December 20, 2016

Creating Space for Chinese Culture in California


Ben facing former Australian Prime Minister Ben Guggenheim, a NSLI-Y alumni from California, discusses China and climate change with former Prime Minister of Australian, Kevin Rudd.
Growing up in Mill Valley, CA, Ben Guggenheim’s interest in China began at an early age. However, because neither his elementary nor middle school offered courses in Chinese, Ben studied Chinese online for five years. When he finally had the opportunity to take Mandarin language courses in high school, “a whole new world opened up” and he knew immediately that this was something he wanted to pursue more fully. He started looking for study abroad opportunities and was ecstatic to receive a NSLI-Y scholarship. Through his NSLI-Y experience in Suzhou, Ben immersed himself in the language and culture he had only been able to explore from a distance.

Beyond the daily, five-hour language classes, Ben followed his love of the outdoors by exploring Suzhou’s parks and botanic gardens. Ben found that “the pollution was as prevalent as the beauty,” and was motivated upon his return to the U.S. to spread awareness about environmental issues in China. Ben and his younger brother Adam practice their Chinese skills by creating videos that discuss the importance of U.S.-China collaboration to combat climate issues. In a recent video entitled “Letter to the Next President,” Ben and Adam discuss the importance of addressing pollution, and how the United States’ national parks model could be implemented in China to effectively preserve its natural resources. Ben’s activism even allowed him to attend an event where former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd discussed U.S.-China relations and climate change.

In addition to bringing attention to environmental issues, Ben is creating classroom opportunities for American students who are interested in China. After receiving a prestigious Rosenblatt Summer Fellowship Grant, Ben created a Chinese language and culture day camp for underserved students. He has also taught Chinese language and culture classes for an organization that provides free courses to underserved college-bound middle school students. Ben’s teaching gives students a rare opportunity to engage with Chinese language and culture. Ben hopes to ignite a passion for cultural exchange in these students similar to his own.  

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