Lost in Beijing


BOLOGNA — SAISers know the only universal truth; that the summer was created for a very specific purpose. Summer is the time to go on exciting trips to some exotic countries and to do amazing internships. This past summer, starting out in the United States, a fellowship sponsored by the Asia Foundation has brought two SAIS students Danny Wessler and llaria Mazzocco across the globe to Beijing.

Let me back up! The Asia Foundation Fellowship provides grants for up to four students from Johns Hopkins SAIS to do an internship in China over the summer. The program is to facilitate exchange for Americans to go to China, and Chinese students to go to America. The Observer catches up with two such American students and talks to them about their exciting stories.

Danny Wessler:

“The last time I was in China, it was four years ago. I was teaching English in Changsha and spent a few days visiting Beijing. It was a cold winter, ” Wessler recalled.

“Luckily, the weather was much warmer this time around. I had more time to explore the often-overlooked parts of Beijing, such as public parks and temples, that many tourists don’t have time to visit on a trip of just a few days,” he added.

Having graduated this May, Wessler found out about this fellowship opportunity through SAISWorks.

During his two months in Beijing, he interned with AmCham China as a research and operations intern. He assisted with organizing events and working on special initiatives related to trade deals and public-private partnerships. He was a part of the new initiative named the AmCham Business Center, which provides useful market research and consulting for member companies, or those that are thinking of beginning operations in China.

“My specific experience with AmCham was great, because it really gave me an opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned at SAIS. It will be a good experience for me going forward as well,” Wessler said.

For him, this Asia Foundation Fellowship was more than an internship placement for the summer. “We had [a] chance to learn a lot more about some of the social problems in Beijing too, like the problems of migrant children.” he said.“ It was good that this program helped us learn more about the city we are living and working in for the summer,” Wessler said.

Speaking of Beijing, Wessler described his favourite moment. “My favourite part of Beijing was probably just the ability to get lost and wander in ancient hutongs,” he said.  

For him, being able to see these neighbourhoods that have been continuously occupied for hundreds of years, sitting right in the middle of town next to huge skyscrapers, is what Wessler called “a pretty interesting juxtaposition”.

Ilaria Mazzocco:

An Italian native, Ilaria Mazzocco shares similar interests with Danny. This was not her first time to visit China, but in fact the third time. Prior to this trip to Beijing, Mazzocco spent a summer studying in Qingdao while in college, and spent a year dedicated to learn Chinese language in Yunnan. She says her hard work on Mandarin really paid off.

This time around as a second year China studies student, she interned at Global Environmental Institute as a research intern in Beijing where she focused on investment, trade and environment for China’s overseas companies.

“Through my internship, I was able to gain a better understanding of the current environmental situation in China and the project I was involved with, a Chinese SOE doing extracting business in Laos was quite interesting,” Ilaria said.

Speaking of her living experience in Beijing, unlike many others including the locals who complained about the crowded subway during rush hours, surprisingly, this is not an issue for Ilaria at all.

“I lived in New York for two years, and I took subway for an hour everyday. So I am used to crowded subway,” Ilaria said.

Instead what turned out to be new and fascinating to her was the experience of living in this historical and cosmopolitan city. During the interview, Ilaria mentioned her favorite place in Beijing is Gulou, a place that serves exactly a ‘great combination of both the original and new Beijing.’

“I really liked the area of Gulou and it was a lot fun with a good selection of cafes and cultural activities. I never got tired of it,” she said.

At the end of the conversation, Ilaria said that she is looking forward to going back to China again one day as from this internship experience with GEI, she realized little work has been done on corporate social responsibilities for China’s overseas companies. Thus, she would like to tap deeper in this field in the future. And there is another reason why Ilaria wants to go to China. “China always surprises me!”

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