Back to SummaryKelsey Grode - Student Advisor Profile
MAJOR: East Asian Studies
I came to Stanford with the idea that I would participate in one of their study abroad programs. After a magical ten weeks living with a Shinto priest and his wife in the rice fields of Northern Japan during high school, I was set on going to Stanford’s Kyoto center and spending a bit more time in Japan. Sadly a lack of engineering and Japanese skills meant that Japan was beyond my reach, so I thought I’d apply to the Beijing program. Japan and China, are, as it turns out, kind of different places.
Beijing is normally a pretty busy place, but I arrived in 2008 seven weeks before the Olympics to last minute projects being crazily completed (or kind of
completed) at a frenetic pace. Before my Fall Quarter program with Bing, I had been lucky enough to get an internship through the BOSP Asia Internships Program. My flight got in the night before I was to start work. I rolled out of bed the next day, jet-lagged and disoriented. I somehow managed to find my office building, only to have my co-workers get totally confused about who I was and what I was doing there (talk about a failure of my Mandarin skills). Although discouraged, I decided that the summer could only get better from there…
That summer I was a real person – or close to it. I lived in an apartment that I was responsible for, got up at six to go to work every day, worked until seven or later, and then came home, made dinner, finished up some work, and went to bed. I just re-read that sentence and realize how boring that makes being a real person sound. Maybe my routine was a little dull, but I can’t tell you how fulfilling it was to make my own life in a foreign country. Everything from grocery shopping (I didn’t recognize half the produce the local mart sold) to getting the toilet fixed when it broke (which was often) was kind of tough. There were days when I wanted to hop on a plane to LA, but when it was Friday and I had finished all my meetings with foreign dignitaries, fixed the toilet, and picked up some fresh lychees on the way home, I felt pretty good about things. The challenge turned the mundane into an adventure, and I was able to keep things together!
My internship was something else. Day to day I was responsible for English correspondence between Peking University and other universities around the world – responding to invitations, setting up projects between the schools, etc. I
also had the job of writing speeches for Peking University’s President when he attended international functions (the man said some strange things that summer – none of which was his fault). Our big project though was setting up the “What Makes a Champion?” Forum Beijing 2008, an official Olympic cultural event sponsored by BOCOG and the IOC. The Forum is the brainchild of Professor Alan Snyder, and is meant to serve as the intellectual component of the Games, bringing “champions” from all walks of life together to discuss the nature of championship. As the only native English speaker in the office, I became the point person in facilitating the foreign “champions” stay in Beijing. Our guests included Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Jackie Chan and Ian Thorpe – pretty exciting. By the end of the summer I was feeling important (ha) but also exhausted. I pretty much stumbled off the plane in Los Angeles into my bed at home, only to emerge a week later to pack my bag for Beijing Round 2.
Fall Quarter in Beijing was nothing like the summer. Fall Quarter was a little like Freshman Year all over again – just in China. There were about twenty of us all living in the dorms at Peking University together. Our schedules were fairly unstructured, with a few hours of class a day and the rest of the time left to explore Beijing on our own. There were no Friday classes, leaving the weekends
free for traveling China. The academic part of the quarter was quite interesting. Not only did we have Professors-in-Residence from Stanford teaching classes in political science and sociology, but we also had a wide range of courses offered from PKU professors themselves. I am an East Asian Studies major, so everything conveniently worked towards my degree. After my hectic work schedule that summer, I really appreciated having a bit more time to myself. I spent ten days in Yunnan (China’s southernmost province) backpacking from its tropical south all the way into the Tibetan Plateau (oh goodness that sounds a little pretentiously glamorous, but I promise the trip was mostly me and my good friend Beth clutching our Lonely Planets and wishing that the yak-meat restaurants in the Himalayan foothills also sold Chicken McNuggets).
When there are only twenty people in a program you get to know each other pretty well, and we had some wonderful adventures. What stands out most in my mind is our Bring Trip to Dunhuang in Gansu province. Dunhuang is a small oasis town in the middle of the Gobi Desert along the ancient Silk Road. It is nestled in a sea of enormous sand dunes, and has a beautiful crescent-shaped lake near the town center. Dunhuang is well known in China for a series of sandstone caves that were manually carved out and then filled with Buddhist art (including one cave, the inner wall of which was carved into a giant Buddha so big that I could only barely reach the top of his big toe). Our Professors in Residence set up the trip, and had connections in the town that gave us a special tour of the art in the caves, while the Bings made it financially possible for us – so lucky.
After my six-month stint in China I told myself that it was time to take a break from Asia, maybe explore some other parts of the world. But when the notice went out that the Asia Internships were accepting applications again I somehow found myself applying – for positions not just in China again but in Beijing! This is how I ended up spending the summer in Beijing with Ambow Education, a private
education company based in Beijing with a lot a
of promise. Ambow does everything from online tutoring to small foreign language
classes and has attracted the attention of many VC’s internationally.
I was placed in Ambow’s Finance Department under some really talented
people who quickly became my mentors. My job at Ambow was much intensive on
a daily basis than the pre-Olympic craziness at PKU the previous summer, but
I learned so much. I was put through several weeks of accounting training,
all practical. Once my accounting skills were deemed proficient I was given
the job of helping consolidate financial statements from Ambow’s
subsidiaries into their own statements in preparation for a potential IPO.
I also did (very) rudimentary financial analysis for the company, looking at
industry competitors or the education market in the US.
Culturally the summer was fun, too. Being a little more confident in my Chinese skills and my knowledge of Beijing, I became more comfortable in exploring the city. I also learned that being adventurous in Beijing has its downsides – most notably when I was invited to a local friend’s restaurant and looked up to read the name of her place only to see the characters for “Traditional Dog Meat Restaurant” (such a bummer). Having gotten over the initial shock of living in
Asia by myself the year before, I didn’t feel as motivated to see the Great Wall etc, but found myself instead wandering side alleys, making friends with locals, and just generally taking stock of normal life in Beijing. I think that’s what I like best about a program like the Asia Internships one: you are put in a country on your own and get a little more in touch with the local culture than you might on a normal abroad program.
China has taught me a lot about myself. For instance, I now know that I really enjoy the adventure and challenge of living in a place so different from my home that it might as well be another planet. If you choose to do the quarter abroad in
Beijing I highly recommend it as the easiest and safest way to introduce yourself to China; you get the challenge of living abroad while being anchored in a transplanted Stanford community. You go to class, but you also have plenty of opportunities to leave Beijing and see all the incredible things China has to offer. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous though, consider the Asia Internships. Being thrown into a new culture at work and outside of work is tough, but boy is it fulfilling. Either way, China is an incredibly exciting place in the midst of great social, economic and political transformation – experiencing this firsthand is an opportunity not to be missed!