Interns Report From the Field

Cynthia Chan

2015 Community Service Exchange Intern

My Guangzhou partner Eleven said his experience in America, his 1st time traveling outside of Guangdong province and 2nd time having a formal internship, felt like a brief dream. How could it be real? How could its beauty extend beyond the confines of 3 weeks? To me, the beauty of CSE is that its effects and efforts do extend beyond its limited duration.

Before CSE officially began, I was excited in a vague way, because I did not know exactly what to expect, having never visited Guangdong and not knowing my specific duties at Inno or Marrakech. I knew I would, among other things, explore 2 public health-related NPOs in 2 countries, interact with American and Chinese people, and share most experiences with Eleven and other CSE interns. CSE turned out to be a diverse, challenging, inspiring, thought-provoking, and meaningful experience.

On July 4th, I patriotically left America for China, and time did not slow down until mid-August. I had assumed Inno to be a determined and productive NPO, because they had given Eleven and me tasks originally due in May. I was partly right, in that Innoers are passionate about their missions and have worked hard to help Inno exist and succeed. Getting to know other Innoers was meaningful. They put us to work whenever possible, which was appreciated, because we got to contribute to diverse parts of Inno’s work, from helping with a hepatitis education workshop at a car factory to summarizing hepatitis awareness surveys collected from drug rehabilitation centers to sweeping the offices. I had the privilege of addressing misconceptions and stigmas related to hepatitis and America. For example, the hepatitis education workshop taught several factory workers about the actual routes of hepatitis transmission and the legal rights of laborers with hepatitis. Also, after I once taught English to migrant children, I had to clarify that not all Americans carry guns. Equally interesting was Inno’s actions not directly for laborers, such as wining and dining partners and being interviewed by academics. I met academics from Korea interested in China’s sociopolitical NPO environment, who humbled me with big questions about my view on social advocacy. I sat in on a sociology interview, where I observed some interview tactics, such as rephrasing sensitive questions, asking for potential other interviewees, and discussing privacy issues for publications. Outside of Inno, Eleven and I ate and toured our way around Guangzhou.

Soon, I had to exchange Guangzhou’s urban excitement and Inno’s structure for New Haven’s suburban peace and Marrakech’s love. At Inno, I learned more from my work, and at Marrakech, I learned more from whom I worked for and with.

Marrakech, which helps people with disabilities enter or reenter the workforce, has a system for operating, succeeding, and remaining sustainable. I have done similar social work, but never with a focus on people with disabilities. It was a valuable experience that taught me how to patiently and flexibly engage with diverse and potentially difficult clients. Not everyone wanted or appreciated my help, but I still respectfully and responsibly did my best for them, and then focused my energies on more promising cases. I felt like I was my clients’ social physician, addressing the upstream social determinants of their health that can lead to medical symptoms that I hope to one day be licensed to address. The life stories of Marrakech employees and clients taught me resilience. Outside of Marrakech, being harassed in the neighborhood by African American men taught me street-smarts, and that unfortunately sometimes the best solution is evasion. Marrakech is messier, less filtered, and more honest (all culturally explainable things) than Inno, which I appreciated. Coworkers have opinions about coworkers and clients, and vice versa. On our last day, Eleven and I got very important casual evaluations: Eleven, who cried, has a lot of heart and tries to do a great job, while I am a less emotionally attached but more capable go-getter. That was tough to hear. I do not disagree with my worth as a worker, but as a future physician, I need to balance emotions/attachment with efficiency/rationality for the sake of my patients, and I do not want my patients only to respect my ability to treat them, without noticing and valuing my desire to connect with them. I think part of my evaluation came from the fact that I was performing under a time crunch of 3 weeks, during which my main goal was to find clients employment without wasting time on niceties.

I am so grateful to have experienced CSE with Eleven. He was a great partner, from the laughter to the tears. We understood each other’s goodness and strengths, constructively addressed each other’s shortcomings, learned each other’s patterns, and supported each other. Eleven and I are very different in terms of the breadth and depth of our visions, the influences of our heritage, and the motivations behind and conservativeness of our actions, which made for an educational and valuable partnership.

CSE will affect the way I approach my personal and future professional practice, with more skilled compassion, cultural literacy, and humbled confidence. It challenged and strengthened my dedication to alleviating human suffering through medicine and public/global health.

Jiao (Vivienne) Zhang

2015 Community Service Exchange Intern
Green-point/New Haven Land Trust

Guangzhou Green Point

It is only in hindsight that I realize “Green Point” might have been a mistranslation of “Lv Dian,” the Chinese name of the non-profit we worked with in Guangzhou. “Lv Dian” perhaps should have been called “Green Dot.” A dot implies a little, which explains the humble beginning of this non-profit as a student organization 11 years ago.

“Green Dot” also captures what this non-profit does everyday: it draws a dot in a sea of environmental problems to solve in China. Before this summer, whenever I returned home to China to face the grey sky and the scarred landscape, I had always felt overwhelmed by the scale of the environmental destruction. But this time at Green Point, I started to take comfort in the fact that organizations like the Green Point exist. What we did at the organization might feel like “a green dot, a little green, or a green starting point,” however I interpret its Chinese name, but we are starting somewhere.

We started our internship with learning the history of Green Point as the oldest non-profit of the three Yale-China chose for this inaugural cultural service exchange program. On day one, I asked Shuwen Yuan, the Chairwoman of Green Point: it is not easy to run a non-profit in China; how has Green Point managed to weather through 11 years and employ seven full-time staff? Instead of answering directly, Shuwen let the answer unfold slowly over the course of three weeks. The most obvious reason I quickly came to understand is the passion of the founder and employees working at Green Point. It didn’t take much to see that everyone loved her work. Many were dedicated Green Point interns in college and stayed after they graduated. They also often worked overtime, out of love for the work rather than real need...

Apart from the organization itself, what I appreciated the most working at Green Point is that my supervisors and colleagues took care to assign me work that they believe would interest me. I also tried to choose projects that utilize my knowledge of English and my major in order to creates value for the organization. Together, we came up with many interesting and meaningful projects. One of them was reading recent studies on indoor air filters that can reduce pm 2.5 concentration in smogs. I translated the jargon-ridden literature on American journals into easy-to-understand articles and publish them on Green Point’s public education WeChat platform. I came up with another project after eating at a restaurant and finding myself choking in the cooking smoke. I took the air quality gauge in the office and went around the restaurants around Ling Nan University to measure the indoor air quality, as another education campaign to raise awareness on indoor pollution.

In the end, my published articles have an average readership of 300. For someone who dreams of solving one of the greatest environmental problems of mankind in this century, it was hard not to feel discouraged sometimes. But I always managed to go back to the name of the organization. It’s a little “green dot,” but I was starting somewhere! We were starting somewhere!

New Haven Land Trust

The experience at New Haven Land Trust was as different as one could imagine from that with Green Point. For three weeks, we went to the organization’s community gardens scattered around the city, places I had never visited after having lived in New Haven for four years. We weeded the gardens, built flower beds, transplanted plants, watered vegetables, assisted in building wood sheds, checked water meters, loaded bricks and wood chips onto a truck… all kinds of menial labor that I had never had an opportunity to take on before. It was refreshing at first. I was excited to get out of a crowded Chinese city to be in the sun in quiet neighborhoods and learn to work on things with my hands. However, by the fourth day, both David and I started dragging our feet to the gardens in the morning. Work was not easy. My sunburnt skins on the arms and neck started peeling. Our shoulders were sore from shoveling dirt and driving fully loaded wheelbarrows. Every night when our friends checked out restaurants or events at Yale, we were both too tired to go anywhere. Most unbearable of all was that we were bored, mentally. I had been used to keeping my mind occupied, even during vacations. But for the first week, I only did physical work. In the limited free time I had, I fell asleep before 9 at night in a couch after making an effort to read or write emails. Imagining two more weeks of that, I found it hard not to think about quitting.

But before we could give feedback, Justin asked for our suggestions on improving our work schedule. I took the opportunity to stress our desire to learn and understand gardening and food. We also hoped to work on research or projects in the office that could benefit the Land Trust, as a break from the labor and heat. Justin was very accommodating. He said he had been thinking about ways to help us learn, without taking too much time away from the staff. His words at the end of this conversation struck me. I just realized that I had not been thinking from his perspective. In my constant desire to learn, I had forgotten that this internship was not just about David and me. This was a service internship and it has never been said that service should be fun. The shift in mentality helped. I no longer felt frustrated whenever I got bored shoveling dirt and drilling holes on wood panels. The menial work started to take on meaning for serving. Earlier in the week, David had asked me why we were weeding for the third day, since it does not take a college student to do this job. After the conversation with Justin, I finally thought I could give an answer I did not make up.

...The day after we gave our feedback, Justin gave us a task to connect with the Prospect Street garden managed by parents of Chinese PhD students and researchers at Yale. David and I had read about the famed Yale-Chinese garden on Associated Press and Chinese media. We both were very excited about the new project. When we arrived, Justin let me introduce the Land Trust. After my brochure-style opening, Justin added (to our great surprise) in fluent Chinese, about how we are here to learn their gardening skills and knowledge. He then said: “We also know a thing or two about gardening, and maybe you could pick up some “xiao dong xi” through our exchanges.” He said “xiao doing xi (little stuff) in Chinese! He sounded so humble, diplomatic and tactful! Even if I had tried, I could not have carried half as much humility as he did, in my own mother tongue. I realized that this quality was simply not something I had been able to learn in China.

And Justin was not the exception. My colleagues at the Land Trust were all very talented, intelligent and educated. They had a lot to teach the public they were interacting with, but they did not at one moment attempt to lecture. Instead, their work centered on going to gardens and asking the gardeners what they needed the Land Trust to help with. This is drastically different from my experience working at Chinese environmental non-profits, which focus on awareness campaigns and public education. While I recognize these efforts as absolutely necessary, I had to think for a moment that we could come across as paternalistic in China. The time spent with the Land Trust was deeply humbling. My colleagues taught me what service was truly about by exemplifying it themselves without saying a single word on this topic.

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