For Government senior Wesley Nash and leader in the Student African American Brotherhood group on campus, the study abroad experience in Beijing has been a blessing. Nash, who grew up in Houston, had to leave the University of Texas at Austin due to an academic suspension. “I promised myself when I came back, I would take every opportunity I could to make the most out of opportunities I had. The biggest opportunity I have had is higher education—a majority of my friends from high school didn’t have that opportunity,” said Nash.
“I left for a semester and I saw what life would be without an education; I saw it would be laborious; I wouldn’t be able to do well enough for my family; it was a dead-end track. If I would have accepted that, I would have lost all hope for making a better future. This is my blessing and I’m going to help people along the way and encourage others. I want to get involved in everything I can that wouldn’t change my core personality but help me grow.”
Nash said that after reading a book about Malcolm X in Dr. Leonard Moore’s class, he concluded that he needed to visit a different country to see the world through a different lens. He chose the Beijing Maymester through DDCE’s Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE) led by Moore as a way to accomplish that. Moore is a history professor but also heads up the LCAE as vice president for academic diversity initiatives.
On his first full day in Beijing, though experiencing culture shock, Nash said he managed to learn an insightful lesson of Chinese culture from Jeremiah Jenne, who is the Center Director for the IES Abroad Beijing Center, served as a tour guide for the China Maymester students. Jenne explained the differences between how the Chinese viewed and represented dragons and how Europeans viewed and represented dragons centuries ago.
“When Jeremiah told the story what I found most fascinating was the only difference between the two types of dragons was cultural perspective,” said Nash. “The ancient Chinese people first came across not dragon bones, but dinosaur fossils. They interpreted these creatures to be majestic and peaceful guardians of the earth. When Europeans first encountered dino fossils they interpreted them to be evil, demonic, bringers of death.”
“My first thought after hearing that was the Chinese must have really good hearts, because only a light heart and peaceful culture would reinvent the image of something that should be scary and mysterious as majestic and Guardian like,” said Nash.
In addition to learning about history, Nash and other students in the group learned a lot about popular culture in China. They were photographed nearly everywhere they went, especially the tall African American men, owing to the local popularity of basketball great Kobe Bryant.
Most memorable though were the bonds formed among the other students in the Maymester group. “The group of people that I’m surrounded by—God has placed all of us here for a reason,” said Nash. “I like listening to them—how educated they are. These are all future leaders of the world. . . I feel comfortable to be who I am without worry of being judged.”
“If hadn’t lived through the experience I don’t know if I’d ever believe that an African American professor from University of Texas at Austin took a group of majority Black students to Beijing to learn more than just the language. This has most definitely been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve learned plenty in this short amount of time.”