Alumni Spotlight: Michael Chen (’13)
Governor’s School grads don’t just get together when they’re back home in Richmond. Michael Chen (’13) and Grey Weissend (’13) were able to meet up in the city of Dali in China’s southwestern Yunnan province in 2017. Grey was traveling in the area, and Michael has been living and working there.
“Believe it or not, I’ve met two other GSGIS alumni here,” Michael says. “Kaya Prasad (’15) was studying abroad in Kunming when her program visited the Linden Centre.” He also met Deepak Subudhi (’98), who was traveling with wife in Yunnan.
Michael is currently working in sustainable tourism in Dali, Yunnan. “I got the position at the Linden Centre through the Princeton-in-Asia Fellowship (a really, really cool program that I recommend highly),” he explains. The mission of the fellowship is to promote good will and understanding and to facilitate in every way the free interchange of the best ideals in the civilizations of both East and West. Princeton-in-Asia sponsors over 150 fellowships and internships in 21 countries.
Michael accepted the fellowship after his graduation from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Michael was the only student from his graduating class to attend Wheaton. “I had to choose between William & Mary and Wheaton,” he explains. “When I visited the two, I felt a sense of freedom at Wheaton I had never felt before. Perhaps it was the faith environment (Wheaton is an evangelical school and I had never before considered a Christian education but Wheaton offered a chance, surprisingly, to critically engage with my faith and interrogate and explore it in a way I had never known before) or maybe because it was further from home. Plus, my low-income background actually made Wheaton, a private school, more affordable than W&M (or at the very least, very similar).”
At Wheaton, Michael majored in history and sociology. Asked about the most important parts of his college experience, he says, “Dialoguing about really fascinating issues, in the same way we did at MLWGS, but on deeper and more specific levels. Also, living with friends taught me how to love and care for the people around me: a highly undervalued skill.” He has taken the knowledge, skills, and abilities he developed as an undergrad to this next chapter of his life.
His favorite part of his fellowship working in sustainable tourism has been the opportunities it has afforded him to create. “I’ve been able to write a cookbook, do a lot of photography, make videos, help develop certain tours or activities while I’ve been here.” The most difficult part has been the workload. “I give myself a lot of work (also by saying yes too often) but also just the fact that we work 6 days a week in hospitality makes it difficult to take a break. The long hours are made better by the fact that I like my coworkers a lot.”
Michael is currently looking forward to “learning more about China, about the world, about human nature, about society.” He’ll be attending graduate school in Beijing next year at Yenching Academy at Peking University. “I’m excited to learn again but I will miss the satisfaction of working and feeling like I’m making a difference in a tangible way.”