Hello everyone! My name is Francis Miller and I hail from the Philadelphia suburbs of Media, Pennsylvania. I also go by mǐlè 米乐, the name given to me by my first Chinese teacher.
I started college as a physics major—so how did I come to major in Chinese and work in China?
It was not an easy decision, at least not at first. While I had always been interested in China, I had never really had an opportunity to study the language. My grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from Shanghai in the 1940s, would visit our home every year, cook us food and try to teach me Chinese. But I was more preoccupied with the dumplings, vegetables and noodles than with learning a second language.
It was only after my grandmother had a stroke and could no longer speak coherently that I realized I had lost an incredibly opportunity to learn Chinese. Since both of my parents were born in the United States, they did not know Chinese. So it was not until college that I had the chance to take a Chinese class.
But the Chinese classes in college were harder than I expected. On my first written quiz, I got a zero—I did not correctly identify a single character or pinyin combination. Every day I considered leaving the class.
But I was determined not to let this chance pass me by. I made flash cards for every character, met with my language instructor and reviewed every mistake to understand what I had done wrong. Soon I was writing short sentences and distinguishing tones and never failed another quiz.
I realized that my Chinese classes were the ones I looked forward to each day. The friendships I made in those classes are among the strongest I have today. So I decided to switch my major to Chinese, and I’ve never looked back.
After a couple of years I realized that I wouldn’t be able to make progress in Chinese without going to China because I found myself thinking and speaking in English. I wanted to be forced to speak and think in Chinese, so I decided to spend the summer of 2012 in Beijing studying Chinese.
But after I finished the summer program, I realized that I wanted to come back and try working in China.
So through the International Internship Program at UPenn, I found an internship at the Golden Bridges Foundation.
More than anything, the non-profit world in China is something I really want to learn more about. I acquainted myself with the fascinating world of non-profit work in China and particularly the groundbreaking efforts of the Golden Bridges Foundation towards developing Project Pengyou.
One of the primary goals of the project is to connect U.S. alumni of Chinese language programs. This is a group of which I am a proud member. I firmly believe that relationship building and meaningful dialogue are and will continue to be crucial elements in strengthening the China-U.S. relationship.
My first weeks back in Beijing have been nothing short of exceptional. I eagerly anticipate the surprises, challenges, and of course the new foods that the coming weeks will bring.
I look forward to an unforgettable summer, and most of all, making some new, lifelong pengyous!