Ajsela Pestalic

Major: Journalist & Mass Communication

Hometown: Greenville, North Carolina

Study Abroad Program: CEI in Beijing Summer

It has only been two months since I have returned from Beijing, but looking back it seems almost like it was all a dream. When I think back on my summer in China, a place so completely different from anywhere I have ever been, I am overcome with wonderful emotions and treasured memories. The exuberant culture, exotic food, fascinating destinations and the unforgettable people that I met along the way will always hold a special place in my heart.

I remember feeling anxious about living in China for two months just days before the trip. While I was extremely excited about traveling to another country and all of the opportunities that awaited me there, I could not help but worry about the different social norms and feeling out of place in a city of 20 million. I also knew about as many Chinese words as I could count on one hand (which I later learned I was not even pronouncing correctly.)

These feelings did not last long. I fell in love with Beijing, its people, its culture, its 24/7 city-that-never-sleeps mentality, its street vendors selling old socks and stir-fry noodles and its sheer size that made me worry I would never be able to see it all (which I tried my very best to do anyway.) I got to visit the most amazing places such as the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Terracotta Warrior Museum and the Beijing Olympic stadium. I also learned a lot about Chinese culture in the impeccably preserved Beijing parks and the migrant village community. My one regret is that I did not take the opportunity to travel more outside of Beijing. While my program also took us to the city of Xi’An, which was amazing, I wish that I could have planned my trip better to see some of the more rural areas in Southeast Asia.

My experiences in Beijing have helped me grow in so many different ways. As a student, I learned about Chinese culture and the language. As a young professional, I gained hands-on experience in an entrepreneurial company in my field of study. But most importantly, as a human being, I have grown to be more open-minded, tolerant, patient, spontaneous and just about anything else that a person can learn from stepping outside of their comfort zone and letting yourself be completely immersed in a rich and fascinating culture such as China.

I, along with the other members in my group from the entrepreneurship minor, had the opportunity to take summer classes at China’s top university, Peking University. I took a class called Culture, Communication and Society: The Chinese Way. It taught me a lot about the history of Chinese society, from the ancient dynasties to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I learned the differences in the Chinese and Western ways of thinking and understood why these differences exist. It is so easy to be ignorant of other cultures’ customs and traditions when you do not know the history and reasoning behind their way of life. This course really helped open my eyes to the core of China’s culture. My group also took several Chinese language courses that were extremely helpful in our everyday interactions with locals.

The entrepreneurship minor also placed each of us in different start-up companies in Beijing. I was very fortunate to be placed with a trendy expat-targeted magazine called The Beijinger. I was a marketing intern for the magazine which covered all types of events, restaurants, music, and anything else exciting going on in the city. It was a perfect way for me to gain valuable experience in my field of study, as a public relations and advertising major, while also being up to date on where to go and who to see in Beijing. I also learned a lot about starting a company in China and lessons about entrepreneurship that I could have never learned in a classroom. Most importantly, I loved the people that I worked with and I still keep in touch with many of them.

While at times I felt extremely overwhelmed, when I got lost and could not find any English directions or when I thought that I would be squished to death on the subway at rush hour, I look back now and know that it made me a stronger person and I would not trade those memories for anything. I want to thank the Phillips Ambassador Scholarship for giving me this life changing opportunity that I will forever treasure.