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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Chinese international student spends summer in India

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Features, Top Stories

Terry Chenyu Li ’14, a Beijing native, ventured a little farther from his home than many other students did this past summer. Li took part in the Brandeis-India Initiative program and had the opportunity to teach children of different ages in a village in India.

The Brandeis-India Initiative, a program sponsored by The Office of Global Affairs, gives students like Li the chance to volunteer or intern in India. When they return to campus, they give a presentation on their experience. According to Li, a large part of his job now that he is back on campus is to encourage other students to go on the program.

“I would encourage more Brandeis students to join this program,” Li said. “Brandeis is paying you to go to India and you can see how other people live.”

When asked about the differences between his experiences in India and Beijing, Li explained that there are many differences between the two countries.

“It was a really big culture shock. When I arrived at the airport I thought they would be really poor and different from my country but once I arrived at the village the life was totally different,” Li said. “The host family I stayed with had a motorbike and a car but they didn’t have indoor showers that worked. Most people there are vegetarian, so I didn’t eat meat for 48 days.”

Before living in India, Li couldn’t imagine eating vegetarian-style either in China or at Brandeis but he enjoyed the experience.

While learning to enjoy vegetarian meals in India, Li found that he also came to enjoy teaching. Li explained that he was not really interested in teaching before this but quickly gained an interest in it.

Li had the opportunity to volunteer in a daycare and teach English and computers at a local elementary school. “I have never had this interaction with children who are smaller than me since I am the only child in my family, so getting in touch with children is a new experience for me,” he said.

Since coming back, Li has applied for a teaching opportunity with the Waltham Group. “I found that [teaching] can really change your perspective. In India they are really eager to learn about the outside world [since] the opportunity for them to learn about it is limited due to the lack of Internet access,” he said. When he told them about China and the United States they were really interested in learning more about it.

The experience over the summer was a learning experience for him as well. While taking “Introduction to South Asia,” he learned a lot about India but at the same time felt that the class was biased and he wanted to see India in his own eyes.

When Li was in India he visited the Himachal project, where many exiled Tibetans live. After the 2008 riot that killed many Han Chinese the impression was that the Tibetans hated the Chinese but, in reality, they were just angry at the government, according to Li. He learned that “they didn’t really have the freedom of religion when they were in Tibet,” adding “if I were Tibetan and [were] not allowed to do these acts of religion, I would protest against it.”

Li is trying to raise awareness for the apparent lack of formal education in India by giving presentations on his experience and he is already planning a second presentation as well as a video. He also said that he would do the program again, whether he goes back to India or to another country. He also strongly encouraged other Brandeis students to join the program since it provides new perspectives of other countries.