Since graduating from the Chinese Language Flagship Program in 2016, Drew Kunard has served study abroad students and language programs overseas and in the U.S. through various roles. Some of these programs include CET’s High School Pre-College Program in Beijing (HSPC), Hamilton’s Associated Colleges in China (ACC), and Indiana University’s Project GO Overseas Program in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Previously our Assistant Director at MiC Hangzhou, Drew is now our CET Beijing Resident Director and shares insights on work and returning to the city.
A picture of Drew standing in front of the sunset in Beijing’s Olympic Park near the Bird’s Nest Stadium
Returning to China has been a whirlwind of new and familiar experiences. Within the first few weeks, I saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, treated myself to authentic cuisine, and reunited with old colleagues, dear friends, and mentors. On the other hand, I’ve met many new people including students from diverse backgrounds. I also had to relearn how to navigate public transport and how to order takeout and packages.
Upon my return, the biggest difference I have experienced is the increased reliance on technology. When I left, I was used to using Alipay daily, but now I feel completely lost without my phone. Everything from calling a cab, ordering takeout, entering campus, or picking up mail requires connecting my local phone number and passport ID with my WeChat or Alipay account. As long as technology works like it is supposed to, most days in Beijing are a breeze, but I cannot help worrying about what will happen should my phone battery die when I need to call a cab to get back home at night.
As the RD at CET Beijing, I manage all student life aspects of the CET Beijing program including the program design, developing relationships with local partners and vendors, and student advising and support. I would say that the student experience is much the same as it was before the pandemic. Aside from signs in public spaces recommending wearing masks, many differences lie behind the scenes of our program, mostly in our team’s discussions with our host university.
For example, one of my first discussions with our host university contacts involved us asking how best to obtain Covid tests and what would happen should anyone in our program test positive. I was relieved to hear that our host university does not require isolation should anyone on campus test positive, but they offer housing accommodations in another dorm on campus should anyone wish to self-isolate until they feel better. Being proactive by having conversations about student health and safety has been fundamental with the return of this program.
Drew standing with (from left to right) a student from our summer term Max Ansonoff, CET’s Beijing Director Zhu Li, CET’s Beijing Office Manager Liu Xiaomei, and Brian Linden after Brian’s guest lecture at our host university.
My interactions with colleagues, mentors, and friends as I reconnect with everyone this summer have been the high points for me thus far. I always learn so much from our admin team, teachers, and students each term. Getting to know our students and helping them acclimate to life in China has been enjoyable. Generally, my relationships with our team and friendships outside of work made me ecstatic to return and live in Beijing.
A highlight from this term was our traveling seminar to Chengdu. We visited a local community of artists, interviewed archeology experts, and spoke with professionals at a panda research organization. We also tasted some unique Sichuan dishes, including Haidilao hotpot! All of this was thanks to our academic director and a collaboration with Southwest Jiaotong University, where students got to experience different aspects of Chinese culture.
Students speaking with the Director of Chengdu’s Yulin Community during our Travel Seminar to Chengdu
As the program wraps up and we start preparing for the fall semester, I am excited to continue building more resources and discovering more tools for our students, such as bringing back the local roommate program. Local roommates are students we select from our host university, Capital Normal University, who help bring language practice into students’ life at their dorm and around the city.
Our first semester has involved a lot of reacclimating and relearning for me. As I get settled and more familiar with my surroundings here in Beijing, I want to better support students by connecting with their interests and passions while studying abroad in China. So, what does this look like? I found a yoga studio near campus and started taking classes. I’m also exploring local restaurants, bookstores, and coffee shops, hoping to discover comfortable spots for students to study off-campus. And I am always looking for interesting cultural sites that our team can turn into an excursion or a scavenger hunt for future cohorts!