Kara Hill talks about her unique internship experience.

January 24, 2011
Kara Hill with locals in China.

One of the most valuable and integral parts of the Chinese Flagship Program at the OSU is the unique internship experience offered to our students. From the glitzy Shanghai to the mountains of Qinghai Province, OSU Flagship has placed students into some of the most exciting internships available today to American students.

Kara Hill, a member of the 2009 OSU Flagship cohort, is currently in the middle of her capstone year in China and has recently wrapped up a very unique internship in western China. Below is a recount of her internship experience which she described as “one of the most fruitful experiences during her time with Flagship.”

“I have spent most of my internship period in the underexplored western regions of China. My first stop was in the southwestern province of Guizhou. A World Bank Delegation, including World Bank President Robert Zoellick, was visiting to assess a project loan for preserving Guizhou's cultural and natural heritage. A small cohort of my classmates were invited to Guizhou to prepare for this event, but before the work, we were given a few days to learn more about the preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of Guizhou. The beginning was kicked off with a water rafting trip through the beautiful karst landscape of Libo, a hiking trip through the forests to enjoy the waterfalls and ancient bridges in Zhangjiang, an overnight in a local village (we actually arrived at the village in our rafts!), and a visit to a Yao village to familiarize ourselves with their traditional songs and dance.  After several days of fun and sightseeing, preparation work began at Guizhou Normal University. We spent countless hours each day preparing and collaborating with local students to create performances and facilitate dialogue. The World Bank delegation came for just a mere few hours, but we showed them Yao, Dong, Shui, and Yi performances, and had a round table discussion with Robert Zoellick. Most importantly it was exciting to directly witness how World Bank projects are being implemented in developing areas.

After Guizhou, I jetted over to a village in Minqin County in Gansu province, a small oasis gaining notoriety for its rapid desertification as well as the devastating dust storms that sweep over the land, affecting the local population and economy. These problems often invoke themes from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, though with China's burgeoning population, along with unfavorable climate conditions, they are issues that cannot be solved anytime soon. My life in Minqin was the second segment of my internship, and the internship location was no longer a university, but rather a greenhouse in a village. Though it was my first time doing fieldwork, I believe my experience was more atypical compared to other desert researchers (I recently had a chance to talk to several veteran desert researchers. These people were trailblazing through the desert not long after the founding of the PRC, traveling by camels and living in tarp covered holes they dug in the ground. Fortunately for modern desert researchers, they have the luxury of desert vehicles and better living accommodations). As for my experience, I was part of a research group that was raising shrimp in the desert, but this was actually a creative attempt to experiment with a whole new agricultural economy in desertified areas. The importance of the experiment was to see whether or not it was possible to create salt water agriculture in the desert that no longer relies on the meager freshwater resources. The shrimp were shipped in from the southern province of Hainan, and the shrimp were growing right up until the end of the experiment, from tiny pinpricks barely visible with the naked eye to a size larger than a pinky finger. Though still far from application, the success of the experiment means that other saltwater animals, or even plants, could possibly be introduced in desert areas to supplement their economy.

Two photos of farming in China.

When I was living in the village, I was grateful to have a roof over my head considering there were sand dunes in my backyard, though I still had to make considerable adjustments. Relinquishing daily Internet access - to access just several times a month - was one of the easiest calibrations. I didn't have an indoor bathroom or running water, and the food options were extremely limited. When I ate with the locals, our food was cooked over a coal stove, and mainly consisted of a sparse medley of vegetables poured over homemade noodles. Later in the fall, the locals went out to pick wild desert onions, and we ate them either cooked or pickled. My coworkers and I also had a small electric camping stove as we did most of our own cooking, but we had to forage for vegetables in the garden, including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and beans. The jujubes had ripened when I arrived, and I learned to negotiate their thorns for a sweet treat. I had camped before in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, so I was prepared for cold weather in desert areas, but I found out only after my arrival that the deserts here are cold winter deserts, not subtropical like many of the deserts in Africa and the Middle East; in the fall, the temperature in China's deserts often dropped below freezing at night, even as early as September. Though the village I had been living in does have coal stoves to warm the rooms, my room unfortunately did not include one, and the plank I was sleeping on provided no warmth. We had our first snowfall in October, and despite this cold, one of the most interesting images from my time in the desert was seeing a camel against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.

Even with my brief foray into the primitive regions, I was constantly reminded not only of China's quick growth, but also of her growing pains. For a region that lacks freshwater resources, especially during the vital growing season, the sky finally decided to upon up in early autumn and release the rain in a torrential downpour. The freshly harvested fields and the dirt roads became a muddy mess, and I even came across a cart with a family of three - including a baby - that had overturned while trying to navigate the roads. Fortunately, aside from the awkwardness of going to town in mud soaked clothes, they sustained no injuries. It was in this same period that I went with one of my coworkers to pick up a shipment of shrimp for the experiment. The journey from the village began in the early afternoon, and the journey to the Lanzhou airport was a weaving six-hour route through villages and mountain roads. On our way there, we became stuck in an area where there was road construction (though there was no one working there at the time), and the temporary dirt road became a parking lot of mud and cars turned at all angles. At one point, our little taxicab was face to face with the headlights of a semi. We finally made it through the mess, and though the large drops of rain pelting down on our tiny vehicle made me uneasy, we safely reached the airport at midnight, right before the shipment arrived. Unfortunately, Lady Luck abandoned us for several hours on our journey home. Though the shrimp were tightly sealed in a plastic bag and protected in a Styrofoam container in the trunk, time was of the essence to get them to the greenhouse as quickly as possible. Little did we know what was waiting for us in the village of Anmen (which can be translated as "peaceful gate"), close to the same place we got stuck on our way to the airport. The villagers in Anmen are living downslope of the construction, and the muddy slew was sliding through their village, gnawing away at the foundation of their homes and in some cases, even entering their houses through the doorways. To draw attention to their situation, and hopefully receive compensation from the government, they decided to place large rocks in the middle of the road to prevent traffic from passing through. We reached the area around 2 in the morning, and we were on the same country road until around 10 am. I never found out what occurred to mitigate the problems, aside from the fact that a bulldozer arrived in the morning to remove the rocks. Our little taxi weaved through cars, and our shrimp made it back safely to the greenhouse.

My field research experience in the village came to a close at the end of October, and I went to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, to work for the Chinese Academy of Sciences on a English language translation of their book, "Deserts and Desertification," to complete the final segment of my internship. I spent hours every day in the office to complete the project, but I also had the opportunity to meet the researchers who are at the forefront of studying China's deserts, desertification, and dust storms. After over two months working on the editing and translating, my internship came to a close in early January, and I came to Nanjing to finish up my final few months with Flagship.”

For more info on past internships locations of the Graduate Flagship Program see our internships page.

If you are interested in non-degree internships opportunities in China please visit our overseas internships page.