While the average college student passed his or her summer sunbathing, senior international relations major Ben Jay traveled half way across the globe. He partook in a program that brought together students from all over the world to live and learn together in Beijing, China at Peking University.
Jay decided on China, in part, because he had experience with the culture, having taken classes on the region in high school and the language since seventh grade.
"When I was in high school, I went to China and we went to a bunch of different cities and we did the tourist spots, and that was fun, but this time I was really in one place taking in the city for a whole month," Jay said. "You see it in a very different way; you appreciate it on a deeper level."
Part of this appreciation was inspired by his experiences in the classroom.
"I took three classes. One on Chinese foreign policy, one on poverty and development in China and a language class," Jay said.
Before departing on his epic sojourn, Jay described his proficiency in Chinese as "far from fluent." Yet it did not take long for Jay's language skills to improve. "By the end of the month I felt like I was a little better just from being immersed in the language for that long," he added.
Like many students who study abroad, Jay found that the true learning experience happened once class let out.
"A lot of the time I spent just exploring the city, hanging around doing touristy things, but also trying to find some places off the beaten path, do things that were not so touristy," Jay said.
Chief among the lessons Jay learned outside of the classroom was that the perception of China that many Americans have is not accurate.
"A lot of people feel that China is going to consume the U.S. – the new rising power with this evil communist regime – and honestly China is not that scary," Jay said. "China is strong and growing; it's this big power that has the ability to change a lot in the world, but it certainly doesn't have to be in a way that's detrimental to the U.S. I think a lot of the xenophobia about it is very overplayed."
Jay said he also learned a great deal from his peers, who came not only from across the United States, but across the entire world. Among the people with whom he lived were students from California, Chicago, North Carolina, Singapore and England.
There were some aspects Jay said that he missed about home, mentioning that, "The Chinese food gets to you after a while," but he also found that he missed China more after his return to the states.
"I took a lot of little trinkets home from China. I have the menu from my favorite Japanese curry restaurant on my wall," Jay said.
As a lover of travel, Jay said he is already thinking about where he will go next.
"I would go back to China at some point; I would want to go to Japan, definitely. Even Korea if I could somehow make it into North Korea," he said. He advised prospective voyagers that, "If you're going to travel, go somewhere completely different from what you know."
"I've been to Asia twice; there are other places I want to see," he said. "I have a friend who just got back from Buenos Aires and I would love to go down there. I would go to Europe; my parents are going to Italy this summer, so I'll probably tag along for that, and then maybe jet over to England."
Armed with the mantra – "There's 6 or 7 billion people in the world, most of them are pretty cool" – Jay seems intent on meeting them all.