Andrew Capuano, an alumnus of the history program, wrapped up his College at Brockport career studying abroad in China on a prestigious scholarship sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship aims to diversify the kinds of students who study and intern abroad and the countries and regions they go to by supporting undergraduates who might otherwise not participate due to financial constraints.
Andrew earned the scholarship by submitting an application addressing the impact that the study abroad program would have on his academic, professional and personal goals, as well as an essay on how he will give back by inspiring others to pursue their own experiences abroad.
During summer 2013, Andrew studied at Peking University in Beijing, China. He returned to Beijing to study abroad for the spring 2014 semester on the Gilman Scholarship. During his second adventure abroad, he was in the front row for a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama. Here, he discusses that inspiring experience, his path thus far and what lies ahead.
What made you want to pursue your major?
I decided to study history because I've always been a very curious person and I felt obliged to learn about the world.
What kind of special experiences did you have at Brockport?
Studying history with Dr. Takashi Nishiyama, studying literature with Dr. Lars Mazzola and studying Mandarin Chinese with Mrs. Zhijuan Zhu have all been amazing experiences. I've learned a lot and have had an opportunity to broaden my perspective substantially.
Describe a life-changing experience you have had.
During my first semester at Peking University, I participated in a language immersion program and signed a pledge which forbids students from speaking English at the risk of incurring grade penalties. Even more challenging was the fact that I lived with a Chinese roommate who was there for the purpose of making sure that I honored my language pledge. Not being able to fall back on my native language to communicate, I was forced to adapt and had absolutely no other choice but to learn as much Chinese as I possibly could. The experiences I had using Chinese to interact with the people of Beijing were unforgettable. Studying a foreign language abroad has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
What has been the most impactful event during your time abroad?
Thanks to my status as a Gilman Scholar, I had the opportunity to attend a speech by First Lady Michelle Obama at Peking University. Her speech focused largely on education and study abroad. She wants to see more US students studying in China so that the future generations of leaders will be in a better position to understand and work with China. She hopes that if mutual understanding and cooperation are fostered, then friction will be reduced and the two global powers can work together to make the world a better place.
Everything about the speech resonated with me. Mrs. Obama said that the US government is taking initiative to get more American students of limited means to study abroad. I owe my time here in China to that initiative.
I sat in the very closest seat, about 15 feet away from the left side of her podium. My seat was located in the “backdrop,” meaning I was within clear view of the cameras pointed at the First Lady. Right after the speech came to an end, Mrs. Obama approached the section where I was seated. She shook hands with me and with the other students seated near me, congratulated us and said, “We're counting on you. The world is counting on you.”
It was a powerful experience. Not only did I get to shake hands with the First Lady, but she directly said to me, in person, that students like me who are interested in China can potentially go on to play very important roles. Her words have stuck with me.
What are your future goals?
Right now my immediate goal is to increase my knowledge of Chinese language and culture. I’m considering staying here at Beijing Capital Normal University for an additional semester of language study, if I can afford it. I would like to prepare to take the HSK (standardized Chinese language test).
In terms of the coming years, I see graduate school on the horizon; however, I haven’t decided on what type of program to apply to. Fundamentally, I would like to have some kind of China-related career. The rise of the Chinese economy is one of the most important events of the 21st century, and I would like to play some sort of role, whether it may be in international business, international law, journalism, education or scholarly research in humanities/social sciences.