Alumni Spotlight: Leland Bernstein

Leland is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Chemistry and pursuing a minor in Statistics. He was a member of the Varsity Men's Fencing Team for two years, and participated in the 2013 NCAA Championships in San Antonio for the team.
A young man posing for a picture.

Why did you pick this program?

I picked this program to enjoy the benefit and experience of an interesting summer internship while visiting an entirely new country. The Sage mentor and network that the program offered also enticed me as another avenue of networking for opportunities during and after college.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

Whatever anyone would have told me, I learned for myself. I took advantage of every moment I had in Hong Kong, spending as much time as possible exploring the city with the other students on the program and my colleagues.

I adapted to the local cuisine and customs and even picked up some Cantonese to get by. I had co-workers provide me with recommendations and warnings so I felt as comfortable in Hong Kong as I would in Philadelphia.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

The most important thing I learned abroad was how much more of the world I needed to see and experience myself. It was incredible to be inundated in another culture and be in a place so vastly different than where I've ever been before.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I tell my friends that they should seriously consider going abroad because it's a rare opportunity to spend months in a foreign country not as a tourist but as a student or worker. You get a better feeling for the culture and attitudes of the place and have the chance to learn a lot.

A group of young students gathered together.

What was hardest part about going abroad?

The hardest part about going abroad was the initial shock of being so far from home. Hong Kong greeted me with a typhoon and my job put me to work immediately on a complicated software project.

I had to grit my teeth and work through this barrier to entry for the first few days, but it became the best experience of my life after that.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

I have two, the first is more professional. I had very little computer programming experience in my life, and after my time abroad I was very capable in multiple programming languages (Python, Javascript, HTML, CSS) with a fully operating web application to show for my effort.

My second favorite story is telling people about how I bungee jumped off of the world's tallest bungee jump in Macau. I'm actually afraid of heights, but had heard of how fun it was and I decided I had to do it. I waited for two hours in line, watching people of all ages and origins jump off before me.

When it was finally my turn to jump, it was dark and the entire city was lit up. They tell you not to bend your knees while jumping otherwise you look like you're on the toilet in the video. I thought it'd be easier than it sounded, but you have to lean forward yourself to jump off.

I barely managed to keep my legs straight as I began to feel the weightlessness of falling. But I enjoyed the jump so much that I forgot to yell for the first few seconds as I was having too much fun to do anything else.

What made this experience unique and special?

A group of people posing for a picture.

The experience was unique and special because Sage Corps and the start-up I worked with, The CloudMiner, continuously provided me with new experiences. Professionally, Sage Corps sent the other fellows and I to entrepreneurial speakers, pitch nights, and networking events.

The CloudMiner took me to product launches and investor pitches, an experience most other interns would never have a chance to observe. For recreation, many of the speakers or entrepreneurs we visited took us out to dinner or gave us discounts towards other events and entertainment.

With all that, the best was the other students that went with me. We were all very dedicated students with the intent to get as much as possible from this experience. After working 9-6 at our startups we would hit the gym together and enjoy the hotel sauna and plan for our weekends.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

On the way back from work, I was talking to my co-worker and fellow Sage Corps fellow James Xue on the subway about programming possibilities. We were overheard by a man who introduced himself as a lead designer for Adobe in California.

We had an instant connection as US citizens and programmers and he kept in touch with me about future possibilities at Adobe or other companies he saw a position for me.

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

My own piece of advice would be to never stop moving. From the internship to exploring the city, there's so many interesting things to do and experience that it'd be a loss to take a breath.

Sage Corps and the entrepreneurial scene in Hong Kong wants to bathe you in networking opportunities and chances for personal growth; the city is so vast with so much to do and that's not even mentioning the other cities and areas nearby (such as Macau, the beaches at Sai Kun, Taiwan is only 3 hours away)

Beautiful Scenery

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

This trip has opened up the world of computer programming for me. As a chemistry major, computer languages and applications seemed like frightening enigmas to me. Now, I'm learning more programming languages and techniques at school and for my personal enjoyment thanks to the push that this program gave me.

It also awoke a desire to travel in a way I've never felt before. I've been to almost every state in the US, as well as France and England, but now I want to see even more of the world and make the most of every second that I'm somewhere new.

What took the longest to figure out/understand in Hong Kong??

For me, restaurants and where to eat was a huge challenge. I'm not unfamiliar with Asian cuisine, but when the menu only has pictures and no English it's not an easy task. The first method was to ask hotel concierges and co-workers where to go.

But the first always recommended the most expensive places and my co-workers could eat foods so spicy just smelling them would burn my nose. The solution? Wait in the restaurant, scout what looks and smells good from the other tables and ask for their item.

I know this isn't revolutionary, but it greatly increased the quality of food I ate during the summer.