This past May I graduated from Harvard. I’m not quite sure where these four years went, but I know they’ve left me with an unbelievable amount of knowledge I never thought I’d have, and more importantly, friends I will carry with me for a lifetime. One thing I still don’t know is how to be a functional adult—so, naturally, I’ve decided to pick up and move to China in the hopes of finding out.
In August, I’ll be relocating to Beijing to spend a year living, working, and teaching. Most of my friends and family are already aware of this, but as I count down to the big move, I thought I’d write up a blog post to tell you all a little bit more about what I’ll be doing and why I’m doing it. This will also be an introduction to my blog’s new focus. For the next year I’ll be using this site to chronicle my life and work abroad, and I plan to write far more regularly than I do now to keep the folks at home updated. Friends, PLEASE pester, beg, bully, and do whatever else it takes to hold me accountable for posting—don’t let me fall off the grid!
What is Princeton in Asia?
Princeton in Asia (PiA) is a fellowship program affiliated with Princeton University that has been placing recent college graduates in meaningful jobs across Asia since 1898. PiA has established relationships with 80 Asian partner institutions, ranging from elementary schools to universities, NGOs to media publications, and everything in between. PiA recruits about 150 new fellows every year, and by getting to know us through intensive personal interviews and a rigorous application process, they decide where we’d best fit. Around half of the fellowships PiA grants are teaching posts, and the rest are various different kinds of workplace positions. Mine, a brand new PiA fellowship this year, is a little bit of both.
I’ve met the other PiA fellows in my 2017-18 class twice so far, both times at Princeton during TEFL training and orientation this past spring. They are already one of my favorite things about PiA—I’m so excited to have a network of like-minded friends (and couches to crash on!) in 45 cities and 20 countries around Asia, from Kazakhstan to Myanmar, Mongolia to Timor Leste. All of us will be working super interesting jobs and having wildly different experiences, and I can’t wait to hear the stories my fellow fellows have to share.
What is Flourish?
This year PiA has newly partnered with an organization called the Flourish Project in Beijing, and selected me as their very first Flourish fellow. Flourish is an initiative part of a larger education consulting foundation called TSL, and it aims to bring a curriculum centered around “enterprise education” to Chinese public schools. The curriculum focuses on helping students hone the skills they need to communicate effectively, develop and convey new ideas, and think outside the box, all of which will contribute to their success later in life.
I don’t know all the specifics about my job yet, but I do know that as a Flourish teacher, I’ll be tasked both with helping develop their curriculum and with rotating through a handful of their partner public middle and high schools in central Beijing to teach it. I’ll be teaching subjects like creative writing, public speaking, debate, and drama, all of which have been profoundly important to me throughout my own education. I am a passionate creative writer, studied the humanities in college, and plan to pursue a legal career, so I firmly believe in the necessity of effective communication and creative thought in shaping successful minds.
Why spend a year in Asia?
The million-dollar question. I know that, eventually, I’ll end up coming back to the U.S. to study law and begin my career. If my time at Harvard has taught me anything, though, it’s that I learn far more by being out in the world and doing than I would in any classroom. If I’m going to build a career based on interpreting the world (I want to practice international law and work either for the government or for an NGO focused on issues like freedom of movement, universal literacy, or security), then I need a first-hand understanding of its systems and its people. China is the perfect place to begin—its exponential economic growth has made it hugely relevant on the world stage, but so much of its culture and its political system is impossible for a Westerner to decipher from the outside.
Beijing is also an INCREDIBLE city. Back in summer 2014 it was the first place in Asia I ever visited, and I remember being awed by the way China’s innovative present and 5,000-year-old history simultaneously coexist within it. I’m so looking forward to being there long-term and spending my free time getting lost down hutongs, stuffing my face with street food, and taking endless photos. Yes, I will invest in a good pollution mask. No, I will not be deactivating my Facebook (thx VPN).
The last, slightly convoluted reason I’ve been using to explain this move to people is that I almost feel more prepared to be a brand new adult in China than I do in the U.S. If I were to move to a major American city to begin my first year of work after college, I’d be expected to have some idea what the hell I’m doing. For someone who currently lacks all the necessary practical skills of adulthood (I can neither cook nor clean, and what are taxes), this is rather frightening.
As a frequent traveler, though, I’m used to figuring things out for myself while floundering in a foreign city. Abroad, foreigners are given a kind of graceful indulgence as they try to find their footing in a place. Locals are friendlier and more willing to help out because on the other side of the world, I’m not supposed to know what I’m doing. I guess what I’m saying is if I have to be a clueless 20-something somewhere, then it’ll be a hell of a lot more fun to do in Beijing than at home.
So that’s that. For now, the preparations continue, as I try to acquire a visa and figure out how to pack a year of my life into one checked bag, one carry-on, and a backpack. Stay tuned for updates, and thanks for following along!
中国, get ready. T-45 days till takeoff.