In 2013, the DDCE and UT’s Study Abroad Office launched a Maymester program in Beijing that gives students from diverse backgrounds a world of experience—in academics, the working world and community service. Now a signature program within the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence, the Beijing Maymester course continues to offer a trip of a lifetime to many Longhorns. We caught up with some alumni to learn more about the program, Social Entrepreneurship in the U.S. and China, and how they benefited from their adventures abroad.
Name: Garrett Dee (B.A., International Relations & Global Studies/History ’13)
Activities: Student Government, International Affairs Society, Relay for Life Planning Committee, Tejas Club
Opportunity knocks…Dee discovered his interest in Chinese culture while studying the language during his sophomore year. When he learned about the opportunity to live and study in Beijing for a month, he immediately applied. “I thought it would be a really unique experience to see Beijing, which is really the city at the heart of cultural, political, and historical life in China.”
Keeping an open mind…Sine he has been studying the language and culture for quite some time, Dee wasn’t overwhelmed by culture shock. His biggest challenge was opening his mind to different ideologies. “It was difficult leaving my own historical and political perspectives behind and opening myself up to the viewpoints of Chinese people. China is a country with a really strong ideology that can conflict with other notions that we have in Western countries.”
Breaking down stereotypes…One important lesson from his trip, he says, is that the people of China—and any other country for that matter—aren’t all marching to the beat of the same drum. “No country is a homogeneous entity, and China is no different. People have a tendency to think all Chinese people are a certain way, but the truth is there is just as much variation among the average Chinese person as there is in any other place.”
More than a passing curiosity… “I actually find my attitudes are more Chinese than American. It could be little things like taking my shoes off when I’m inside or closing the elevator door as soon as I get in, to big things like how you view your place in society or the nature of your relationship with your parents. China as an idea became more than just a passing curiosity for me on a quick semester abroad; it’s a fundamental part of who I am now.”
A whole new world…“I really discovered a whole new world in China and I’m not done yet. I learned more of a new language, opened my mind to a new culture, and got to chow down on some delicious foods as well. And most importantly, going to China allowed me to move to Taiwan, where I have lived, worked and studied for the last four years. Couldn’t have asked for more.”
Working on the beat…Now residing in Taiwan, Dee is the writer and editor for an online news publication. With graduate school in his sights, he plans to deepen his knowledge of modern Chinese and international communications. He was awarded a scholarship from the Taiwanese government to do graduate-level studies in Mandarin Chinese at the International Chinese Language Program at National Taiwan University.
The journey has just begun…Dee says it would be stretch to say that he ever came away from the trip with new insights and observations because he never really “came away” from China. “It started me on my journey towards seeing the world in a different way, and it’s a journey that’s still continuing four years later.”