The Great Wall of China

Without an ounce of exaggeration, perhaps the single most surreal moment of my life up to this point was when I first laid my eyes on The Great Wall of China. It was early on a Sunday morning, the day before we would be leaving China for the United States. Despite it being somewhat of a struggle to roll out of bed, having been out late the night prior seeing what the city of Beijing had to offer, we all managed to find ourselves on the bus as rain fell in a downpour overhead. The rainfall was just beginning to end when our two-hour bus ride came to an end, and the sky was shrouded in a thick fog.

The Great Wall

            There is no other way to describe how I felt when our group first stepped onto the wall and gazed out at our surroundings other than completely awestruck. Beyond us this incredible feat of manual labor snaked and stood proudly across miles and miles of mountain and forest. Although the fog and mist left over from the rainstorm certainly did make it difficult to see too far ahead, it also created a sense of mysticism that added to the wonder of the sight. Much like the experience of standing at that intersection in Nanjing, it was all we could do but stand in silence and take it all in. After the initial shock of the beauty we were beholding began to slightly pass, we began hustling across the wall to cover as much ground possible in the limited time we had to do so.

The leg workout of a lifetime
Cats we found high in the mountains on the wall

            After several miles of sweat and the leg workout of a lifetime, we once again stopped to marvel at where we were standing. We had climbed what seemed like thousands of stairs and were at a high point on a mountain where we were able to see the wall stretching across the land. In many ways, this moment was the culmination of the whole journey we had embarked on and allowed us to fully reflect on the experience. What mankind had achieved in building this wall was unfathomable. Although a simple study abroad to China may seem like nothing in comparison, this adventure has opened my eyes to how big this world is and how much it has to offer if you are willing to give it a chance.

Group photo

My Second Week in Nanjing

China Unicom

            During the beginning of our second week in Nanjing, we all took a trip to visit the company China Unicom. China Unicom is an innovative state-owned telecommunications operator which serves both Mainland China and Hong Kong. Not only is the company innovative, but it is the fourth largest mobile server provider in the world. After arriving at the company, we were treated to a presentation on the company’s developments regarding 5G technology as well as a ride in one of their impressive 5G buses. Quite frankly, the whole presentation was somewhat stunning and felt as if we had stepped into a science fiction movie set in the future. The contrast between the more traditional areas of China and what I was seeing in this company was jarring, and I truthfully had no idea anyone was this close to achieving the technological advances that were seemingly being made here.

Presentation at China Unicom

            Beyond what we learned in the presentations that China Unicom provided, one of the more fascinating parts of the experience was a conversation we had with one of the company’s employees. As a few other American students and I stood in the lobby waiting to be brought back to the hotel, this employee approached us and opened an interesting conversation. He mentioned that he had spent some time studying in the US and discussed topics such as the differences between the two countries, his thoughts on key technologies to look out for in the near future, and starting a business while working for another company. Without going into too much detail on what he said, he mentioned the fact that he spent his days working at China Unicom and his nights hustling on his own medical technology company he had recently started. Talking with this young and enthusiastic employee was an incredibly eye opening and inspiring experience which allowed me to see many things from a new perspective. I believe that it is moments like these, a human to human conversation with someone from a different culture who brings a new perspective to the table, that make visits to other countries such valuable experiences.

Group photo at China Unicom

Leaving Nanjing

          The night before our final presentation was a late one in which almost all teams found ourselves scrambling to put our finishing touches on the projects and be well prepared for the morning to come. We had all come so far in the past two weeks that proceeded us, and my group had certainly developed a strong bond through the work we had accomplished in the classroom as well as the unforgettable memories created together in our free time. When the morning to present finally came, we all arrived in the classroom in a state of exhaustion, nervous anticipation, and satisfaction. Several of my group members expressed their fear in delivering the presentation- and I didn’t blame them. I couldn’t imagine how difficult presenting a business model to a classroom full of people and in a language I hadn’t grown up speaking would be. Nevertheless, when we had finally finished speaking, I found myself extremely proud of how my group performed and feeling bittersweet that the experience had concluded.            

After the closing ceremony had concluded and it was near time to depart for Nanjing, it was time to say goodbye to everyone in the program we had become so close to. Never in my life has an experience allowed me to form such meaningful friendships in such a short amount of time.  As cliché as it sounds, it truly felt as if we had all become family. Everyone exchanged their gratitude toward one another and made promises of staying in touch over WeChat. Finally, our group of American students boarded the bus and watched as our new friends waved goodbye from the sidewalk. It wasn’t until that bus ride to the speed train that I was really able to stop and digest the unforgettable journey I had just experienced.

Receiving my certificate
My group presentation

My First Week in Nanjing, China

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.

First day of class

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.

Yao Yao, Pan Lan, Chris, Sujay, Myself

            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.

Where we sold our product
River by the Confucius Temple