Callie Sopper


JE 2004

New York University


Callie Sopper“Before bidding farewell to our families for the longest time yet in our relatively short lives, Tom Connor led students and families to a grassy spot in front of Leland and Gray. It was ostensibly to allow us one last opportunity to draw the fresh Vermont air into our lungs, a sensation we would take for granted until we saw the cloud of smog that awaited us in Beijing. But this deep breath also set the stage for another message Tom wanted to impart: "Your children will not be the same when they return to you in a month," he said to our parents.

Certain impacts of Journey East were immediately apparent to me: it was the longest amount of time I had spent away from home, the longest plane ride I had ever taken, the most new friends I have ever made in one semester, the first time I had joined chorus: by far the biggest step I had taken outside of the euphemistic comfort zone.

While, I could sense that participating in Journey East was the biggest decision I had made up to that point, the full truth of Tom's message revealed itself more slowly to me.

The most obvious impact came in the form of an intense desire to learn more about China and a series of decisions to this end. After having dinner in Beijing with a School Year Abroad student and her host family, I felt the familiar "I want to experience that" feeling that I recognized from when I had first read about Journey East in the local newspaper. Journey East had instilled a certain wanderlust in me and the confidence necessary to actualize it; by the fall of my senior year, I was enrolled in School Year Abroad, Beijing. Since then, I have worked to use Mandarin in professional settings, including work as an RA for Middlebury’s language school, Johns Hopkins summer school in Hong Kong, and with an educational non-profit for recent immigrants in NYC. Most recently, I traveled to China as part of my company’s Quality Assurance department to assist with an audit and translate on the factory floor.

A more subtle impact of Journey East was the development of a particular lens through which to view the world. The program called on us to think more critically and analytically than we were accustomed to. We were asked to examine our particular frame of reference as participant observers in Chinese culture. I attribute my decision to major in Anthropology pretty directly as a furthering of these questions the program taught us to ask about the world. When I surprised myself by taking a job in bio-tech after graduation, I was glad to have a lens through which to make meaning of the business world in which I now felt like a participant observer.”