Meet Austin Groves: Pengyou Intern

Austin GrovesAustin is a fourth year student at Drexel University who enjoys traveling to developing countries, playing sports, and learning Chinese language and culture.

Hi everyone, my name is Austin Groves (高杉) and I was born in a small town in upstate New York. I do not have an Asian background and had very little foreign language exposure growing up. My father passed away when I was 11 and I took on the responsibility of helping raise my younger brother at an early age.

Due to my family’s financial situation and other responsibilities I did not expect to be able to attend a reputable four year college, let alone study abroad. After graduating high school I went to a local community college while working full time in the restaurant business to pay my way. I worked hard in community college and was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia.

When I began taking classes at Drexel, I noticed there were many international students in my classes and became friends with several of my Chinese classmates. I began to dream of learning Chinese and starting a business in China. During my 3rd year at Drexel, I decided to start taking Chinese for fun. Little did I know this experience would change my life forever.

At first I felt learning Chinese was very frustrating; it seemed much more difficult than English and there were many times I wanted to give up. However, I stuck with it and as my Chinese level improved, I began to fall in love with this very different language. I ended up adding Chinese as a minor and became willing to do whatever it takes to become fluent.

My Chinese professor told me that if I truly wanted to become fluent in Chinese I should go to China. However, I was reluctant to leave my family for an extended period. After discussing it with my family, I discovered that all they truly wanted was for me to be happy. They ultimately encouraged me to live out my dream, and study abroad in China.

In the winter of 2011, I applied to study abroad in Hong Kong at Hong Kong University. There were only five slots available and to my surprise, I was accepted!

After being accepted to HKU I said to myself, “If I’m already going to be abroad for one semester, why not do two?” After being accepted to another study abroad program in Shanghai I thought, “Why not add on a summer internship as well?”

At first, this year-long study abroad adventure seemed like a great idea, but figuring out how to follow through and make it happen was very overwhelming. My biggest concerns were a lack of money and being away from my family. After many visits to the Drexel Study Abroad Office in addition to speaking with other students who had been abroad, I was encouraged to do whatever it takes to make this happen. I ultimately realized that there is a great deal of funding available for people like me and was able to receive over $6,500 in scholarships.

Upon arriving at HKU, I requested to live with three Chinese roommates, who quickly became my best friends. They took me around the city and introduced me to their friends and a few great local restaurants that I would have never found on my own. I also lived with a host family while doing an intensive language program in Shanghai. This immersive experience opened up my world to Chinese culture and improved my language ability immensely. My host family genuinely treated me as their own child and to this day I still miss my host grandma’s cooking!

Beijing seemed like the ideal city to do an internship because of the wealth of Chinese culture and history. While searching for internships, I was introduced to the Golden Bridges Foundation and Project Pengyou through NorCap China Internships. After speaking with the CEO, Holly Chang, I knew that this was the perfect match. I strongly believe in improving U.S.-China relations and am very grateful to have this opportunity to make a lasting contribution to this cause.

My time in China has opened up a whole new range of possibilities that nine months earlier I had not even known existed. After graduation I am looking forward to returning to China and continuing to help bridge the gap between the U.S. and China.