Arriving in Nanjing
I will never forget the moment I stepped out of the hotel and for the first time I ventured onto the streets of Nanjing. It was midafternoon on a Friday, and we had just arrived in China a few hours prior. With the goal of finding a bank to exchange our currency in mind, myself and three other recently formed traveling companions met up in the hotel lobby and set out on our mission having no idea where we were going besides some vague instructions from the front desk worker in broken English. We walked down the sidewalk for some time, making the occasional joke or observation about street vendors selling squid on sticks or goldfish from a pool, before finally arriving at a large intersection. There, the four of us stood in awe and silence for what seemed like several minutes as we took in the sights and sounds of a culture that seemed completely alien to us. Fortunately, I do not need to regret the fact that I didn’t take a picture, for this image will forever remain engrained in my memory.
The roads were congested with an array of cars and buses busily making their way to wherever it was they were heading. However, the overly crowded streets did not stop the vehicles from getting on with their day, but instead seemed to spark a sense of creativity in their path finding abilities. We watched as cars dodged and dashed around one another in a show of controlled chaos, with vehicles seeming to narrowly avoid collision every couple of seconds. Adding to the chaos was the never-ending troupe of citizens buzzing down the sides of roads on electric scooters, making the crossing of this intersection all the more of an impossible task. Factor in an environment of street signs and buildings completely foreign to us and you can probably understand our hesitation as we stood at that intersection. In that moment it was difficult to predict that we would so quickly find ourselves at home in this city and after leaving hold it with such fond memories.
Meeting My Group
In all honesty, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about how the makeup of our groups for the project was going to be. It was the morning before these groups were formed that that I found out each group would contain about three Chinese students, one Indian student, and one American student. As someone who ignorantly entered China with no knowledge of how to speak Mandarin beyond the word hello and some butchered form of the word thank you, I wasn’t sure how effectively I would be able to communicate and create a startup business plan with these students. It was early on a Sunday when we all got together in the Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications and I was introduced to my group of Chinese students. With the plan of being introduced to our Indian groupmates the following day, my current group consisted of myself and three girls, the somewhat quiet yet intelligently humorous Chris, the happy and determined Pan Lan, and the spunky and incredibly friendly Yao Yao.
I was relieved to discover that overall my group spoke decent English, but more importantly they were extremely kind and eager to make me feel at home. We didn’t have much time to talk amongst ourselves before we were thrust into our first group activity of making a short film to present to the class in just under one hour. My group, in what many professors may call the “forming stage” of our development, quickly and clunkily put together a somewhat embarrassment of a film which simply showcased an unedited video of us playing ping pong. Despite creating this uninspiring video and receiving almost no votes for “best video,” it was certainly an experience which allowed us to begin to understand how one another tick, and we began to build the rapport which would contribute to making the overall experience so enriching. While success and victory can certainly bond a group of people, it is of my belief that failure sometimes does that even more so, and we allowed ourselves to laugh at and poke fun at the silliness of our first attempt of a project. Of course, while I was indeed happy with my group on a personal level, the day did still leave me with some reservations regarding the difficulty of creating this final project. I had never before done something like this, and the task certainly seemed to be a daunting one.
The Confucius Temple
It was now Thursday, almost one week into our study abroad program. In the past week we had attended several lectures on entrepreneurship, completed more group projects, begun to work on our final project, and been introduced to our Indian group member Sujay. Sujay is a bright and strong-willed robotics engineering student who speaks near perfect English and quickly became a valuable member of our group. The tasks over the past week had evoked a wide range of emotions out of us including but not limited to joy, amusement, realization, frustration, and panic. It seemed that almost every day we were introduced to a new project on top of our final one, which proved to be a real challenge. Nevertheless, it did allow us to learn how we all fit into the team and operate in a more efficient manner.
For today’s task, my group had decided to head to the second largest Confucius temple in China with the goal of selling a popular Chinese food (the name escapes me) to visitors outside the attraction. Each team had been given 100 yuan by a professor with the goal of generating more by essentially any legal means necessary and returning what we made to be given to the volunteers of the study abroad program as a gift. With the yuan we were loaned, my team managed to negotiate a discount for our product through a local shop and then sell it at a higher price to customers outside the temple. Our product sold out faster than we could have anticipated, and we managed to end up with over triple the amount of yuan we were given. Though the way I described it may seem simple, we had undergone a fair amount of trial and error with other ideas throughout the week, and this success was very pleasing for our team. We had finally started functioning in an effective way where we were both having a great time and being productive.