Wyatt Bruton

Major: Journalism and Mass Communication

Hometown: Raleigh, NC

Study Abroad Program: CEI in Beijing Summer

Last semester back at UNC, when someone mentioned the word China, I lit up with excitement knowing that I would spend my summer there. I lit up with anticipation knowing that I was preparing to for the experience of a lifetime. I could not have been more right!

Honestly, words could only begin to skim the surface in describing my experiences in Beijing. Words can only capture a faint picture of how I have been enriched, blessed, challenged and changed by this experience. Every morning, I woke up with a sense of eagerness as I started the day—it was for good reason, because every day was a new adventure, a new cultural experience, a new lesson learned, about anything from entrepreneurship to social awareness. From discussing the uniquely different histories and cultures of America and China to sharing life together through playing ping pong, my Chinese roommate and I learned from each other every day; and at the end of the night before we cut the light off and headed to sleep, I know we both realized that we were more similar than we originally thought: we were two college guys searching for significance and meaning in life while working our hardest to balance the many blessings and challenges of life.

Commuting to work for a total of three hours every day added a whole new dimension to life. Though obvious physical characteristics of my skin color and height set me apart from the Chinese people on the subway with me, I somehow feel at home there, as if I truly belonged, and what an incredible feeling that was.  As an intern at EASTWEST Public Relations, I was thrilled to see entrepreneurship and innovation in action every day. It is as if the king of innovation, Peter Drucker, was in the office with us, as I saw the owner of the company encourage all of us to spot opportunities and figure out how to do things in a way no one has ever done before. Whether it be through eating lunch with Jim, the owner, or through the various projects I worked on that actually made a difference in the direction and future of the company, I was blessed, honored, thrilled, and humbled to take part in this experience. 

For most Saturdays during the summer, a few of my Chinese friends and I ventured to a forgotten and neglected corner of Beijing to spend time in one of the largest migrant villages in the city. After getting off the bus in a fairly affluent area, we turned down an alley and it was as if we entered a different world. There were no more skyscrapers or expensive cars; there were makeshift shops and homes lining mud and trash-filled streets. Every Saturday, we walked down the main road as the men and women went about their Saturday morning routine. These families have come from all over China seeking sustainable work in the city. Because of the Chinese hukou system, which essentially has created a distinct urban-rural divide that binds people to the place where they are born, these men, women, and children migrate out of the country without the permission of the government and come to the outskirts of Beijing, where they set up small village towns to live in. During the week, the men and women leave their children in the village and travel to the main city to look for work. Many get up as early as 3am morning to travel to the wholesale market to buy vegetables to sell on the street. Many ride bicycle carts far into town to sell lunch and dinner on the street. Many work at construction sites around the city. The list goes on and on. Meanwhile, the children are left back at the village with no government support for education.  And yet, these workers, especially in the construction industry, are used to aid the out-of-control development taking place in the city as I type—as soon as the construction is done, they are treated as a disposable resource and forced to flee from the city back to the countryside where the conditions can be even worse.

Fortunately, saintly men and women have seen the need and have been willing to dedicate their lives to meeting it…men like the principle of this Migrant school where we spent our time, who came to Beijing 20 years ago to serve these kids. As soon as we walked up to the building that looked like it was 100 years old, around 30 Chinese elementary school kids with beaming smiles on their faces surrounded us. We all immediately split up and went into the different classrooms and simply just sat and enjoyed life with the kids. I reached the capacity of my capabilities with Chinese very quickly, but somehow that was ok. Somehow, it was ok that we were just hanging out together, we were connecting, we were loving and being loved.

The classroom conditions were deplorable. Most of the desks and chairs were worn down or broken, and small fans only circulated the 85 plus degree air..the students don’t even have notebooks to write in as far as we could tell, so we bought them some with pens. Somehow in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation, there was HOPE, there was LIFE, and there was a fervent passion to LEARN and to LIVE. And it left me humbled and speechless.

As I look back on my summer as a Phillips Ambassador in Beijing, I look back with a great sense of excitement and gratefulness. I have been blessed by the generosity of the Phillips family in ways that I could never express accurately in words. I return to UNC with new lenses with which to view the world the United States, this university, and especially my own life. It was very difficult for me to leave the place I learned to call home, the place where I grew in innumerable ways as a person, the place where I made life-long friends with my Chinese brothers and sisters, and the place where I  will ALWAYS cherish, ALWAYS love, and ALWAYS long to return to.