Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Student Story of Study Abroad and Asian Studies in the Sigur Center


There were times during the nine months I spent studying in China for my senior year of high school that made me feel I had made a grave mistake in leaving home. Although living in China initially seemed like a dream come true for someone deeply interested in Chinese history and culture like me, the incessant staring and gawking by Chinese people at my 6’ 8” frame made me feel insecure and unwelcome. This insecurity was exacerbated by my unsympathetic AP calculus teacher who, when I came to seek his help one day, yelled: “I am not going to help you anymore because you are not going to understand it!” This day was the lowest of many low points during my time in China. I returned to the US at the end of my senior year with the conviction that my future no longer involved Asia. This was a shame because I had gone to China with the idea that I would pursue a career as a US Foreign Service officer in Asia, and maybe one day become the US ambassador to China. I therefore entered GWU in the fall of 2009 at a loss about what to study and what career path to pursue. The disaster of my China experience also made me hesitate to even think about studying abroad again. During my sophomore year of college, I managed to get a part-time job at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies largely because of my background in Asia. Initially, I did not expect to get much out of this job besides needed cash. At the time, I never would have imagined that I would end up working at the Sigur Center for more than two years, or that my passion for Asia would be revived through it. Supportive Asian studies faculty such as Professor McCord encouraged me to not waste my hard-earned Chinese language skills and to deepen my understanding of China and Asia through courses offered at GWU. As I began to take these courses during my junior year, I realized that my passion was for the international politics of Asia, and that I had to follow my heart in choosing my career in this field despite the fact that I was apprehensive it could force me to live in Asia again. From my work at the Sigur Center, I learned that Sigur Center fellowships were available for GWU students wanting to study Chinese in Taiwan over the summer. Although the Center’s Taiwanese visiting scholars reassured me that Taiwan was a very welcoming place where a tall, yet low-profile American like me could fit in somewhat more inconspicuously than in China, I still vacillated about applying. However, as my interest in Taiwan picked up steam through research papers on Taiwanese politics and cross-Strait relations in Professor Robert Sutter’s US-Asia relations course, I convinced myself that I could at least handle living in Taiwan for six weeks over the summer.I went to Taiwan this past summer and absolutely loved it. This positive experience not only shattered my fear of living in Asia again, it has also motivated me to become a “Taiwan hand” for the US government in the future. As my college years come to close, I realize that I have much to thank the Sigur Center for: a job, a language fellowship to Taiwan, and a vision for my future career. I cannot thank the Sigur Center’s faculty members and staff for an amazing undergraduate experience!

By: Kyle Churchman

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