Scholars Reflect on Their Orientation Experience

September 8, 2016

As our scholars wrap up their orientation, we asked seven scholars to share the most memorable moments from their first two weeks of the program.


Pauline Kastermans, The Netherlands
To describe my experience so far as a Schwarzman Scholar, I would paraphrase the founder, Stephen Schwarzman when he said this program would provide us with an experience that no one else in the world could have. In just two weeks, this has already come true on many levels – including social, intellectual and athletic. Having a lecture by former U.S. President George W. Bush one evening, to then wake up the very next morning for a trip to Via Ferrata for rock climbing and then to visit the Great Wall of China would have been a 1-year cycle in my “previous life”, but it’s only a 48-hour cycle here. It’s without equal.

Kelsey Jamieson, United States
On my first morning in Beijing in my jet-lagged state, I woke up at 5:00 am and decided it was a good time for a run. Expecting a quiet jog, I was surprised to find a buzz of activity. About 30 people, old and young, trotted around the track, and the playgrounds were filled with ladies in dresses performing balance poses. In the afternoon, players packed onto the basketball courts and soccer fields. The sporting culture at Tsinghua is a way that people connect with each other. During my first weeks, I’ve enjoyed the active spirit on campus and the opportunity to connect with Tsinghua students on daily morning runs with onl a “ni hao!” and a smile.

Huang Cheng Claire, China
The memory from our first two weeks that stands out the most was a moment during our time in Huairou. As part of our team building activities, we were racing through the Water Castle, part of a team building obstacle course in a river near the Great Wall. I was stuck out on a slippery bridge, worried that I couldn’t move forward. But then my team members ahead of me shouted encouragements and came back to lend me a hand just as I was about to give up. At that moment, I realized that our fellow scholars would always stay beside each other.

Hayden Rodenkirchen, Canada
When you move to a new country, you do so with expectations. Beijing and Tsinghua University have surpassed mine. In two weeks I’ve felt the energy of the campus, having met with dozens of Tsinghua students to discuss everything from environmental engineering projects to Canadian politics. In a word, the mood is expansive. The gap between the Beijing I imagined and the city I’m now exploring is a personal example of the importance of Schwarzman Scholars’mission to contribute to a more nuanced level of cooperation and understanding between China and the rest of the world. I can’t wait to learn more.

Jose Luna, Mexico
After two weeks, the Schwarzman Scholars program is proving to be the most positive culture shock of my life. The experience has been a jolt of energy, change, and inspiration that goes beyond the adjustment of moving to China. My fellow scholars are awe-inspiringly intelligent, passionate and nice; students from Tsinghua have been unconditionally friendly and welcoming, and faculty and staff pour their everything into this program daily. Across this community there is a culture across of hard work and perseverance, of a determination to do things and do them well.

Just as with any culture shock, it can be overwhelming at first, but this is definitely a culture worth being a part of.

Jay Li, China
The most memorable moment for me so far was the spontaneous dance party at the barbeque dinner during our excursion to the Great Wall. I felt quite emotional seeing our class of scholars, including political office holders, entrepreneurs, recent graduates, bankers, lawyers, military officers, and activists, all join hands with each other, dancing to a mix of popular songs from the US, China, Latin America, regardless of their political backgrounds. Cultural barriers were broken down that moment and friendships truly started to form within this amazing group of people.

Danai Mavunga, Zimbabwe
Dangling on a rope 100m from the water I had mixed emotions: fear, excitement, apprehension. A first timer at this, questions came to mind: what if the rope snapped? what if I had a panic attack and froze? Through it all my new family the Schwarzman Scholars were cheering me forward saying they believed in me. The question was “Did I believe in myself?” In that moment though I knew I wasn’t alone, I was still alone, no matter how much they cheered me on I had to believe I could do it! With the assurance that I had a strong support system I pushed through, walked on a rope 100m above ground for 50m to finish the Via Ferrata rock climbing system!

Via Ferrata was a snippet of how this year is going to be, a strong support system and network but at the end of the day you have to rise to the challenge and dare to defy the odds.