Alex Cole

When I first arrived in China, I had an idea of what I was going to learn about. I thought about how much my language skills were going to improve, the interesting foods I was going to get to try, and how much better I would understand the culture once I attended traditional Chinese festivals. Those things all happened. Today I can have everyday conversations in Mandarin. One of my favorite foods (and one I desperately miss eating every day) is traditional Chinese jiaozi. I’ve had the pleasure of watching the spring festival fireworks set off over the Beihai Park waters and wishing my friends a happy Chinese New Year with the gift of homemade mooncakes.

 It was exciting, intriguing and at times downright shocking going to school in Beijing. I opted to take a Chinese politics class and it was extremely educational being presented the focus of the Chinese Communist Party, China’s economic strategy, and the explanations for the cultural phenomenon I was experiencing every day. I felt a sense of triumph whenever I began a pleasant conversation with a taxi driver and I regarded haggling for gifts at the silk market as a test of how far I’d come. When winter came and pollution blocked my view of the buildings across the street, I found the appreciation of clean air, something I’d never realized people actually lived without.

I took the skills I learned abroad and applied them to my job search after graduating. When speaking with employers about my time in China, I had interesting stories to tell them and felt a renewed confidence in my abilities. I’m happy to say within a few weeks after my return to the United States I received multiple job offers and ended up accepting a position as a congressional staffer for the U.S. Senate. I have aspirations to someday work in international affairs, so right now I couldn’t be happier. I think CUEP separated me from other applicants and I am extremely grateful to have gained the experience I did from it.