“Immensely Fascinating”: Alex Zhang’s Internship at One Foundation in Shenzhen

Sep 1, 2017

Going into this summer, I really didn’t know what to expect. Since leaving Beijing as a young child, every subsequent experience I’d had in my homeland was completely filtered through the lens of a foreigner, with full immersion always supplanted by my mother’s help with translation, comfortable hotel stays, and nice dinner reservations arranged by relatives. So this time, living by myself in an apartment in the heart of Shenzhen, a city I had never been to before, I was unprepared to say the least.

My first day interning at One Foundation (壹基金) in their Monthly Giving department, I thought it would be smart to wear a dress shirt and slacks and ride a Mobike (摩拜, a huge bike-share service) to work. Not anticipating the challenge of Shenzhen’s large highways or morning heat, I arrived half an hour late, drenched in sweat. On the way home, I was soaked again by the downpour of a typhoon. The next day, I wore a t-shirt and shorts and took the Metro.

The work was immensely fascinating. I had some prior experience in the nonprofit industry, but never with the scale of fundraising that One Foundation wanted to implement nor with the unique regulatory environment of China’s third sector. I found myself researching and conducting case studies of face-to-face (F2F) fundraising, a popular donor recruitment method used virtually everywhere in the developed world except for China, as well as of European education systems for one of One Foundation’s many child welfare projects. I was able to play a significant role in a key meeting with a potential F2F service provider, which allowed me to truly see and appreciate the impact of my own work. Throughout the course of the internship, One Foundation also did a great job of introducing me to its various project areas and past work, helping me to develop a strong personal connection to the organization’s mission.

But the great thing with One Foundation is that where there’s work, there’s play. During lunch, my co-workers and I would stroll over to a nearby apartment where an 阿姨 would have various home-cooked dishes ready and we’d chat away over the feast. I was able to participate in One Foundation’s annual 50k Walk for Love (为爱同行) with my boss. One time after work, we all went to see a new documentary on the Lhasa pilgrimage of Tibetan Buddhists. And nearly every day, we’d have an afternoon fruit break where everyone gathers in the common area to relax. “大家休息吧~”

After the rocky start of my first day and the adjustment period of living in a new city, I quickly fell in love with this new version of China. Little noodle shops open late into the night. Intense hikes up to the beautiful view from Mount Wutong (梧桐山). Weekend trips to Hong Kong. Pickup basketball games with strangers. I learned that Shenzhen is a city that actually never sleeps, where you can bike around at 1am on a weekday, watch some kids skateboard under a lit up billboard of Deng Xiaoping, and grab a bite to eat before heading home. Experiencing this bustling metropolis unrestricted by the burdens of life in the U.S. contributed to my personal growth in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined.

Peak of Mount Wutong

This blog post was written by Alexander Zhang, Harvard College Class of 2020, and participant in the 2017 Harvard China Student Internship Program.

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