Senior Government major Kolby Lee is a first-generation college student from Round Rock who has taken “the world by the horns” as they say in the Study Abroad Office. After a successful Maymester in Ghana in 2012, Lee was selected as one of 38 students to participate in the Beijing Maymester through DDCE’s Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE). Lee is a McNair Scholar, one of the federal TRiO programs administered through LCAE.
The Beijing Maymester piqued Lee’s interest because of the community service component that gave students the opportunity to work at a nonprofit boarding school—the Dandelion School—which serves middle school students from migrant families in Beijing. The students’ parents come to the city from rural areas to work in factories. The students aren’t permitted to attend regular schools in Beijing because their families are not registered in the city.
“Working at the Dandelion School was appealing because most study abroad programs don’t have this component going beyond studying,” said Lee. As true for most of the students in the group, he was impressed by the Dandelion School students. Lee and another student, Dallas senior Savannah Terry, have taken it upon themselves to develop a marketing plan for distribution of some of the school’s products in the U.S. to raise money for the school.
Lee and Terry met with Jing Zhao, who along with two other people established Dandelion Enterprise to raise money for the school, which is severely underfunded.
“To ensure a continued partnership between the Dandelion Enterprise and UT in the future, we plan to create a student organization in the fall to facilitate regular communication with Jing,” said Lee. “While our efforts may not be changing the world, they may provide a boost to a truly remarkable cause.”
“The thing that was most unexpected in Beijing is how well received we were and how patient people were with us,” he said. This is contrary to Lee’s experience in Europe where he has family and where some residents are hostile to tourists who don’t speak their language. He said that during his first meal in Beijing a waitress helped him use chopsticks. During an “Amazing Race” type scavenger hunt the students participated in on their second day in the city, Lee’s group was clearly lost when a Beijinger approached them and said “I’m learning English, may I help you.”
Lee said, “As Americans, we are intolerant of people who don’t speak English whether visitors or immigrants. It has [the Beijing experience] brought a lot of cultural awareness of my own culture—things I don’t necessarily agree with, but am now conscious of and want to change in the future.”