After my internship at the Roosevelt Study Center in the summer of 2012, I gradually started to get the feeling that I was looking in the wrong direction. My research at the RSC was about the perception of notable Dutchmen around 1900 on America’s Progressive Era. Though I still think America is one of the most interesting countries in the world – I still follow the American news intensively – I realized the other side of the Pacific might be at least as interesting.
That is why I was very glad when I heard about the Netherlands-Asia Honours Summer School –a both privately and publicly funded initiative, originally initiated by McKinsey & Company and Delft and Utrecht University. Fortunately I got in and I spent seven weeks in Asia this summer. With seventy-five selected students we got the opportunity to work on different ambitious projects. Mine was – together with some others –to write an in-depth article for the Dutch Financial Times on China’s economic developments and re-shoring manufacturing (something that is actually particularly relevant to the US, when looking at something like The Reshoring Initiative). I had the ability to visit Hong Kong, Chengdu and Shanghai – and talk to different important corporate executives and policy-makers about Chinese and Asian developments. In addition, we got the chance to follow summer courses at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
It was truly amazing to get these diverse glimpses into today’s Chinese society. America, just like Europe, has its fair share of large cities – but having Chinese people tell you that Hong Kong is not really a large city for it only has seven million inhabitants is quite a shock. Not to mention the fact that Shanghai, with its twenty-three million people, accounts for one-and-a-half times the population of the Netherlands. The real Asian experience started though when I visited the in-land city Chengdu (14 million people) with two other students. Not a single person spoke English– not even basic words like ‘airport’ or ‘taxi,’ or even ‘yes’ – and apparently the 14 million people in this awesome world city (honestly!) were so unused to the sight of tall Dutch people that instead of trying to communicate with us, all they wanted was to take pictures of us – either secretly or at-out in our faces.
One of the aims of the project is to bring more Dutch students to Asia – to China in particular. I think the general impression most of us got is that China – though cliché as it might sound – is not a thread but an opportunity. There is so much to be done still, and Westerners can do a lot to contribute.
After having finished my bachelor in History (International Relations) and Philosophy I have now taken on a more practical master, namely Business Administration. In the future, working in the United States for a few years seems like a great chance, but being employed in China for some time seems like an even more interesting challenge!