June 25, 2010
I can speak the language, but language is just a small part of Hong Kong's lifestyle. I have grown so accustomed to the East Coast, never setting foot on even the Midwest and the South, that the thought of working in Hong Kong and touring China is preposterous. Of course, having relatives and friends in China, and knowing how to speak Cantonese helps, but being independent in an unfamiliar land far from home forces me to change pre-existing notions to adopt this new lifestyle. I booked a flight for May 21st to allow enough time for visiting my relatives and touring Beijing. Perhaps by the time my internship commences, I will have adjusted to my new home.
When my mom warned me about the humidity and heat of Hong Kong, I packed light clothes but mainly shrugged off her warnings. Hong Kong is not just hot – it is astoundingly hot, at least, for a New Yorker. I got off the plane, and the first thing that hit me was a blast of humidity and heat. After a round of hugs and tears from relatives I have not seen in seventeen years, I was off to Mei Foo, where my cousin lives in a large flat by the Lai Chi Kok fire station. The amount of light and pedestrian activity even at 10pm amazed me. Row after row of restaurants, from McDonald's to congee shops, lit up the streets. As customary in Hong Kong, hosts take their guests to eat immediately after they arrive. Jellyfish and duck tongue became my favorite dish. We went to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island before our trip to the Mainland.
The Beijing tour was exciting, and I got pampered at the Ritz-Carlton Beijing for a week. Shenzhen and Guangzhou were unique cities, with cheap food and goods, but unfortunately, very dirty. Guangzhou is hosting the 2010 Asian Games, so streets are overturned to create better paved roads. Nonetheless, both cities have experienced tremendous growth and change. I visited Macau for my work visa, but also to secretly hunt for the world’s tastiest Portuguese-style egg tarts. Destination? Lord Stow’s Bakery on 1 Rua da Tassara. It was indeed "love at first bite", with their creamy, caramelly egg filling. I have tasted many kinds of egg tarts before, but this was astoundingly delicious. I also got to see many historic sites, and bought some almond cakes and curry beef jerky, which are still sitting on my desk.
Back in Hong Kong, I went to the Alumni reception and Ivy Ball, and met many alumni. My and my CEO friends’ alumni mentors were all very approachable and helpful. We even went to bars and the afterparty together! As for work, I am interning at Enlighten Action for Epilepsy, a non-profit organization that provides support services for people with epilepsy, as well as their families, and outreach for the Hong Kong community. I finally got to meet CJ, the other intern who will be working with me this summer, and my coworkers. They are such wonderful and friendly people doing amazing work at Enlighten, and I immediately felt at home in the workplace. I am glad to be able to speak Cantonese, since I can listen and join in on their occasionally hilarious conversations.
I am currently working on amending Hong Kong's driving laws to allow people with epilepsy, who are free from seizures for a certain period of time, to drive. My partner and I have been researching scientific papers and international policies on this issue, but it would probably be difficult to meet with legislative officials now, in light of pressing issues as the new reform bill. Today, a patron has donated four large bags of toys to Enlighten. We celebrated with chocolate cake, again for the second time.
September 3, 2010
As my plane descended through layers of viscous smog and I began to catch glimpses of the endless 1970s suburb that is LA. I must admit - I wondered if this was a mistake. Back in New York, I had applied to participate in an exciting program with CCE called CU In: California, which offers internship opportunities in San Francisco and Los Angeles. After weeks of waiting for a response, I nearly screamed when Diana Richter called me with the good news: I was one of two interns selected to work with Persistent Entertainment, a small yet prolific independent production company belonging to one of Hollywood’s youngest producers Matthew Rhodes. For an aspiring film and television writer, this is a big deal. It means a look inside the workings of a production company and further insight into starting a creative career in the industry. As an ex-rocker with the black leather pants from Sirens Salon in West Hollywood explained to me, only in LA can you achieve your dreams. There’s Disney in the air and it’s surprisingly uplifting.
Persistent Entertainment is run by two professionals who can move mountains as if they were a company fifty times their size. My fellow interns and I, Madeline (also a Columbia ’12), Brian (Ohio University) and Morgan (University Tennessee) read countless screenplays, procrastinated with our supervisor Aaron by watching YouTube videos and singing show tunes, and even got to help develop some of their upcoming projects: a horror based on the myth of the Pied Piper, an action-thriller called The Bullet and a comic book movie called The Expendable One. In the process we learned indispensable information on how to make it in the industry and how the film industry actually works. And we also gained one of the most important things in Hollywood: connections. Rarely do producers go out of their way to help you and answer questions, so when Matt Rhodes let us into his office and offered us his advice and help, I was astounded.
One amazing resource offered by CCE was the mentor-mentee relationship they set up for us. My mentor’s name was Rachel and the things I learned from her were priceless. She’s a writer for the Disney Channel’s animated TV department and recently had a pilot picked up for production over there. I was even invited to watch a casting session on the Disney studio lot just to see what the process was like; some of those voice actors were seriously funny comedians. Don't underestimate the kind of talent that goes into making kids programming.
Two months in LA got me much more than professional connections and a clearer perspective on the entertainment industry; what I’m most happy about are the bonds of friendship I made - with not just the locals but also other Columbia students. If we all end up in or around LA after graduation, I know I'll have some amazing people I can call. I flew away from the Pynchonian beach, the dusty gridlocked suburbs, the earthquakes, the plastic surgery and the movies knowing that coming to LA was actually one of the best decisions of my life.
July 23, 2010
My weeks at Enlighten showed me how important community is in helping to create a support network for people affected by or related to those who have epilepsy. Each person who works in the office, each intern, donor, and volunteer plays a part in improving the lives of our clients. Work has picked up pace, and though I have been performing administrative duties for half the time, the other half, I have been meeting clients at their homes, helping translate for my fellow intern’s face-to-face interviews, planning and leading summer workshops for the children, researching about international driving regulations for people with epilepsy, and setting up information booths.
I learned much about the lives of the mothers and their children struggling with epilepsy when we visited the home of one of the clients. The mother, barely in her forties and with a single son with a severe case of epilepsy and learning disabilities, appears haggard and tired of living without the support of her husband. Her son underwent surgery abroad to alleviate his violent, recurring seizures, and though his condition has markedly improved, he remains dependent on his mother, who rarely comes out of her apartment in fear that he would hurt himself if he had a seizure. Tears streamed down her eyes as she explained her loss of government subsidies for her son’s treatment, and her husband’s apathy to their situation. Later did I find out that she was preparing for divorce.
Interviews with the other clients revealed much more about the painful lives of those living with epilepsy. One young woman had been sexually harassed by a neighbor because of her slight mental impairment, and a young man had been accused of sexual assault at his school, due to his partial seizures, which may include touching and grabbing. Learning about their stories only provides part of the picture. Working with these people allowed me to understand how it felt like to be living with epilepsy in Hong Kong, and how I decided to continue in this line of work.
At our Korean Culture Presentation, the kids made kimbap and played a traditional Korean board game called Yeut-nol-i. Intern CJ headed the presentation and I helped translate for the children and their parents. One of the girls had so much fun with the board game that she exclaimed, "This is so much fun! I love it!" passionately dropping the Yeut-nol-I sticks at her turn; she was normally a quiet, shy girl. Behind the pain of living with epilepsy is also the hope and joy of making new friends and finding other children who understand what they are going through. I wanted to keep reliving this moment of their joy.
August 13th, 2010
It is difficult to part with children who remember your name and face, who run up to you and give the biggest hugs known to mankind, who laugh with genuine laughter at your lame jokes. I left behind a team and a small family as I left the airport. I remember the last two weeks at Enlighten were eye-opening experiences.
Our final project was to take the clients and their children to Stanley Beach for an outing. Managing five kids at the beach proved to be a difficult task, but nothing that CJ and I couldn’t handle. They had such a great time swimming around and playing with sand that they did not want to leave. A lunch at McDonald’s and shopping at Stanley Market topped off the afternoon. CJ left during the bus ride. I miss working with her and hope that she can visit NYC someday when she comes back to the United States to study.
My last assignment, more so done voluntarily, was to tutor a client’s daughter in her summer English homework. The daughter has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, has difficulty speaking, and is on a wheelchair for most of the time. The mother does not speak English and goes to others for help with her daughter’s homework. My supervisor describes her as an "inspiration woman", one who motivates and gives hope to the other mothers. I got to meet her firsthand when I visited her home on the day before the end of my internship.
She was a short, thin woman. Though in her early middle age, she appears tired and worn like the other client I met a few weeks before. Her daughter reclined on the couch and beckoned for her assignment. Though she had a slight fever and was exhausted from visiting a friend the day before, she persevered and still begged me to teach her despite my urging for her to rest for a while. I opened the packet and recited the English sentences, translating for her mother as she scribbled notes in Chinese. Her daughter repeated the phrases. Though she cannot speak and write properly due to her illness, she is hardworking and gets her work done. After the lesson, I asked if she wanted to take a walk outside. "Let’s review. Teach me again!" she says as she tugs my sleeve.
Later I learned that her mother was from Guangzhou, my parent’s birthplace. "We are like one family" says the mother. "We take care of each other. Please visit us someday."
My internship experience cannot be described so simply by mere words. The joy of meeting the clients and their children and my desire to continue working with them rounded off the experience. Though seeing someone in a wheelchair may seem mundane, watching her walk step by step with help is truly marvelous and heartwarming
June 25, 2010
It’s been over three years since my first and last visit to San Francisco, and it’s amazing how much the city has changed. One word: gentrification. The Tenderloin, a neighborhood you typically wouldn’t be caught dead in (or maybe you would) has become the “Trendyloin,” and the hipsterification of the Mission is in full swing. The Mission has been my favorite neighborhood to explore. I’ve taken a couple salsa classes, and I’ve sampled the cuisine – from taquitos to ceviche, this culinary spectrum runs the gamut of Latin America. The area is vibrant – bright colors and loud music are everywhere – and the people are very down to earth. Everybody that I’ve spoken to has been shocked that I speak Spanish. One woman asked me, “Where are you from? Argentina?” and when I told her I was American, she said “Que ladilla!” which, directly translated, is something like screaming, “Crabs!” but its actual meaning renders it a phrase I wouldn’t typically utter in front of my grandparents.
Most of my time, though, has been spent in the financial district, although I am interning at a nonprofit organization that focuses on public health and education – a far cry from an investment bank. The work so far has been varied. I’m the Program and Communications intern for Peer Health Exchange (PHE), which means that I report to two bosses, and my responsibilities affect both the programs offered by PHE and the way that PHE goes about funding those projects. For the programming side, I’ve done a large amount of data entry – attendance records, program evaluations – that will later be used to assess and improve the PHE program. With communications, I’ve written a couple articles for the newsletter that is sent out to all donors, including a profile on a Columbia grad for the July or August edition.
The work I’ve already done has been an invaluable experience, as I’ve loved some of it, while other parts have not been my favorite. It’s amazing how easy it is, with tasks like data entry, to put some good music on and get lost in the mindless grunt work, which, though not the most stimulating is important work that needs to be done. I much prefer the creative side of the job, where I get to talk to people and generate original work. The people at PHE are very accommodating, and we’re talking every day about not only how I can help them but also how they can help to make sure I enjoy my internship.
All in all, this has been great so far. I’m enjoying seeing what it takes for a strong NGO to do what it does, and PHE has demonstrated that a high level of organization and communication help the company to fulfill its mission successfully. I’ve also learned a good deal about myself and what my ideal work environment would be like, although what I would be doing in that environment is something I have yet to figure out. Two weeks down, six to go! I’m looking forward to the rest and hope it is as productive as this first part has been.
July 9, 2010
Two more weeks have passed, and I have a new best friend: Microsoft Excel. Best friend may be a bit generous, but I’ve spent more time with spreadsheets than I’ve spent with humans since I started this internship. From inputting survey data to attendance records, which, in this 21st century, were administered on paper, I’ve become well acquainted with "=SUM" and "countifs." And I must say, this is destined to be a short romance – if I never save a ".xls" file again, I will be better off for it.
Outside of work, away from the desktop computer and the office chair, I’ve discovered the ups and downs – no witticism intended – of San Francisco. For instance, the food here is fantastic. I like to explore cities via their cuisine, and what I’ve discovered here has been an abundance of fresh, in-season, local, etc. produce. At Mr. Pollo, I met Manny, a Venezuelan chef who is responsible for "the cult of Manny" (http://www.sfweekly.com/2010-07-07/restaurants/arepas-on-the-run/). Manny makes some mean arepas, which he filled for me with farmers’ market vegetables: Brussel sprouts, asparagus, red onions, carrots, and more. It wasn’t a traditional arepa, like the ones Manny grew up on in Caracas, but a distinctively San Franciscan arepa that was all-too-easily washed down by a fresh passion fruit juice, also courtesy of Manny.
On the down side, public transportation in San Francisco is not what it is in New York, which is to say it has been disappointing. Buses are the one way to get anywhere you want to go in the city, and they average a dismal 8mph, compared to the 16mph of the NY subway system. Coming home from the Mission on a Friday night, I waited 40 minutes for one bus, rode it for 20 minutes, then waited another half hour for another 20 minute ride. Given, it was 2am, which made the experience that much less pleasant, but I’ve had similar troubles with Muni (the public transportation system) at much earlier hours in the day.
But all in all, this experience continues to be a great one. I can deal with spreadsheets and buses that creep along for the summer, as the benefits I'm receiving – an internship experience, culinary delights, quality time with friends and family – are worth the inconveniences!
July 23, 2010
You know what they say about Vegas... well, I’m not going to say it, but I did make a weekend journey to Sin City for my brother's bachelor party, no cameras allowed. Vegas is a short flight from San Fran, well worth the (one-time) experience if you ever get the chance.
In other news, my internship at PHE is now 75% finished, leaving me with two more weeks of work. The theme of my work changed this past. I’ve been assigned three projects: research and explain the validity of PHE’s evaluation process, design PowerPoint presentations to assist PHE in recruiting college student health educators, and write an economic report explaining the consequences of PHE’s work. The one thing that’s missing? Excel, baby.
I must say again, how valuable this internship has been thus far. It is the exact learning experience I signed up for. Whether it has been adjusting to the 9 to 5 work life or being in an office, I’ve seen what a lot of jobs are going to be like in the future, and I know what to look for whenever I do decide to enter the "real world," however many years that will be after graduation. And now I know that, even when I’m working on things that are creative, things that I find interesting, I still can't sit in an office and be away from more social interactions. I much prefer working with others or working with my hands, and knowing this from experience will help me in the future as I try to narrow my interests and figure out what exactly I want to "do with my life."
I've also continued sampling the cuisine of San Francisco since I last wrote. This past week was especially delicious, as I had burritos in the Mission with two other Columbia interns in San Francisco, followed by dinner with the generous Katherine Jo and Diana Richter from CCE, again followed by drinks at a local brewery with our Columbia alumni mentors and CCE program coordinators, sponsored by the alumni center.
The Columbia network has been especially helpful this summer. Coming to an unfamiliar city is always made easier when there are people there to support you, whether they’re friends or mentors, and Columbia has provided both this summer. My mentor may be taking a few of us to see the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the coming weeks. I can’t say I’ve ever been into mimes, but we’re going to give it a shot soon. I also made a rejuvenating trip to Point Reyes with some fellow Columbians. We walked 6 miles out to the Pacific Coast, a beautiful collision of jagged cliffs and crashing waves – pictures will be forthcoming. Unfortunately, I left my camera in New York, but others took pictures so I encourage you to make the trip out here yourself!
August 13, 2010
My favorite conversation, repeated weekly:
They: "What are you majoring in?"
Me: "Creative Writing"
They: "What are you going to do with that?"
I'm not going to do anything with a creative writing degree. At least nothing related to creative writing. I think.
The only way I'll ever know what I want to do is to do it. This is what brought me to San Francisco, where I interned with Peer Health Exchange, a nonprofit that trains college students to teach health classes in public high schools that don't receive funding for such classes. My goal was simple: experience the administrative side of the nonprofit world, and decide if it’s something I want to pursue in the future.
My supervisors at PHE gave me several projects which were crucial to the organization's mission, and I understood and appreciated that. But I didn’t feel the same connection with my work that I would feel if I were actually in the classroom teaching high school students. Sitting in front of a computer all day, isolated in a cubicle, is not the work environment in which I thrive. Which is why, in Fall 2011, I plan to teach for PHE, to see if maybe my future resides in teaching, not administrating.
This internship was a vital experience. I’m grateful to PHE for the opportunity to test this career path, to see what it takes to run a growing nonprofit and to discover how much energy is required to equip people in the field with all the tools and training they need to do their job well. I have learned and am learning, from this internship, things about myself, health education, nonprofits and more. I couldn't have asked for anything better. And, now that I have this knowledge, it’s time to move on and to continue trying to figure out: what am I going to do with a degree in creative writing?!
June 25, 2010
I’ve always been somewhat perplexed by the idea of the “unpaid intern.” To someone who isn’t in the clutches of an uncertain career, it doesn’t strike one as odd – it’s the most common way of gaining experience in a certain industry or trying out a possible track to pursue. To those outside of that situation, the whole concept is somewhat ridiculous – students sacrifice a summer’s worth of earnings to work hard at a place that may end up being utterly unrelated to the eventual field a student finds himself in. I’m in the former situation, so I embrace the paradoxical beauty of the unpaid internship and applied for the CEO program in Singapore to work for the marketing department of an American cyber security company. For some reason or another, I was given the opportunity to work for the company (called ArcSight) and even live for free in Columbia-provided housing and get to meet an alumni mentor. It took no convincing whatsoever to accept the offer, and soon I found myself stepping off my Jetstar Asia flight and into the tropical wonder that is Singapore.
Now, although I was there to learn the trade of marketing the CEO program offered so many more educational endeavors. The most intensive is the education in Singaporean culture. The Center for Career Education had given us a good groundwork at our orientation. Trying to get a head start, I interrogated with my cab driver who took me from the airport to the apartment. I learned about the organized way in which the Singaporean government divides up taxes and subsidizes housing prices so that everyone (as long as they’re married) can have an apartment. In fact, 85% of the population lives in government housing. I did notice, though, that unlike the government housing stateside the housing here is really well taken care of by the government – the buildings frequently get new paint jobs, upgraded appliances, and other amenities to keep the places from feeling too shabby.
Because we arrived in Singapore with about 5 days to burn before our internships began, we started our tourist adventures without hesitation. We began by attending a release party for a new beverage hosted by the employers of some of the CEO interns, which was held on the top floor of a high-rise and featured an appearance by Miss Russia. Over the next couple days we walked around the historical district of Singapore, grabbed Chinese food of the highest quality, rose to the heights of Singapore in its huge Ferris wheel, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Little India. We found that in Singapore there’s something for everyone, whether you want to find quality art, energetic clubs, or endless shopping opportunities.
We couldn’t avoid the work for too long, though, and soon we parted ways on an early Monday morning to our respective offices around the city. As for me, I took the subway in all of its automated, air conditioned glory down to the financial district, where the station let me out directly in the UOB Building, a 67-floor structure overlooking the parliament and supreme court. ArcSight’s offices are on the 35th floor, where we have room for about 10 people. At work I was tasked with doing some research into cyber security legislation in the Asia Pacific region for marketing efforts. The task was interesting enough, and soon it was lunch time. Over the last couple weeks, this daily necessity has included at least one fascinating conversation in which I compare American culture with Singaporean culture. I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about the people and government here, which is music to my antho-major ears. The company itself is pretty interesting – we provide cyber security for private companies and government agencies, who use our products to protect against data theft by people on the outside and fraudulent actions by employees on the inside. We also help those same organizations record information necessary to comply with legislative requirements. Though I originally didn’t think I would be too interested in the actual industry of cyber security, I’m finding that I am more and more interested as I research.
Though we’re already nearly 4 weeks into our collective adventure, I know that there are many more thrills to experience and lessons to learn. As the ten of us CEO interns get to know each other better, there are bound to be quality relationships built and wonderful memories created.
July 9, 2010
After these first four weeks, the temperature outside no longer takes my breath away as I exit a building, the "Singlish" accent is losing its ability to lose me in its frequent interjections of "lah," that monosyllabic spice so liberally applied, and the curious lack of knives and napkins at meals doesn't steal my attention. However, some parts of my life here have yet to sink in. The food, for one, continues to blow my mind with its never-ending diversity and unspeakably delicious flavor. The ever-changing neighborhoods in Singapore seem to have something new to share with me with each passing adventure. And, much to my relief, there are still plenty of little parts of life that I continue to find differing from life in the States.
One of the more frequent revelations in the area of cultural characteristics has been the Singaporean legal system. After discussing some of the recent developments in court cases back in the States with my coworkers, I began to learn about how Singapore conducts trials and administers justice. The first area of difference is the utter lack of juries in Singapore. Regardless of the case or crime at hand, all trials are apparently dealt with by the magistrate and the two parties’ lawyers. Without the need for twelve people to agree on a verdict, this system is doubtlessly faster than ours, but the consequences of such a system have been fodder for many discussions with my coworkers and debates with my fellow CEO interns. A second significant difference is that unlike in the United States, defense lawyers in Singapore do not have a right to see any of the prosecution’s evidence before the trial. Instead, they must be able to answer any presented evidence on the spot – a major contrast with our system. In the defense of Singapore, the prosecution does have a very high requirement for evidence and can be majorly fined if their case isn’t solid enough.
This second point was revealed by a Columbia alum, whom I met at a function held by the Columbia Alumni Association of Singapore this past week. It was an enjoyable event, held at a rooftop bar, and I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to a group of alums as well as an incoming student in the class of 2014. It was really fun to reminisce about Columbia and relate to each other about living in Singapore after having been in the USA for so long. Events with alumni have actually been refreshingly frequent this summer, with a pair of alums taking all of the CEO interns out to dinner and ice cream last week and the Association inviting all of us to their annual dinner. This is all on top of our interaction with our alumni mentors. Mine is a really nice native Singaporean who graduated from CC in the early 2000’s. He has been very hospitable and has given me many tips on exploring Singapore while I’ve been here.
Despite what it seems, my time in Singapore hasn’t been entirely made up of networking with alumni and discussing judicial procedures. My internship with ArcSight, a cyber security company, takes up most of my time and I’ve been learning a lot there and working hard. I have a range of projects, which includes a campaign to connect with all of our customers in Asia to see how satisfied they are with our products (which has forced me to face my fear of calling unknown strangers), thorough research into legislation in surrounding countries that deals with data privacy and cyber security (putting my Political Science knowledge to work), and preparing for a webinar that I will be hosting for experts in the field at the end of the month. Luckily, all of my coworkers are really interesting and engaging and the projects are challenging me in good ways.
As I spend more time working with ArcSight, I find that I am becoming increasingly interested in the field of cyber security. Because I am majoring in Political Science and Anthropology, I was originally unsure as to how much I would be interested in this internship. It turns out that my degree has actually helped me view the company in a unique light and appreciate its importance. I never thought I would see myself working in this industry, but my career track as it stands in my mind has definitely been affected by my working with ArcSight. Perhaps I will create a combination of my interests, like dealing with cyber security policy on a governmental level in the United States. Though the specifics are unclear now, I am convinced that my experiences with ArcSight will have an impact on my life and career’s course, and that is something that really makes this internship valuable to me.