Written by Professor Elvira Masson, Academic Director, CET High School/Pre-College and JSA Diplomat Program in Beijing, Summer 2018*
This is my seventh year as Academic Director of the CET-JSA Diplomat Program in Beijing, China and I have yet to figure out what “an ordinary day” is. In part this is because this program is jam-packed with classes, speakers, field trips, cultural experiences, events with Chinese buddies, and unexpected changes to schedules and arriving guests. This year there are plenty of changes to the program that have enhanced the experience for everyone.
Our program this year has two tracks; one for the JSA Diplomat Program focusing on Chinese history and politics and one for International Career Pathways. This means we have a broader range of site visits and guest speakers for us all to learn from, including law, foreign policy, the arts, education, NGOs, and more. This week alone we’re visiting an international law firm, an international Global Affairs program at Tsinghua University, a social and educational club for senior citizens of Beijing, exploring the Imperial City, and hiking the Great Wall. All this is in addition to the content classes, Chinese language classes, tai chi, yoga, Chinese crafts, movie night, meetings, and more.
Another change this year is that we are in a new location, Beijing Union University in the northeast corner of the city. Beijing United brought together some 30 universities and colleges in the city and focuses on arts and sciences. The campus is modern and comfortable. I’m still overwhelmed by the 4-story dining hall with myriad food choices and I love walking around the track in the evenings when the neighborhood comes out to enjoy the cool breezes.
And, as with every year, the least “ordinary” feature of the program is the students! We have a range of backgrounds in things Chinese – from students who’ve completed the AP Chinese Language exam to complete beginners, from students who’ve been to China before or who come from Chinese heritage, to students with no China experience other than World History classes in school. But everyone shares a sense of adventure and engagement, with a willingness to jump right in and try new experiences.
I’ve already seen outstanding overtures of friendship and care, adventures in using Chinese language and chopsticks, cut-throat bargaining skills, mastering the Beijing public transit system, and a willingness to be open to new perspectives. As Confucius said, “Oh, what a joy, having learned something, to try it out!”