From beginning to end, the Nanjing Capstone program (Fall 2014 - Spring 2015) allows students a great amount of autonomy in shaping their experience. I found this to be especially true of the internship semester when I lived in Beijing. I navigated this autonomy by setting two overarching goals for the semester. The first was to immerse myself in the language and local community by forming relationships with my Chinese coworkers; the second was to learn as much about the Chinese development situation as possible.
I spent many Saturday afternoons during my internship volunteering as an English teacher for the migrant women served by my internship provider. I originally pursued the opportunity as a way to get involved in the local community and form relationships with coworkers outside of my department. However, the experience exceeded my expectations when my students quickly became my teachers—correcting my tones, challenging me to explain English grammar in Mandarin, and sharing inspiring stories of their lives as migrant workers. I will never forget the pride that one woman exuded when showed me a picture of her son, a soon-to-be college graduate with a bright future despite his meager beginnings. And, I will certainly never forget the strength that I saw in the women who shared stories of the challenges they faced moving from their rural hometowns to a huge, unfamiliar, modern city to work for clients with backgrounds very different from their own.
During the last month of my internship, the department I interned with invited delegates from an international development NGO based in Bangladesh to participate in a weeklong conference on development issues in China. When my supervisor asked if I would be comfortable interpreting many of the meetings during the conference, I responded with a confident, “Yes”, but quickly began to question if I had gotten myself in over my head. With some coaching and memorization of specialized vocabulary, however, I slowly regained my confidence and the experience became a huge mental turning point in my language study. It was during that conference that I realized I had learned enough about development in China and enough specialized vocabulary to use Mandarin effectively under pressure and in a professional setting.
By the second semester of the Capstone program, Flagship students have language and cultural proficiencies that allow them to experience China unlike many foreigners can. I capitalized on these proficiencies by learning as much from the migrant women I taught as they learned from me. I built on these proficiencies by seeking out an internship where my supervisors believed in my abilities and were committed to giving me meaningful work that challenged me as a language learner and a person. But these are only one student’s experiences. With unique interests and goals, each Capstone student inevitably crafts a unique experience. As you begin your Capstone year, internship applications, or internship itself, I encourage you think about how you want to experience China, to ask yourself what you want to gain and what you want to give. I encourage you to set goals and to seek out and accept opportunities that might lead you down any (or many) of the paths you might be interested in pursuing.