Beijing Summer 2015

*Due to circumstances in China with wordpress being blocked, these posts could not be posted on time, and are therefore being posted in one go.

7 June 2015

Good morning everyone! My name is Seung Hee (Teresa) Jeong, and I am a rising junior at ND. I am a Finance major, and I spent the summer at the SIBC sponsored internship in Beijing, China at the Notre Dame Asia office. I had never been to China, and I also don’t speak any Chinese, so to say that I was nervous is an understatement. However, I was also excited to move out of my comfort-zone, and to learn about a whole new culture, especially one as rich and deep as China’s.

I touched down in Beijing on May 24th and after roughly 12 hours on the plane, it felt good to have my two feet on the ground. The first thing that strikes you in Beijing is the people- Beijing International Airport is one of the largest airports I have seen and yet it is absolutely packed with people. This was only the first taste of Beijing’s packed population: the next morning, on my way to my first day of work, my partner and I were literally squashed wherever we went be it on the streets, in the morning train, or even in the elevator up to the office. While it can be tedious if you are running late (which, thank goodness, we never were), the sight is really awe-inspiring. People are packed into tiny spaces, and then you see a literal flood of people leaving the train into the station. I’d imagine that if you were watching from the sky, it would look something like when ants swarm around the entrance to an anthill. Even after two weeks, I am still amazed at how the people move here.

Our first weeks of work really focused on the Business and Culture in China summer program (or as we called it the BCC program). Amongst all the paperwork that was required and the copious planning, there was the fun part of planning a cultural scavenger hunt for the students that allowed my partner and I to go to places such as the Summer Palace, the Old Summer Palace, and the Olympic Park. It was fascinating to look around, especially the Old Summer Palace where there is so much history embedded in the site.

Old Summer Palace Pagoda

Old Summer Palace Pagoda

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

"The Bird Nest"

“The Bird Nest”

VIP lounge inside the Olympic Stadium

VIP lounge inside the Olympic Stadium

28 June 2015

The past three weeks went so quickly; I’m still surprised at where the time went. I cannot believe that I have spent five weeks in China already, but time has flown by. The last three weeks were completely jam-packed with work: with the arrival of the BCC program students. Our work was divided between the office work- marketing materials, transcripting videos and interviews, etc.- and guiding the students on their cultural and business tours. Due to my language barrier, the work ended up being split so that I took the students on the cultural tours along with a guide, while my partner took them on their business tours.

I really enjoyed those weeks with the BCC students, because we went to so many famous cultural locations such as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, some temples, a contemporary art district called 798, amongst others. My personal favorite was the Great Wall, and the Llama temple: the day we went to the Great Wall it was like luck was on our side because the air cleared and it was probably the most beautiful day during my trip. The view from the wall was incredible, and no pictures that we took could do the scenery any justice. When you stand on the wall and look out, it really feels like you could fly the sky and hills are so beautiful. You can also read the history of the wall in the chipped stones, the sloping stairs, and the lookout posts.

The Llama temple on the other hand was amazing in the details that we could see in all aspects of the temple. The statues themselves are absolutely awe-inspiring, but what really captured my attention was the detail they put into the buildings that housed the statues. There were patterns and designs of flowers, clouds, the sky and nature painted into every crevice of each temple. Unfortunately the dim lighting made it difficult to capture the full picture, no pun intended, but even from afar you can see the patterns on the buildings as seen in the picture below.

Tiananmen Square at the Forbidden City with the BCC program

Tiananmen Square at the Forbidden City with the BCC program

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

View from the Great Wall

View from the Great Wall

Llama temple with the BCC program

Llama temple with the BCC program

12 July 2015

I cannot believe how fast time has gone. It is already the end of my seven weeks in Beijing, and I honestly don’t know where that time has gone. Although I have learnt so much, I feel as though I still have so much still I want to do. I suppose that is one downside to going to a place with several thousand years’ worth of history. The final weeks of the internship were focused on moving onto new projects after the BCC program was successfully completed, as well as moving the office. Our office moved from where we had originally been in the western Haidian district near Peking University, to the Chaoyang district, right by the US Embassy and closer to the business hub of Sanlitun. Amongst the moving fiascos, we were focusing on three big projects: a culture trip to Shanghai and Hangzhou for the Beijing Language Program students, a parent’s handbook for students coming to ND from the greater China region, and researching and creating learning modules for a leadership “camp” called I-Led, hosted at ND for international high school students over the summer.

At the end of my internship, I find myself reflecting on the experience as a whole, and what I have learnt as well as some regrets that I have. I think what I have learnt most from my work, amongst other things, is the value of time management and also being very flexible: our work was usually set for us with a deadline of about two weeks, but every day we went into the office there would be additional work that had to be completed by the end of the day or by the next morning. This definitely helped to hone my time management skills, and it also taught me how to work in an ever-changing environment. I also learnt quite a lot about the Chinese culture, especially in terms of their food. It is interesting to see how different the dishes are in different parts of China, and you find there is a cultural influence from these differences as well. If I had to state a regret, it is that there is still so much more that could be learnt, and I did not have the opportunity to further explore the rest of China.

Authentic Beijing Duck!

Authentic Beijing Duck!

However, I can say that this experience was one of the best summers of my life, and I am grateful to SIBC for giving me the opportunity. It has been an amazing time in this historical city, and I loved every minute of it. Thank you SIBC and thank you Beijing!

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Ecuador “Oportuni-Squad” Part 3

The past two weeks in the field went by quickly. Team Oportunidad (or “Oportuni-squad,” as we call it) lived and worked in Pulingui, a community 45 minutes away from Riobamba. In less than a week, we will complete our internship and head back home. Looking back to the past eight weeks, I have discovered, to my relief, that I have realized the three goals I set for myself when the internship first started.

GOAL #1: SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN ACTION

We talk about social entrepreneurship a lot in classroom settings. But this has been my first time actually implementing SE theories in a professional working environment. It sounds cheesy, but there have been so many first times in the past two months that this internship has changed my life and worldview. First time consulting for grassroots startups. First time giving a consulting presentation in Spanish. First time working in the field of financial education and savings groups. First time conducting door-to-door surveys and marketing… Through these fieldwork experiences, I have developed a set of values and practices that I will stick to in future social entrepreneurship works.

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UTOPIA, a “Canasta Communitaria” (community veggie basket) in Riobamba, is a client of our grassroots consulting service. La Caja Solidaria, UTOPIA’s internal savings group, is seeking to expand its function: as demand for savings groups in local area increases, UTOPIA hopes to help create and give advice to other savings groups. Last week, we created a guidance manual for UTOPIA, outlining a step-by-step road map for creating and improving a savings element in work associations. 

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Campaign publicity with local entrepreneur Rosa. 

GOAL #2: SPANISH IMMERSION

My friend challenged me before the summer to learn 10,000 Spanish words during my time in Ecuador (~200 words per day). I am going to be honest here and admit that I have obviously failed to do so. Even so, I am still proud of and grateful to my homestay families (well, and myself) for taking the 10,000-word challenge and making efforts to immerse me in the Spanish language context. From week 1, when I didn’t know a single word in Spanish, to week 8, when I can do basic communications with my Ecuadorian families, tremendous efforts have been made. My three favorite Spanish activities are chatting with my host families (including babysitting my 4-year-old sister in Pulingui), conducting door-to-door publicity on campaign days, and doing consulting presentations in Spanish. Muchas gracias to everyone who listened to me patiently and who corrected my mistakes in our conversations!

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My host family in Pulingui. I couldn’t ask for a better pair of host siblings. 

GOAL #3: ENJOY THE SUMMER (#YOLO)

“Do what you are afraid of doing, and you will discover that you are much stronger than you thought.” I don’t remember who said this to me, but I will forever remember what reminded me of this quote – our Chimborazo hike.

Hiking is a major part of our downtime in Ecuador. And to be honest, I was afraid of it in the beginning. High elevation makes it difficult to breathe; steep slopes and deep mud slow down our paces; rolling rocks increase the difficulty and risk… However, as we hiked mountains after mountains, I gradually found myself at ease and even excited. Our biggest hiking highlight is in Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador. We set out for the hike last Thursday, hoping to meet up with Baltazar Ushca, the last “ice merchant,” on the top of the mountain by 2 pm. The ice beyond the snowline of Chimborazo is well-known for its sweetness. Harvesting ice and bringing it down from the mountain have thus been a local tradition for hundreds of years. However, as less and less people were willing and able to take up the job, this tradition has been in danger of dying. Baltazar is the last “Chimborazo iceman” in the world. Every Thursday, he goes to Chimborazo and brings down the ice to sell in local markets with drinks. It was a tough hike, as not only was the trial steep and rocky, but it was also raining and hailing, making it harder to see and breathe. As we mounted higher, the wind grew much fiercer, blowing small, sharp particles of hails into our faces. At some point, it was difficult to even open our eyes. Our faces and lungs hurt from the hail and the breathing, and each small step seemed to take hours. However, Team Oportuni-squad made it to the top and we were in great honor to witness the Baltazar harvesting Chimborazo ice.

After the Chimborazo hike, I felt that I could do anything. I enjoy overcoming my fears, which has made this summer even more unique and memorable. You Only Live Once, and life is too short to skip Chimborazo.

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Baltazar harvesting ice in Chimborazo. 

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Team “Oportuni-squad” made it!!

Muchas gracias to those who have been reading my stories so far. Also, I want to thank SIBC and HYSP for offering me this opportunity to learn & explore & serve & reflect. This summer is a blast!

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BY Yuchen Zou

Ecuador Part 2

I am always amazed by how fast time flies. Three weeks has passed since I left Cuenca for intensive field work in the southern regions of Loja and Zamora-Chinchipe. This Monday, our team returned to Cuenca and spent a week in the city to reflect on our previous work. Next Monday, we will hit the road again and spend two weeks in Pulingui, a small community next to Riobamba. Before I leave internet connections, I want to share my stories and lessons learned from the past three weeks. This blog consists of three parts: a quote, a story & my takeaways, and pictures.

First of all, quote of the month: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson

This is one of the most beautiful quotes I have ever encountered. It will be guiding my principle in all kinds of social entrepreneurship works in the future. We had a thorough discussion about this quote in the past reflection week in Cuenca. For me, it connects with the difference between charity and solidarity. Charity is meaningless without solidarity and mutual respect. There isn’t such a thing as single-way empowerment. All kinds of empowerment are, as I believe, mutual. In social entrepreneurship, everyone’s liberation is bound together.

Next, a story.

I tried very hard to suppress the urge to check my watch. It was already noon, and we still had 20 finance surveys to conduct before leaving at 1 pm. However, we have been talking to the lady in front of us for nearly 20 minutes – only to get one survey done. Eager to practice my (very very elementary) Spanish, I tried to communicate interactively with our interviewee as much as possible; but meanwhile, I was worrying over the team’s time management.

In week 3 and 4, Social Entrepreneur Corps officially started field work in different regions across the country. My team, Oportunidad, traveled to the Southern part of Ecuador and stayed in Ñamarin, Loja and Timbara, Zamora, to implement the micro-consignment model. Our work in el campo can be divided into three major categories: assisting local entrepreneurs in village-access campaigns, consulting for grassroots organizations and savings groups, and finally, developing a financial literacy business model.

Another five minutes had passed, but our conversation showed no sign of stopping. As the Amazonian sun above us became stronger and stronger, my anxiety grew. We were doing surveys regarding financial literacy and institutions in the town of Paquisha. The survey data would later be analyzed and used to build a viable model for implementing long-term, socially-impactful finance projects in Ecuador. To be self-motivated, we made quantifiable goals for ourselves and were aiming to conduct 30 surveys within our 2-hour stay in Paquisha. So, when we were talking to this interviewee, there was only one word in all the seven team members’ minds: QUANTITY.

But we were wrong. The 30-minute conversation with the lady in front of us helped us realize that, in social entrepreneurship, quantity is a very insufficient measurement of success. As we were compiling survey data from our interviewees, we discovered to our surprise that the longer the conversation was, the more valuable information we got from the surveys. The last lady we talked to in Paquisha later turned out to be the president of a local women’s association/savings group. In our long conversation, she offered us not only answers to our survey questions but also detailed information on how rural savings group in the Zamora-Chinchipe region work as well as the credibility of cooperatives and credit unions in the Southern Ecuador. Eager to finish the conversation as fast as possible, none of us realized the value of the seemingly “extra” information to our future work in model-building. In addition, we got to know about the interviewee as an individual instead of mere survey data. The door-to-door survey experience has taught me patience, meticulousness, and most importantly, the fact that QUALITY MATTERS.

This is an example of how I learned and grew in the field work. In the field, where we put social entrepreneurship theories into real practice, I brought a long list of takeaways home every day after work. All the takeaways echo one critical principle: balance. Balance of quantity and quality. Balance of giving and taking. Balance of the time spent in different types of work. Social entrepreneurship is all about effective and reasonable balance.

Here are some pictures from the past few weeks. Despite the busy working schedule, I got to spend a decent amount of time with my host families, who were so sweet that I nearly cried at the farewell party before we head back to Cuenca. I also went hiking, visited some breathtaking waterfalls, and spoke as much Spanish as possible!

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I was with two of the most beautiful human beings in the world — my host siblings David and Kenny. Never have I experienced so much mutual respect for culture in this small but sweet family. They melt my heart. It is interesting to observe that when people cannot fully communicate with language, they actually get closer. 

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TEAM OPORTUNIDAD! Creating opportunities out of obstacles!!

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Paquisha, a beautiful town in Zamora-Chinchipe where we did MCM surveys, held campaigns, and had great memories.

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My host dad from Timbara. He is awesome!!

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Taffy making activity with Amor y Fortaleza, a grassroots association in Timbara. We did a consulting presentation for the members afterwards. 

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Need analysis with our local entrepreneurs!

Finally, HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!! 

By Yuchen Zou