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Summer Reflection – An Experience of Growing Up

August, 2009
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  Our days lounging with drinks by the beaches of Thailand are over. We spoilt international children are forced to wake up from our sleepy stupor and get back on reality - it’s time to go back to school.

  Most of us have enjoyed the luxuries of sleeping until the early afternoon, blasting music while rocking in hammocks by the pool and watching re-runs of TV series’ while ignoring a pile of summer assignments. I cannot say the same for myself.
  Before I go into my summer 2009, I would like to reflect on my recent summers and why they mean so much to me. Each of my summers as I have grown up has been memorable and filled with amazing experiences. As a young child, I would go back to the United States to visit family and reconnect with my American side.
  After the 6th grade, I attended a summer program at TASIS (The American School in Switzerland) and still keep in contact with the people I met there. In fact that summer was so incredible I returned the year after. There are few things that can beat water skiing in the pristine waters of Lake Lugano, traveling around Switzerland to sample the delights of chocolate factories, gorging on cheese fondue high in snow-capped mountains or bonding and living with new friends from all over the world.natasha-summer
  After that experience it was a hard decision for me to try something new in summer 2007. I travelled to the East Coast to attend summer school at Philips Exeter Academy to attend their Access Exeter program (for students going into the 8th and 9th grade).
  As an American citizen that has never lived in America or attended any school with an American curriculum, it was great to meet and make friends with people from my own country.
  As with the TASIS experience, I enjoyed myself so much at Phillips Exeter that I returned the year after to do the Upper School program (for students going into the 10th, 11th and 12th grades). With no study halls, “lights out” and a whole lot more people to meet, Upper School was twice as much fun as Access Exeter.
  After being through four unbelievable summer experiences, each better than the last, I was doubtful this summer could beat this. But it did.
  I want you to picture 300 16-18 years olds, half from the United States, and half from over 40 different countries, road tripping around Europe for 2 weeks and having the times of their lives. That was my highlight for summer 2009.
  Our itinerary: Vienna – Budapest – Prague – Vienna – Munich – Innsbruck – Munich – Salzburg – Vienna.
  The program that offered this amazing experience is called GYLC, or Global Young Leaders Conference. So what exactly does vacationing throughout Europe have to do with leadership? A lot as it turns out.
  Divided into groups of about 20 to 30 diverse students, we had LGM’s (Leadership Group Meetings) once or twice a day to brief and debrief key site visits and speakers as well as to tackle topics such as cross cultural communication, conflict resolution, decision making, stereotypes/bias and goal setting. In Budapest, we carried out a water crisis simulation at the Central European University, with each of us representing either a member of the business, social services or government community. Our site visits included the U.N Office of Drugs and Crime, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Institute for Peace, OPEC, Terezin Concentration Camp, and many more. Our speakers ranged from a member of Vienna’s City Council, Mrs. Sonja Kato-Mailath-Pokomy, who received us for lunch at the Vienna City Hall to Dr. Mag. Muhammad Mesic, a human rights advocate who speaks 10 languages fluently and can communicate in 4 dozen other ones. He is only 23 years old.
  Furthermore, we were given the opportunity to lead debates and workshops, which were leadership opportunities I took advantage of. The debate I chose to lead from a list of prescribed topics was on the Economic Crisis. With people from so many different parts of the world in the room, it was a heated debate which thankfully ended peacefully.natasha-summer-2
  For workshop night, two friends and I, one a Taiwanese-American and the other an American that lives in Guangzhou, led a workshop on China which was very popular and ran out of places quickly. In the first half of the hour, we answered sensitive as well as light hearted questions about China. Afterwards, we taught everyone how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese, say a few tongue twisters and write a few basic words.
  Outside the learning setting, we toured and explored these beautiful and historical European cities, had one too many gelatos, attempted to do a traditional dance in the Hungarian countryside (called a puszta), got completely showered at the summer water palace in Salzburg, danced the night away during our final dinner/dance and had the best chocolate cake in the world at Sacher, a world renowned Viennese café
  After returning to Shanghai from GYLC, I had a few days of quick rest before starting my internship at Shui On, a Hong Kong based property development company.
  I always thought school was hard, but I soon discovered “real life” wasn’t any easier. There were no watchful teachers that tried to make life difficult or tedious lab reports, but for some reason office life was much more draining than I ever imagined. It required a whole new set of skills, and I soon realized that Memorization and IQ levels only get you so far. In the business world, you need initiative and creativity. Or perhaps because I was not accustomed to the long hours: 8.30 A.M to 5.30 P.M
  5.30 P.M might have been the official time for work to end, but the meetings went on 7 P.M many times.
  It was really a “welcome to the adult world” experience for me.
  So I bet you’re asking: why go through all this?
  On my last day at Shui On, my boss took my colleagues and me out to lunch at a Thai restaurant. Somehow the conversation led to how eBay failed in China. My boss and colleague were discussing how Western companies come into China thinking they can translate everything they already have and sit back while the masses of Chinese consumers desiring their product will follow; fat chance. To do business in China requires a completely different mindset and sense of cultural awareness. This is something Shui On prides itself on.
  Shui On is behind the success that is Shanghai’s Xintiandi, an area with trendy shops and cafes complimented with architecture resembling that of 1930’s Shanghai. Over the next 20 years, 350 million Chinese will move into the cities. This is more than the present population of the United States and will be one of the largest migrations in human history. Therefore, it is only logical that real estate will be a booming business here in China, and Shui On has strategically placed itself to be ready to take advantage of this.
  My time there taught me so much about business culture, office politics and most importantly about myself. I came in on the first day nervous and naïve, probably the youngest intern the company has ever had. But I left with an increased knowledge and perspective on the business world, and particularly an increased understanding of doing business in China.
  As opposed to a lot of friends I know in the United States and throughout the world that have described mediocre internship experiences, mainly consisting of making coffee and photocopying files, my time here was much more enriching. I was engaged in research, site visits, putting together power points, giving presentations and actively participating in meetings. My opinions actually mattered.
  On a less serious side, I met amazing people there. My colleagues and fellow interns were incredibly friendly and helpful. Most of the interns came from Hong Kong, but I met an American college student from Yale and even an alumnus of my high school who is in her first year of college. Lunch consisted of trying out new restaurants and exploring Xintiandi, Huai Hai Road or the People’s Square.
  I became much more aware of the fact that this is not school, and this is not my classroom. If I came back from lunch at 1.50 P.M instead of 1.30 P.M when lunch hour ends, I will not be required to give an explanation or serve detention. If I bring snacks and munch away while working, I will not be yelled at and kicked out. Should I decide to take a break from work and go grab a coffee, there will be no security guards to stop me from doing so.
  I definitely appreciated the sense of freedom and independence I encountered at work; rarely did my colleagues ever treat me any differently just because I am 16. In fact, dressed in my office gear, no one in the office, manager or intern, guessed that I was any age below 20.
  So in a way it really is time for me to get back to reality as well. Back into my summer short shorts to shift gears from playing the "adult” to going back to being who I should be: a 16 year old. While this experience gave me only good things, I cannot imagine being part of the office world just yet. I’m 16 – and I’m going to enjoy the good times while I can.
  As a five-time veteran of summer schools and programs, I can promise you that as long as you are moderately sociable and looking for a good time, you will cherish these summer experiences as some of the best you ever had in your life. If this might not be what you are looking for, perhaps you might want to look into a job or internship, which will give you deep insight and experience into whichever industry you choose to pursue.
  So don’t be too depressed that summer is over - there is always next summer to look forward to!
By Natasha Weaser

 

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