Lauren was a participant on the 2014 Chinese summer program in Zhuhai, China.

Starting a new chapter of my life at American University has made me reminiscent about my NSLI-Y experience in Zhuhai, China. Learning how to navigate a new city has reminded me of trying to blend in on the streets of Zhuhai, even though I was clearly a “老外”, or foreigner. While it has been a few years since my NSLI-Y program, the lessons I learned both in and out of the classroom continue to contribute to my personal, academic, and professional growth.

image of lauren giving a thumbs up next to a bin of crawfish

Being immersed in a different lifestyle with a host family, new classmates, and a different culture was daunting at first. I quickly gained a deep appreciation for being out of my comfort zone because I realized I could only grow if I learned a different side of things. One of the first occasions I was out of my comfort zone in China was at a restaurant with my host family. My host parents asked my host brother and me to order, and to my surprise, my host brother led me to a wall of fish tanks and a row of large plastic bins filled with frogs and other small animals. I stood there confused until my host brother explained that we were going to pick out which animals we wanted for our meal. I knew that at home, I would probably never have an experience like this, so I took a deep breath, put on some gloves, and reached for the frog with my own two hands. To my surprise, it was exhilarating. Facing new challenges like this in China helped me to be more flexible and adaptable to unfamiliar situations and to work with diverse groups. I decided I would consciously challenge myself and seek new perspectives to become a more informed individual. Living in the center of our nation’s political sphere has given me the opportunity to actively seek out opinions and beliefs different from my own. Largely inspired by the growth I made in China from learning a different perspective, I have attended lectures, discussions, and debates in Washington, D.C. on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues to gain a more well-rounded view.

The NSLI-Y program sparked my interest in Chinese and profoundly impacted my academic goals. Since my program, I have continued my Chinese studies and reconnected with my NSLI-Y experience at home by taking classes at Saturday school, participating in a STARTALK program, and volunteering to virtually teach Chinese students English. Since starting college, I have received formal Chinese instruction and done tutoring sessions with native Chinese speakers. In the fall of 2016, I was able to use my Chinese skills to give a tour of the National Mall and some monuments in downtown Washington, D.C. to a few Chinese businessmen. I am excited to continue studying Chinese and advancing my proficiency.

lauren pictured with her host brother and host father

My NSLI-Y program in Zhuhai also ignited my passion for Southeast Asia and international economic development by showing me the power of trade and investment in developing communities. One day, my host mom told me she was taking me to the house she grew up in where some of her siblings still live. We drove outside the city onto rural, unpaved roads to a village of stone houses without electricity. I sat in a small room with my host mom’s extended family and listened to stories about how in their childhood my host mom and her siblings would catch snakes and crickets in the weeds so they would not go hungry that day. I was shocked at how different that house and lifestyle felt from the bustling, prosperous city that had grown nearby, and I wanted to learn more about how international trade and investment had affected poverty in Zhuhai.

In part because of the confidence, independence, and passion the NSLI-Y program instilled in me, I decided to pursue a degree in International Studies focusing on International Economics and Development in East Asia and the Pacific. My interest in trade and FDI as catalysts of development, which I saw first-hand in China, inspired me to conduct part of my AU Scholars research project on the impact of investments in coffee production in the Đồng Nai province of Vietnam. I hope to study in China in the fall of 2018 with the China Studies Institute at Peking University. After I finish my Bachelor’s degree, I plan on continuing my education to learn more about how international economics and trade can be utilized to foster peace and prosperity. In the long-term, I am interested in working for the Department of State or the Department of Commerce.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to study in China with NSLI-Y. This program made me more mature and independent, encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone to see a different perspective, and led me toward my academic and professional aspirations. I am so excited for a lifetime of experiences in China and outside my comfort zone, and I will always fondly remember my NSLI-Y experience in Zhuhai.