Freshman Jeffrey Wood is challenging himself academically by balancing double majors in global affairs and Chinese and an internship at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. But this portrait of Wood’s responsibilities is not complete without mentioning his experience halfway across the world. Over the past couple of years, Wood has become a representative for studying abroad in China.
This chapter of Wood’s story started in his sophomore year at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Northwest Washington, D.C.
As a member of Roosevelt’s debate team, Wood signed up for a public speaking course that dealt with government. During the course, one of his teachers passed out fliers for a 6-week summer study abroad trip to China and encouraged him to sign up. The D.C. China Scholars Program was hosted by Americans Promoting Study Abroad, a Beijing-based non-profit organization that focuses on bringing study abroad opportunities to inner city students who might not have otherwise gotten this sort of chance.
“I applied, and surprisingly, I got in,” said Wood, who had not pondered the possibility of studying in China during high school. “When I found out I got in, I was shocked, and then I realized I had to tell my parents that, well, I was going to China.”
Initially, Wood saw a 12-hour flight, six weeks away from home, and the difficult characters of Mandarin, the Chinese language, as daunting obstacles, but he decided to take the trip for the opportunity to travel. He ended up loving the experience for both its travel and content.
“The program changed some of my long-held perspectives about China,” he said. “It educated me and helped me grow into the person I am now.”
During the week, the student group had intensive Mandarin language classes from 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. In the afternoon, they took culture classes, featuring art, calligraphy, traditional dance and martial arts. They met with journalists, business leaders, diplomats and other professionals to learn about career paths and contemporary issues. They also took field trips to famous Chinese sites like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
They put their Mandarin skills to the test immediately by using the language at restaurants, stores and on the street.
Wood had no time to be nervous about the challenges that lay in front of him, because independent filmmaker Jessie Burke was hired by Americans Promoting Study Abroad to create a documentary about the students’ trip. Burke ended up focusing mainly on the student groups from Washington, D.C., and Rochester, N.Y.
“The film follows the students before, during and after the trip,” said Sally Schwartz of the D.C. Center for Global Education and Leadership, which partnered with Americans Promoting Study abroad to offer the China study program. “[Burke] really attempts to show the impact of overseas study – specifically in China – on this group of disadvantaged public school students.”
Overcoming his initial apprehension about being featured in the film, Wood decided that he was happy with being in the film due to the message it delivered.
“The filmmakers want to show the world that inner city kids that come from schools that don’t have these study abroad opportunities can succeed when given the same chances,” he said.
Wood can also add the China trip to a list of tremendous accomplishments.
In addition to the study abroad trip and his internship, Wood was the debate team captain at Roosevelt, the vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America state organization, and participated in Model U.N. During his junior year at Roosevelt, he met President Barack Obama at White House Father’s Day function.
Wood wants to study abroad again in China and pursue a career in international relations, perhaps as a diplomat. He said George Mason University is a perfect fit for these goals.
“My time at Mason has been life-changing,” he said. “I never thought I would have experienced the opportunities and resources available to me if I went to any other school. I have made great friends and I have intriguing professors. And the most important aspect of Mason is that there is something for everyone.”
He has remained connected with Americans Promoting Study Abroad throughout his first semester at Mason. Burke and his crew have come to Mason to film interviews with him around campus (Wood rebuffed their initial plan to film him in Chinese class. “I’m trying to get a good grade here,” he said.).
But in perhaps a better reflection of Wood’s goals, he served as a mentor to other students making their first China trip this winter, helping them make the most of the opportunities which they might have never received.
January 09, 2012