2010 PFIG Recipient Ted Karch

Career Administrator

Ted Karch
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs and Economics Major
2011 Graduation Year

Internship: Dashan International

Notes on the first week

The organization I am working for, Dashan, is a non-profit organization aimed at increasing incomes for farmers and workers in rural areas in China. We are a social business because the work we do focuses on facilitating equal access to resources and information for all parties involved. We are based out of Sichuan China, the southwestern region traditionally known for its agricultural abundance due to the favorable climate here.

We are working on a project right now that will help us reach our goal of equity in farming communities here. In March, Dashan signed a contract to take over a failing collective of mushroom farmers. In Sichuan, the collective model is one that businessmen usually register for in order to reap the tax-status and other benefits that the name "collective" brings with it. However, the way these so-called collectives are run benefits only accrue to the management, resulting in inequity in both economic and social capital. We aim to restructure the existing collective institution to mitigate some of the risks that the farmers face and to increase equity in their access to information and resources.

My first week here has been fast-paced; it didn’t take long to get into the swing of things. After finding an apartment in Chengdu, I was in the office doing research on the company and writing proposals in search of funding opportunities. On my first full day at work, we took a trip out to the countryside to visit some farmers. So far, I have been out to the county we are working in five times to interview farmers. It has been really interesting talking with these people, as they come to the conversation viewing the world in a completely different way than I do.

I have many goals for this summer, some of which I have already begun to accomplish. Professionally, I want to learn new skills about management and research techniques as well as experience what it is like to work at a non-governmental organization where as an employee you enjoy a lot of autonomy in your work. On a more personal level, I have already begun to see my Chinese language skills improve and I am becoming increasingly familiar with the Chinese culture and customs, though I have a long way to go. It should be a great summer!

Midway

Having a chance to come to Chengdu to work for Dashan has been a truly rewarding experience so far. Many of my expectations about what the job entails and what the city itself would be like were completely different than things truly are. I am truly lucky to have found such a unique experience.

Lately I have been working on the mushroom project I mentioned in the previous entry as well as a project to help farmers in the earthquake region (Beichuan) and other areas to export their tea. The mushroom project hit a small bump with the previous local leadership and we had to reorganize and start a new collective. It actually is working better this way, because now the farmers themselves really have a voice in the future of their collective. It is really great to see them so excited about this new opportunity.

My experiences so far have really changed my expectations about working here. One thing that has surprised me about the job is the amount of autonomy you have working at a small NGO. I am often in charge of figuring out for myself what needs to be done to keep our projects moving forwards. Another big surprise to me is the extent that we cooperate with local officials to get work done. This is strikingly different than how things work in the US where private entities are responsible for much more.

I have learned a lot of new skills so far in my time here. I have been doing a lot of research, including market research, that I’m sure will benefit me in my future endeavors. My Chinese language skills have also improved a lot. I have been doing some translation work and I’ve even had the chance to pick up some of the local Sichuanese dialect!

It seems like we will be very busy quite soon. The application for the new collective is almost done and the growing season will start soon at which point we will be really busy with management. I’m sure my last month here will be as rewarding as the first two.

Final Reflections

My work experience in China was like nothing I have experienced before and I can definitely say that it has changed a lot of how I look at the world and my future personal development goals. I learned a great deal during my trip not only about Chinese language or culture, but also about how I am able to deal with adapting to new environments and situations.

For the last month of my job, we weren't quite as busy in the field as at the beginning of my trip. This was mainly because we had to deal with more the mundane technical issues of precisely how the farming collective would be organized and run. To this end, there was a lot of back and forth negotiation between the farmers and us. One thing that really struck me during this whole process was how often the farmers themselves changed their minds and also how hesitant they were to trust us, even though we have been working with them for more than 5 months and were only trying to help them. We had to find several alternative solutions to many problems the collective faced, so this was a great exercise in critical thinking and problem solving.

Working for a small non-profit non-governmental organization was a very new experience for me. I had a great deal of autonomy and a lot of the time I had to find work for myself to do. It was great working with a small company where you know everyone you work with well. There was a sense of shared purpose in the office and we really had to put our heads together to come up with solutions to the challenges we faced.

During my trip, I learned a great deal about Chinese language and culture. I found that the best way to improve language skills is to practice incessantly. You must not be afraid of making mistakes; this is the only way to get better. The cultural aspect of my experiences was also really interesting. One thing that really struck me was the difference between the people in urban and rural areas not only in terms of income or economic situation, but also in terms of how they think and interact with people. Chinese society is developing and urbanizing very rapidly and as more and more rural residents are assimilating into city life, these difference become worthwhile to learn about.

Finally, I learned a huge amount about myself. I realized that, to a certain degree, I am able to adapt to cultural environments that are drastically different to my own. My experience was unique in that I was totally independent for the whole three-month duration of my trip. I was responsible for arranging everything that I needed while I was in China and I had no real issues. I also learned more about what I do and do not want to do for work in the future. Some aspects of NGO work are very rewarding, while some can be frustrating at times. I took the positive with the negative and came back to America a different person than when I left.

To my fellow undergraduates, I urge to you to challenge yourself. Go outside of what is known and familiar to you and you will find a rich world waiting to be discovered. Don't be afraid of making mistakes; that is part of the learning process. Challenge your perspective and you will be rewarded by having a broader point of view.