Meet Mariah Deters: Pengyou Intern

Mariah Deters is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania interested in international politics, discovering as much Chinese food and music as she can find and concocting schemes to travel as much as possible.

I suppose random might be an accurate description of my journey to China, particularly in a geographic sense, but more so in a cultural sense. I was born and raised in a very small town amidst the chili farms and cattle ranches of rural New Mexico. Needless to say, there was not an overwhelming amount of Chinese culture from which to extract an interest in the Orient. My only exposure as a child came from grandmother who had been to Asia a few times and stories of her adventures, especially in China.

However, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to learn Mandarin in high school from the wife of a Taiwanese professor at the local city college. I spent two years studying Mandarin and falling madly in love with the language and what little culture I could absorb from my tiny classroom in New Mexico. It was then that I made a decision to get to China no matter what it took.

I was spirited out of my tiny hometown by the grace of the University of Pennsylvania and, through the plentiful opportunities available there, I realized my dream to go to China and immerse myself in the culture and language. I knew I wanted to study abroad during the fall of my junior year, but as a sophomore that started to seem like a painfully long time to wait. I wanted to go as soon as possible and the summer after my sophomore year seemed a good a time as any. That being said, I didn’t just want to hop off a plane with no plans, and I didn’t feel comfortable enough with my Mandarin to somehow make it work with absolutely no safety net.

So I applied to Penn’s program for matching students with international nonprofits on what would later seem like a whim but was quite possibly one of the best decisions I’ve made in my brief 19 years. Although I have no solid ideas about my life after college, working in the non-profit sector is definitely on my radar for potential future careers.

I had no idea what to expect, but from the first days with Holly and the team at Golden Bridges, I felt like I had already observed challenges more intricate and absorbing than any I had discovered thus far, even compared to the fiercely competitive culture of Penn. The world of non-profits, specifically ones that do work in a country like China with unique and potentially frustrating legal institutions (or lack thereof), is more complex than I could have ever imagined. The obstacles that face an organization like this are elaborate puzzles that will require deliciously innovative and creative solutions, which I hope I can contribute to.

I will be helping Project Pengyou with writing and blogging, building a page of resources and information for Westerners coming to China and some light website development. I can hardly imagine all the perspectives and experience I will gain this summer. All I can say is: so far so good and let the games begin.