Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Conner


Jennifer Conner is a materials engineering student from ASU who studied and interned abroad in Shanghai, China during the spring semester of 2018 where she developed her language skills and taught young children, aged 2 to 6, English. Conner is a dad joke connoisseur and an amateur hoarder, fascinated by the world around her and eager to explore as much as she can.

Why did you choose this program?

Learning Mandarin has been a lifelong goal of mine that I only recently began to seriously work on. I am half Taiwanese, but growing up Mandarin was not spoken in the house, since my father is not fluent in it. This never bothered me as a child, but as I grew older, I realized how detached I was from that half of my heritage, and I was unhappy with the passivity I had assumed up until then.

I am proud to be half Taiwanese, and wanted to learn more about what that meant, both to myself and on the grander scale. I began with studying Mandarin, but this was only scratching the surface. I knew that studying abroad, immersing myself in the culture, venturing out of my comfort zone, was the way to learn about Chinese culture, and ultimately learn about myself. With this in mind, I knew I wanted to participate in a study abroad program in China or Taiwan.

After that, it fell to logistics. My school offered a handful of programs to my desired region so I weighed different programs based on price, location, and course offerings. I was intrigued by the prospects the booming metropolis of Shanghai would offer me, especially since I had not grown up in a big city. It offered a wildly exciting experience, with countless things to do and see. I was also inspired by the opportunity for internships that CAPA offered. I enjoy hands-on work, being an engineering major, and saw an internship as the perfect way to learn a new topic while avoiding a dry lecture hall. Finally, the CAPA program offering through ASU was incredibly cost-effective, with spectacular inclusions. In fact, the CAPA tuition fee was less expensive than the out of state tuition I would have had to pay ASU in the first place!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My favorite aspect of the study abroad program I was on, CAPA, was the adaptable independence the program provided. They were there to hold your hand a bit if needed, but you were still able to grow and explore, not limited by any program restrictions. There was an on-site office in China which was a great resource to navigate certain situations that were difficult for me, not being fluent in Mandarin. They were there to help with mailing things home, recommending the best restaurants, and even helping students go to the doctor's office if needed.

Prior to departure, CAPA was clear with discussing what I needed to do. I was responsible for booking my own plane tickets and arranging my own Visa, but CAPA was clear with the requirements for both, and recommended Visa courier services since I was not close to an embassy.

Once I arrived in China, housing and class registration had already been set up for me (having selected my top course choices prior to arrival). CAPA also offered an internship which was set up prior to arrival and began a couple of weeks into the program. I was responsible for my own meals.

CAPA offered a series of guided excursions while we were there. This was a great opportunity because they were to places I would have wanted to go to anyways, but they took care of all the logistics for me! I, of course, planned and went on my own trips while I was there as well, but I really appreciated those excursions because we went as a collective group of CAPA kids, and I therefore really bonded with that crew, and that was the most rewarding aspect of my study abroad experience.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My one piece of advice is to really remember why you went abroad! Presumably to expand your knowledge of a new culture and ultimately step out of your comfort zone and experience different things. So, with that in mind, go out, explore, ignore your fear and simply jump!

Even if you're tired, or other people are busy and you'd have to go out alone, I guarantee you you will never regret going out, seeing something new! I spent a couple too many days in my dorm room wasting time, waiting for other people to get out of class, spending lazy nights in. I regret that for sure. Now, of course, don't overwhelm yourself, but I'm telling you: the best times I had were adventuring and exploring! Even if I did it alone!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The coolest thing about my study abroad experience was all the variety I experienced! No day was typical: they were all unique and exciting. I tried to go somewhere new every week! New restaurants, new parks, new destinations! Of course, there was some routine with classes. I had classes and an internship which I would go to every week. But I luckily had a lot of free time in my schedule, so I had plenty of time to explore places during the week and plan larger-scale attractions during weekends.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear going into my study abroad was the language barrier that would be present. I went to China for language acquisition, but I was not close to fluent. Because of that, I was intimidated if I would be able to navigate the city alone.

There were plenty of times I got lost and had to ask for directions, but everyone was very helpful and I gained a lot of bravery, being less and less scared to ask for help from locals. In the end ,that did numbers for my language skills as well, so it was really a win-win. I became braver, ready to do whatever I wanted no matter my inexperience, and learned valuable vocabulary along the way.

What was your favorite thing to do in your host country?

One of my favorite things that I did in Shanghai was going to a new park every week. I had my Wednesday mornings free and it somehow worked out that everyone else in my study abroad group was in class. I admit my first couple weeks in Shanghai I wasted those Wednesday mornings. I was intimidated to go out and explore by myself, not knowing the language that well, and really not wanting to do things alone. But then I decided to just man up and not get in my own way. What good was going to a new country if I was gonna sit in my normal boring dorm room all day?

Something spectacular about Shanghai is the crazy juxtaposition the city is composed of. It is, of course, a booming metropolis, with tall buildings cutting out a gorgeous skyline. But mixed in are pockets of peace, gardens, and parks everywhere. I'm from a smaller city in Oregon, so of course, I am awestruck by the spectacle of the skyscrapers, but sometimes I just missed me a tree, you know? And luckily Shanghai was perfect for that, truly the best of both worlds.

So I made it a point to visit a new park every Wednesday morning. I would go alone, walk around the peacefulness, maybe hit up a new restaurant afterward. And Shanghai being so big, I was able to see a new park or garden basically every week for 3 months and I still hadn't covered all of them. I am so glad I overcame my own dumb reservations and went out and explored. Those solo adventures were amazing, and I found some hidden gems, some of my favorite places in Shanghai that I never would have discovered otherwise. And furthermore, my independence and confidence skyrocketed, which I know will prove important in my future, no matter where it leads.