, so the first thing on my agenda was to join a women’s rugby club in Beijing. After some “BaiDu-ing” I showed up at the ”The Den” near San Li Tun, to hop aboard a little bus, taking the “Beijing Devils” men and women’s clubs to the rugby pitch located at the International School, near the Beijing airport. Unfortunately, none of my Beijing classmates were interested in joining a rugby club (go figure?) and so I this journey was made alone. Getting close to my abroad group was an integral part of my trip, but branching out and meeting new people was the essential core of my experience abroad. On the team I met women from Shanghai and Switzerland and Hong Kong and France. Rugby is a truly international sport, so the motley crew formally known as the Beijing Devils was a pleasant little UN in itself. I even met a girl from Colorado who I have actually played before on Stanford Campus!

When I wasn’t out tackling and sprinting about the rugby pitch, I spent a lot of time with the program director Shen Laoshi, taking her introduction to fieldwork class. This class constituted probably the most meaningful experiences of my trip to Beijing. The purpose of the course was to choose a topic that necessitated real life interviews with Chinese people, outline interview questions, find subjects and execute the interviews. My project concerned microfinance and female empowerment in rural homes just outside of Beijing. Shen Laoshi connected me with a widely renowned woman named Wuqing, who ran a rural women’s school just outside of Beijing. It took 2 hours to get there by metro and bus.  I planned on attending the school to interview some of the women who were currently undergoing vocational training at the school. This school specialized in teaching young women 11-25 life skills that would help them gain entry to employment such as sewing and computer skills, childcare and food preparation. During my first visit, I encountered a weekend seminar of self-made businesswomen from Hubei province. After their sessions I ate lunch with them and interviewed a few personally. Their stories blew me away! Of particular interest was one woman whose husband was in the army. While on leave she started her own steel factory from microfinance loans and is now the CEO of a million dollar rural steel company.

My last visit there I finally met with the famous Wuqing herself, who lived and struggled under the Cultural Revolution to start providing more advanced services to young women. She identified how young rural women were being left behind by the government and powerfully lobbied for state funded schools. After years of fundraising and petitioning, she was able to create the rural women’s school and recruit a team of excellent staff to help her run the program. My final project on these interviews was probably one of the most rewarding things I did in China.

Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of classes, fieldwork, and rugby, my trip to Beijing flew by in an instant. Before I knew it I was back to being sandwiched in a middle seat (my luck) and flown to SF. Although I missed my family while abroad, the program did so much to instill a love for China in me that my graduating plans are to return to china and work for several years. How else do you become fluent? I still wake up in the morning sometimes and miss sorely the taste of jian bing, a delicious concoction of crepe egg and hot sauce, or baozi, steamed buns filled with meat and vegetables.  The memories are fond and ever present. My Stanford experience wouldn’t have been the same without it.

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