Student Spotlights

ND Spotlights

What I did last summer...

Dan (April) Feng
Kelly Marous
Sean Long

Dan (April) Feng: Conducted research in China on the "Chinese Dream," Summer 2014

Thanks to funding from the Frist Year Ignition Fellowship, this summer I was lucky to have taken the first step of the research project that I plan to keep on doing these four years of college. I have always been interested in the policies of the Communist Party of China and how these policies are carried out. This summer, I focused on the most recent propaganda policy—“the Chinese Dream.”

Initially, I planned to go to five cities in China. However, due to some safety considerations, I changed the destinations into seven cities—Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Lijiang, Chongqing and Chengdu. In the beginning, I strictly followed my timeline. However, as I went on and asked people about the “Chinese Dream,” I found an astonishing fact—people have not even the faintest idea of what the “Chinese Dream” is. They either think their opinions are “too shallow to share” or “have never thought about it.” These surprising results brought my research to a whole new stage. Though unwillingly, I changed my central question from what is the “Chinese Dream” to why most people have never thought about the answer.


Once I set a more reasonable objective, my research became much easier to carry out. I tried as hard as possible to reach out to the people and to understand the local traditions and cultures. I chatted with all kinds of people—ranging from ordinary old ladies who dance every night on a big square in downtown area to government officials, visited local museums, universities, historical sights, former residences of some politicians from both the Nationalist Party and the CPC, and even a Protestant Church in Suzhou. Before and after the research, I read a lot of books and did research online as well. Though I understand that the depth and width of my experiences and readings may still not be convincing enough, I want to draw a conclusion from these two months. There are roughly three reasons why Chinese people do not think about the meaning of the propaganda slogans, divided by age groups. For people over sixty, they helped the CPC get control of China and thus, often times they are very loyal to the Party. Though sometimes they complain about the reality, they never question the fundamental belief that working (or in their words, fighting) for Communism is the only way to get a bright future. And thus, they do not see the need to question what the “Chinese Dream” really is or whether it has any meaning. For people aging from forty to sixty, they are among the generation that has experienced the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward and other turmoil times in Chinese history these recent years. Their life experiences make them value social order more than anything else, since they understand well what it means to live in chaos. They question the Party and its policies greatly, but never dare to say their opinions out loud—a typical trait of people who have experienced the Cultural Revolution. People under forty are different. They grow up with the rapid information flowing. They know and will know much more information than the older generations. However, according to my limited experience attending classes in Peking and Qsinghua University, the best two universities in China, and talking with college students in those seven cities listed above, I found that young people today are generally lack of independent thinking. They tend to accept the reality rather than to question or to change it. I have not yet fully learned the causes of this lack of independent thinking, but I deduce that it is mainly due to the exam-centered education and the Chinese traditional culture of obeying. These conclusions are still open to discussion and are welcome to be questioned. I will continue researching on this topic and renew my understanding on this matter in the future.


These two months are unforgettable and life changing for me. I understand both China and myself better. I really want to contribute to raising awareness of independent thinking among Chinese people, because for me, having the ability to think independently is an essential element to be truly alive. Additionally, from my readings, I think it is the nature for all human beings. With independent thinking, people are not easy to be used to achieve political ends and thus, their rights are better protected. During the research, I keep sharing my findings and frustrations with my sponsor Professor McAdams, who had always come back to me with great ideas and deep thoughts. This research is just a beginning of a four-year project and I cannot wait to learn more.

Finally, for those who want to follow a similar path, I only have two pieces of advice for you. First, never be afraid when you find that the results are different from your original expectations. There are only two reasons if you get the same results before and after: either you are wrong or your research is too boring. Second, do not try to draw a conclusion when there is none. It is perfectly normal to be lost in the sea of evidence and not everything has a meaning. Rather than trying hard to offer a conclusion, take time to analyze your experiences and have fun!

Kelly Marous: Interned at the Cannes Film Festival, Summer 2014

My involvement in and experience with the festival was absolutely unbelievable.  Through my internship program, I gained access to almost all of the screenings at the festival.  I attended two red carpet premiers (screenings of Olivier Dahan's Grace of Monaco and Ryan Gosling's Lost River) and I attended screenings of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Two Days One Night (a French film starring Marion Cotillard), Foxcatcher, and Clouds of Sils Maria.  I also attended a 20th anniversary screening of Pulp Fiction on the beach, and John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Quentin Tarantino, and Harvey Weinstein introduced the film in honor of the event.
In addition to all of the screenings, I ran into quite a few movie stars.  I was able to meet Willem Dafoe (one of the judges for the festival), director Sophia Coppola (another judge), actress Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, and Quentin Tarantino.  I found all of them to be incredibly kind, and I was able to get Tarantino to take a picture with a Badin Hall pennant! 


The city of Cannes itself was incredibly charming.  It is a fairly small city, so finding my way around the area was a breeze.  I lived and worked right on the water, and the Mediterranean was absolutely beautiful.  I often walked to work (I lived about 2.5 miles away) because of the amazing views.  It rained only twice, and it was in the mid 70s every day.  I found that I spoke more French in Cannes than in Paris.  I think that this was partially due to the fact that Cannes is a smaller city and also because I wasn't always surrounded by Americans like I was in Paris.
I was able to get one day off of work to travel.  I went to Ventimiglia, Italy and Monaco. It was a fairly cheap trip; my round trip train tickets cost 25 Euro, and Ventimiglia was only an hour and a half away by train.  I found both Ventimiglia and Monaco to be absolutely beautiful.  We went to Monaco the day before the Mono Prix, and it was very exciting watching the test runs and seeing Monte Carlo transform into a race track.  
I found my internship itself to be very interesting.  I worked at the American Pavilion. A bit of background: Each country has its own pavilion at the festival, and the different pavilions make up the International Village.  The pavilions act as a business and communications hub for all of those attending at the festival.  The American Pavilion had its own restaurant, and it also hosted evening events and daily panel discussions.  Depending on the day, I would work in all three areas of the American Pavilion.  I loved getting to know the film students participating in the program and learning more about the film industry.
When I wasn't working, exploring Cannes, or attending screenings, I explored the International Village.  I loved comparing the different pavilions and seeing what image the different countries wanted to present to the film industry.  I was lucky enough to even work at an event hosted by German Films, which is, under my understanding, Germany's government sponsored film industry.  I loved working with German Films, and I like to think that my working at the event was one form of diplomacy. 


All in all, the festival was a once in a lifetime experience.  I have always been intrigued by the film industry and I consider myself a movie buff, so working at the festival was really a dream come true (and the fact that it is held in France made it that much better).  I loved being able to incorporate my interest in international relations into a cultural context, as well.  I think that my experience showed me that my interests and academic background could apply to the entertainment industry.  While I still do not know exactly what career I hope to pursue following graduation, I know that I could take advantage of my creative side and pursue a career in the entertainment or film industry if I desire.

Sean Long: Created bridgeND, Summer 2014

I went from standing on Machu Picchu one week to creating a brand new political club at Notre Dame the next.  Though I loved my study abroad experience in Santiago, Chile, ending the semester in mid-July meant that I had little opportunity to obtain a coveted "post-junior year summer internship."  Instead, I created my own internship to create a new campus political club bridgeND.  In the process, I inadvertently created a crash course in politics, negotiation and organization theory. 


By way of background, growing up outside Washington, DC, my answer for 'why politics' occurred by birth.  The how--approaching polarized political debates with a "negotiation mindset"--occurred by choice through an incredible international development course taught by Professor Steve Reifenberg.  
Last spring, three other Political Science majors (Alex Caton, Dawson Robinson and Pat Roemer) and I imagined a space at Notre Dame where Democrats, Republicans and all those in-between could discuss public policy in constructive and actionable ways.  We didn't feel that the bridge of discussion existed, so we created a new campus political club called "bridgeND." 
Most of my one-month summer consisted of voracious reading to create the theory of change for bridgeND. With two of the co-founders working ten-hour days on campaigns and the third leading a high school mock-trial camp, I devoted the summer to creating our "action plan."  On politics, I read former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill's memoir Man of the House (the Democratic Speaker bonded with Republican President Ronald Reagan "by swapping stories about the Notre Dame football team").  I wanted to understand how Democrats and Republicans 'speak different languages' on their perspectives of America, so I read first-hand accounts from Republican Senator Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's Fighting Chance.  On negotiation, I read the basics of negotiation from William Ury's Getting to Yes and Getting Past No.  On organization theory, I learned from books like Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc. how bridgeND can learn from the creative systems that drove Steve Jobs and Pixar Animation.   
This self-designed "summer internship" proved immensely valuable.  At bridgeND, we created a 3-month, 6-meeting extended negotiation of student loan reform that will result in a proposal delivered to four U.S. Senate offices.  I had the opportunity to attend two conferences--a National Conference on Dialogue and Deliberation to discuss a growing "transpartisan" political movement, and a Congressional Summit on Next Generation Leadership held at the U.S. Capitol in early December.  Drawing on what I learned last summer, I developed a senior politics thesis to examine the intra-party negotiation between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and firebrand Senator Ted Cruz in the 114th Congress. 
My current goal is to build towards one-day becoming a trusted mind at the intersection of negotiation, law and public policy to transform conflicts in American politics.  It took my introspection last summer to realize this dream.

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