James Hill

Major: Economics

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Study Abroad Program: CEI in Beijing Summer

It is easy to feel like a gigantic baby walking around Beijing. In fact, most of the children were far better equipped for daily life in China. Collectively, the members participating in the CEI Program in Beijing did not know any Mandarin before coming to China. It still amazes me how we were able to tour around the city, utilizing less than survival Chinese, which included a mix of charades and simply the words “ni hao” (hello) and “xièxie” (thank you). This befuddling and humbling predicament served as a constant reminder of the obstacles we were to overcome as well as the vast amount of learning to be done over the course of the summer.

This summer, I participated in an internship at COSAGA, a web-based NGO (Non-Government Organization) that addresses the serious problems of profound global impact that are not given enough exposure. Collectively, they have developed a platform that ranks information according to its importance to the human race in terms of number of people impacted, urgency, proximity, and extent of realization of the impact. Then after receiving a quantitative score, they are ranked and a discussion from experts ensues about how to go about curtailing their impact. Their Web site was in development while I was working for them abroad, and should be launched in 2010.

Our ability to communicate effectively as a group of American students got put to the test when we had the opportunity to visit a Migrant School in the east suburbs of Beijing. The migrant school teaches preschoolers through sixth grade and it currently has 150 students, but don’t think I noticed more than 50 chairs. The migrant schools are an especially interesting part of Beijing because the city has a migrant workforce of close to five million, and the most accurate records show that there are at least 500,000 migrant children in need of education. Although the migrant workers reside in Beijing, busy constructing new buildings and waiting tables, their children are denied access to the same education as local children making migrant schools their only option and only hope for a better life. Just being able to spend time with these children and witness the similarities amongst our many disparities made it feel like my first time on the job as a Phillips Ambassador.

I was dealt a unique card when I learned that my roommate was a staunch supporter of the Communist Party. He was an active member of a communist support group and participated as a drummer in the 60th Anniversary National Day of the P.R.C. on October 1, 2009. He firmly believes that all Americans are fearful of China’s global presence and that we live in a selfish society which consistently displays a poor work ethic. As clearly as he chose to illustrate this to me, there I stood, Mr. American himself, attempting at all costs to prove to him otherwise. Understanding that this was an isolated encounter specific only to my summer, I still thought it was a definitive part of my study abroad experience. Throughout the summer I recognized the many opportunities I had to illustrate that a Chinese-American relationship should be so much more than coexistence. We grew closer and I had the chance to meet his family and tell them via translation all about my childhood and life in America. It was a special and unexpected benefit of the summer and I will never forget it.

Lastly, I also wanted to share a memory that really made me happy. While staying at our dorms at Capital Normal University, there was a place just down the road from us called Hondo’s Ice Cream Parlor (I made up the name because all I could understand was Hondo), but they had to be the epitome of entrepreneurship. When I arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, June 10th, the building on the property was empty. By Sunday, June 14th they had opened their doors and had begun serving customers. I was amazed at how quickly they were able to launch their business into operation, and due to our burning desire to be accepted by the locals, our group visited and tried to become their first “regulars.” Although we didn’t know Chinese, the common bond of soft-serve ice cream helped us forge a relationship with the workers. We asked our residential director help translate their menu into English and we told the owners all about where we were from and about our excitement to be living in Beijing for the summer. I felt like the connection we made with the owners at the ice cream parlor allowed us to quickly break down any notion of insecurity and begin absorbing the entrepreneurial culture prevalent at each street corner of Beijing in an entirely new light. I remember feeling infinitely happy that I had chosen to study abroad in Beijing and knew that the experience would undoubtedly be one of irreplaceable memories.