The Fung Scholars Boston Chapter was established in February 2014 by former scholars, Qianqian Zhang of Peking University and Charlie Tian of Harvard University. The chapter organizes regular gatherings and seminars for local Fung Scholars to make new friends and exchange ideas.
Fung Scholars Stories
Anelise NEWMANFS2016-17, MIT | to Spain
I didn’t fully realize how much Madrid had changed me until I was back in the United States. I remember the twinge of unease I felt as I stepped out of Logan Airport and glimpsed the supposedly familiar vista of Boston’s skyscrapers over the Charles River. I was surprised at how scintillating, how geometric the skyline was.
European riverscapes are short, irregular, and romantic; every building has a different shape, color, and century of birth. You can learn a lot about a town just by explaining the skyline. Up until this IAP, I have always considered Boston one of the most charming, quaint, historical cities I’ve visited. But that night I remember thinking how overwhelmingly modern, new, efficient—and, in some sense, limited— that glittering steel landscape seemed.
Before my trip to Europe it didn’t really sink in how “new” the U.S. is. At one point, I was talking to a European tour guide and made a comment about how Harvard has been in Cambridge for “basically forever”. He replied, unimpressed, “By forever, you mean, like, the 1600s?” I realized that I had used “forever” in the American sense—that by the time my country had been founded, cities like Madrid already had centuries of history under their belts. But when I walked out of Logan airport that night, it finally hit me how Boston was a wholly modern city. It had grown up in this little temporal niche of the second half of the second millennium. My whole culture, my whole society, my whole life was a reflection of the most recent fractional slice of human history.
So it’s not surprising that in some ways, being in Europe made the United States seem superficial. Spanish history is amazingly complex and rich because of the waves of different peoples that have swept over its territory across centuries. It is not uncommon to find buildings whose sites were scouted out by the Romans, that were then turned into Arab palaces or fortresses, that were then seized by the Spanish monarchy and rebuilt or elaborated by successive dynasties. For instance, 25 minutes outside of Madrid by train is the town of Toledo, known as the “city of three cultures” because of the Moorish, Jewish, and Christian influence evident in its history and architecture. The Alcazar of Toledo, the most prominent building in the city, used to be a Roman military structure. It was occupied by the Goths and the Moors, and was successively restored by a long line of Spanish monarchs. Most recently, it suffered damage in the Spanish Civil War and one wall had to be reconstructed. Each of the four edifices of the building are slightly different because of the temporal patchwork of construction that went into the modern structure. And it’s still in use—it currently houses the Museo del Ejército and admits hundreds of visitors per day. But even the mundane buildings in Europe have a level of intricacy not found in the U.S. The Banco de Espana in Madrid looks like Gringott’s bank. The churches are gorgeous masterpieces. Even the small Instituto Internacional where my classes were held had a picturesque central stairwell ringed with marble handrails and wrought banisters—a far cry from the infinite corridor. The cityscape of Madrid is a beautiful compilation of centuries of artisans’ manhours poured into a landscape that has been occupied for millennia, unlike the hastily constructed skyscrapers of the United States. Every building in Europe must be understood in the context of an incomprehensible breadth of history and culture.
On the other hand, visiting Europe also taught me how quickly time can create a sense of distance from historical occurrences, and how fallacious this perspective can be. After my class in Madrid, I visited the Tower of London, where a gruesome history of torture and execution has been turned into a medieval-themed tourist attraction. It is one thing to gawk at the execution site of Anne Boleyn 500 years ago; but when you consider that prisoners were executed in the tower as recently as WWII, the symbolism of the fortress is less easy to shrug off. Walking around the enormous grounds of Versailles, I was amazed to realize that 200 years ago, I, a “commoner”, would never have been allowed access to this monarchical hideaway. In the Palacio Real in Madrid, where the royal family still spends some of their time, there is a huge, mind-bending painting of the currently royal family dressed, not in fur and jewels, but in clean-cut suits and bussinesswear—looking a lot like some First Family of the United States. In the basement of the tax building in London, there’s a whole museum dedicated to Winston Churchill’s desperate efforts to prevent Hitler’s capture of England, and many of London’s buildings carry bomb scars from the Blitz. And Spain is so often mentioned as a forward-looking EU country that I was shocked to learn that until the 70s—barely 40 years ago—it was a dictatorship under Franco, something that still scars the Spanish psyche. The examples go on and on. Often, lucky as we are to live in the Western World in the 21st century, the eras of absolute monarchy and violent territorialism seem consigned to the past. They’re really not that far away. As a resident of the United States, I sometimes take for granted the relative freedom, safety, and stability we enjoy. But maintaining, not to mention extending, the progress that we’ve managed so far towards civil liberties and equality, will require exertion and vigilance.
And in some ways, witnessing the history of Europe made me proud to be from the United States. Visiting some of the European palaces, like Versailles and the Palacio Real, I was proud that the United States has never really supported a hereditary aristocracy; that to an unprecedented extent, our country has revered merit and rewarded concrete action over blood. I am proud that in the middle of a country so homogenous that even I, a white woman of European descent, stood out for being pale, I was traveling and taking classes with a group of people from all different ethnic backgrounds. And I’m proud that though America might not have the glorious palaces and cathedrals of Europe, we have our own brand of forward-looking architecture. Most of the construction I saw in Europe revolved around restoring old buildings, as evinced by the scaffolding covering the Banco de España or the cranes towering over the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. By contrast, the construction in Cambridge is cutting-edge and forward looking, as we develop the biotech infrastructure in Kendall Square and build the state-of-the-art MIT nano in the middle of our own campus. In some ways, the youth of the United States has liberated it from the baggage of previous centuries. As a country, we have been free to strike out on a new political, economic, and social path.
Learning more about Europe’s past has given me a lot more perspective on where I stand in the grand scheme of world history and culture. Living as an MIT student in the United States in the 21st century, I exist in a new, brilliant window of history. With my education and the spirit of freedom, safety and progressivism present currently in the United States, I have the tools to influence the technological and social development of the world. I also know that this opportunity is delicate and unprecedented. Recent technology has amplified enormously the power of a single person with a laptop; recent social developments have made it possible for me as a woman to have access to the opportunities and resources I need to influence the world. I couldn’t do 50 years ago what I can do today. I am really lucky to live where and when I am. At the same time, it is my hope and my responsibility to ensure that history keeps moving forward in such a way that someone living in 4034 looks back at my situation and sees it more as the norm than the exception.
In addition to teaching me more about my own culture, being in Madrid impacted me more directly. My Spanish improved a lot. I didn’t realize it at the time, because while in Madrid all I could think about was how much more I had to learn to be at the same level as the native speakers. But after returning to the United States, I realized how much more easily I could carry on a conversation and how much more comfortable I felt speaking Spanish. I used to shy away from Spanish conversations because I was self-conscious about my intermediate level; now, I seek out discussions in Spanish because I’m eager to practice what I’ve learned. I now consider myself truly conversational in Spanish.Furthermore, speaking Spanish in Madrid made me realize how valuable knowing other languages is, especially compared to my peers who only spoke English. Knowing Spanish was like a superpower I could use to communicate with people who had very little in common with me. In fact, I would say being bilingual is one of the most useful academic skills I’ve ever learned. This has encouraged me to not only continue practicing my Spanish, but also to start learning another language at MIT—French. I took some French in high school but never got to a conversational level. I am currently taking French IV and after this class plus a conversation class, I think my French level will be comparable to my Spanish. Not only do I enjoy learning the linguistic quirks of a new idiom, but I am so excited to get to apply my new skill in a real setting. I’ve got my eye on France for next IAP!
Finally, one incredible advantage of IAP Madrid that I did not expect was the great friendships I made while I was abroad. At the beginning of January, I knew barely anyone in the program. Now, I am friends with everyone in my conversation class, and I have formed very close bonds with the group of people I traveled with on weekends. Living in a different country and having the shared experience of exploring unfamiliar surroundings together, I formed relationships with people so much more quickly than I do at MIT. Furthermore, I met people in different years, different majors, and different living situations that I never would have met normally on campus. I feel like my social circle has expanded so much, and that is a really valuable takeaway for me.
Going to Spain for IAP has profoundly impacted my perspective on myself and my culture, my academic path, and the relationships I am forming at MIT. I am so grateful to you for making this trip possible. I feel like I have grown as a global citizen and as an MIT student in ways that would not have been possible without your generous help. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Austin FREELFS2014-15, MIT | to China
My time in China was one of the most valuable experiences in my life. Having not traveled much before, this trip really opened my eyes to the fact that the world is composed of different cultures and values. Of course I had been taught this before, and I never doubted it, but seeing the Chinese culture first-hand made me realize that life can be lived in a variety of ways, none of which is necessarily right or wrong. Amongst the cultural differences I saw, perhaps the most interesting to me involved devotion to family and studies. As for the former, the family seems to play a much larger role than in a typical American household. People greatly respect their elders, children often live at home until married, and parents stress the importance of a timely marriage and childbearing. There are also subtle differences that reinforce these values—all meals are family-style and “dating” is less common than in the west, just to name a couple. In terms of studies, it is much clearer in China that test scores directly correspond with future quality of life. The “gaokao”, taken senior year of high school, determines not only what colleges a student can attend, but also what occupations can be reasonably achieved. Whether I agreed or disagreed with these differences, discussing them with my host brother and witnessing them first-hand made me really embrace the concept of culture in general; and thinking consciously about the culture I live in and the subcultures that I have worked or studied within has allowed me to form more informed opinions and has given me the desire to be a proponent of culture change where I see fit.
From an academic learning perspective, the experience was invaluable. Living in a country where all people speak the language you are studying allows you to subconsciously “study” all the time. My few hours of class each day built up my grammar and vocabulary, and then living with the host family and hanging out with friends I had made gave me great contextual experience. As I continue to study now, I realize how important my speaking Chinese on a daily basis is to my growth, and because of this, and because of the friends I have made in Tianjin, I hope to return to China again and again.
Living in China, even if for a short while, has showed me not only that I really enjoy the culture and people, but also that I fit in well there. I made friends at Tianjin University quickly and soon felt at home with my host family. It is for these reasons and more that I feel China is now a home away from home. As a result, I feel an even greater desire now to incorporate China and my increasing fluency in the language into my career plans. This incorporation can take many forms, the most extreme of which could even involve me working in China for some time. However, my most desired position would involve being an engineering manager at a tech company in the U.S. while also serving as a liaison between the U.S. and China divisions of the company, which in today’s technological world is becoming a more valued position as the U.S. and China continue to prove themselves as the world’s main technology hubs and catalysts. Academically, I still want to continue studying computer science in tandem with Mandarin as an undergraduate, but I am now exploring the possibility of post-graduate studies, specifically studies that have a mix of engineering and international business to parallel my career plan.
I now strongly feel that the U.S. and China are two powerhouses that should be working together on technological advancements. In China, I saw many pieces of software that mirror software in the U.S.—WeChat mirrors Facebook, Baidu mirrors Google Search, etc.—and all I could think of was what a waste it is to have separate pieces of software for different parts of the world if the function is the same. One could argue that competition leads to better software, but I feel the more present concern should be the discontinuity that this creates in the world. Especially involving social networks and the transmission of free information, I feel that making the world more connected will not only lead to more efficient technological jumps, but also a more unified world. Of course this is not a task for one person, but I feel now a strong desire to contribute to this cause of uniting the world technologically.
From a personal perspective, I have learned the importance in striving towards something you want and the related importance of not spreading yourself too thin. At MIT and in the workplace, I feel that it is too easy to get caught up in trying to do everything. If I have too much free time, I should be taking another class. If I have less work this weekend than usual, I should get going on that project due in a few weeks. In terms of efficiency, these habits are quite good, however I now feel that coming up for air every once in a while is of utmost importance. This past month not only gave me time to focus solely on Mandarin, it also gave me time to think about what I want to do with my life going forward. I now understand that coming up for air allows one to regain sight of one’s goals and to make small adjustments in the path of life towards these goals. And in regards to not spreading oneself too thin, these short hiatuses also allow one to redefine what is really of importance. So this trip gave me much more than just increased Mandarin proficiency. It opened my eyes to a new culture and way of living, it helped redefine what I value as important, it helped determine what I hope to do in the coming years of my life, and for this, I am eternally grateful.
Elizabeth RIDERFS2014-15, MIT | to Germany
This January I was given the incredible chance to travel abroad for the first time. After realizing that I would not be able to take German IV at MIT, my professor informed me of a program that I could cross-register for at Wellesley. It was a three-week class with Wellesley students in Berlin, where we learned about the culture and history of the city as well as the language used by its inhabitants. It sounded perfect finally a chance to visit the country whose language I’d spent years studying. The only drawback: a scholarship student at MIT, I wouldn’t be able to afford the ticket to Berlin, let alone the housing or tuition fees. It is only with the Fung Scholarship that I was allowed to take advantage of this exciting opportunity.
Oftentimes we like to think that travelling is fun, easy, or luxurious. At times, my trip was some of those things. At Boston’s airport I was called aside and my boarding pass was thrown away to be replaced by a new one my first international flight was to be firstclass. At other times, it was far less glamorous. Getting lost in the rain looking for the right Strassenbahn stop, getting frustrated when locals couldn’t understand your German, and dealing with shyness in two languages. Nearly every day of our stay, it rained. At one point, the wind was so terrible that a warning was sent out our professor called us telling us to stay inside until the storm ended. We went to museum after museum, and exhausted from standing and translating for hours, we’d slump down and fall asleep on the train rides home. I remember feeling awful at first, like everyone else knew each other and had their friends, while I was lonely, fighting jetlag in a new city. I soon learned to open up, to ask questions, and get to know my classmates. I sought common ground and found that not only were we not so different, we even had mutual friends in common. Though Wellesley and MIT are only a couple of towns away, it often seemed like they were as different as could be. As it turns out, neither Wellesley girls nor Germans are that much different from us. I’m amazed at how close I felt to my roommate and fellow classmates by the end of the class whereas normally, I would have tended to remain guarded and shy. I hope to maintain that sense of openness here in the states, that I may treat strangers with warmth and respect, that they might not remain strangers, that they may even become friends.
What really made the trip great were the people I met. I went into this class without knowing anything about Wellesley. During our stay, we got to know each other as well as two alums who’d been living in Berlin for years and lead quite interesting lives. The first, Jane, was an expatriate after graduating from Wellesley with a degree in English, she moved to West Berlin to teach. After meeting the man she would eventually marry, she decided to stay. This was the year the wall was built. She worked with students from both East and West Berlin and travelled back and forth to carry information to their families. The second, Kathrin, was younger. She was born in West Germany and studied astrophysics at Wellesley before returning to her home country to study law. Now, she works for the European Union and will next be posted in Botswana. It was amazing to meet someone so successful who also shared my interests: the intersection of science policy and international relations is a field that I hope to pursue. Speaking with her over dinner only reinforced my desire to study language, law, and science, and use what I learn to help people all over the world.
To conclude, I could go on and on about what I saw in Berlin. I learned about communication and the power of compromise as well as the importance of being sincere and dedicated. I was inspired by the people I met there and the city itself, which has gone through so many iterations of change and now seeks to use efficiency and innovation to build a better future for its people.
Charlie TIAN He
Charlie received a BA in Russian Studies and Economics from Peking University in 2008. Upon graduating from Peking University, he spent a year at The Climate Group (an organization founded by Tony Blair) and working as a project manager, with a focus on partnerships with government and NGOs at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. Graduated from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and was also the President of HKS China Society. He is committed to engage with the public sector and social policy by advising organizations in these two sectors.