Hi everyone, my name is Amy Xia, a rising sophomore. I was in Beijing for five weeks working with Notre Dame’s Beijing Global Gateway. This is my 3 in 1 post since I couldn’t access the website from Beijing, so it’s a little long but please bear with me! Although this wasn’t my first time in Beijing it was the first time I had a real chance to get to know the history and lifestyle of this city.
Getting off the 12-hour plane ride was quite a relief. Finally able to stretch my legs I speed walked all the way through the terminal 3 building. The view was phenomenal and terminal 3 itself, built 6 years ago just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, still looks brand new. I will say however that the building is almost inconveniently large (it took me a solid 20 minutes walking through terminal 3 to get to the train that then takes you between the terminal buildings). Completely exhausted I wanted nothing more to hurry to the dorm but Beijing’s traffic was far from cooperative. Beijing’s traffic problems are famous throughout the world but when a 30-minute drive triples in time, things get really frustrating.
We were arranged to stay at the Tsinghua University PBC School of Finance as Notre Dame’s Beijing Global Gateway maintains strong relations with Tsinghua University and many other renowned Universities in China. The dorm building is located in the bustling streets of Wudaokou. Once you exit the school gates you immediately join an endless flow of people. You really get a feel of China’s overpopulation when you step into the streets and can hardly turn around without bumping into someone.
So finally came my first workday. The ND Beijing Global Gateway’s office is located in Zhongguancun, a technology hub that I learned is referred to as the “China’s Silicon Valley”. Having learned my lesson with Beijing’s traffic and population in bustling places like Zhongguancun I was fully prepared when I became completely sandwiched deep underground on the Beijing subway. Beijing’s public transportation is extremely impressive with up to 14 different subway lines and costing only 2RMB or about 30 cents to travel to and from anywhere. (Unfortunately the low prices weren’t earning enough money to support the whole system so they raised the price to be based on distance about two weeks after my internship ended). Finally I arrived at the office in one piece and met my new colleagues. To my surprise there were only five people in the office including myself and another intern. With so few people the environment was extremely cozy and our colleagues took wonderful care of us. After quickly touring the office we began to familiarize ourselves with what Beijing Global Gateway does. Despite having so few people the office handles nearly all of Notre Dame’s affairs in Asia, ranging from alumni events to scholarship funds, internships to international exchanges, so on and so forth.
Our main task for the first couple of weeks was to prepare for and guide a summer study abroad group of Notre Dame students. Prior to the group’s arrival we created guidebooks that would serve as a survival guide for the students who had never been to Beijing. And upon the group’s arrival we handled everything ranging from their pickup and sendoff, housing affairs, daily schedules so on and so forth. Fortunately for us, our employer gave us the opportunity to combine work and learning by encouraging us to attend the study abroad group’s daily field trips! I’ve always known that Beijing is both a historical city as well as a modern metropolitan but these field trips allowed me to see for myself how one city could perfectly blend these two seemingly opposite descriptions. To summarize some of my best and worst memories, I’m sure people are to some degree familiar with Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City, but it’s not quite the same when it’s 106˚F under the blazing sun without a single cloud or tree to give you shade. You won’t find a single tree on Tiananmen Square because Chairman Mao was worried that assassins might hide in then while he greeted the Red Guards (that’s something you won’t learn unless you’re standing there melting like a popsicle). As for the Forbidden City, the repainted buildings certainly stand in all their glory but the faded and tattered paint of the untouched buildings remind us that this palace has withstood rain and storm for almost 600 years since 15th Century. From the last dynasty we fast-forward to 2008 and I find myself standing in the Beijing National Stadium (more commonly referred to as the Bird’s Nest) and National Aquatics Center (Water Cube) of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. These two structures stand in sharp contrast to the Forbidden City but nonetheless, are representative of Beijing.
This was just the beginning. Our field trips took us much deeper into the culture of Beijing. We walked through the historical hutongs (narrow streets characteristic of historical China) to visit a local NGO for the mentally disabled, we spent hours exploring the modern art district 798 where many political activists attempt to express themselves through their art, we listened to valuable lectures regarding past, present and future of Chinese media given by our very own alumni so on and so forth. I could not be more thankful for this opportunity. The Business and Culture Summer Abroad program really covered almost all the basics of Chinese culture. One small regret is that the group didn’t quite get the chance to enjoy Chinese food culture. It would have been great to take them to the famous Peking duck that’s been an all time favorite since the imperial era or the unique Chinese Imperial Cuisine to try some of the Emperor and Empress’ favorites such as Empress Ci Xi’s favorite Wowotou.
In the following weeks we had the opportunity to help plan the ND Club of Beijing Annual Picnic. The picnic had a great turnout. We met many wonderful alumni as well as the fresh faces of many of our incoming international students! We spent much more time in the office focusing on translating and updating Notre Dame’s marketing material as well as brainstorming ways to facilitate international students and parents’ Notre Dame experience. All in all it was a very thought-provoking task, having to put myself in the shoes of a local Chinese student or sometimes even the student’s parents and trying to compile all the information about anything and everything they will want to know as well as the things they won’t expect and then present this mass of information to them in the most easily accessible way.
Finally I want to thank SIBC for giving me this amazing opportunity to travel to such a fascinating city, and to meet and work with such wonderful people. This internship has truly been a once in a lifetime experience. I have learned so much while enjoying every last minute of it. Thank you ND and I love you Beijing!