Freeman scholars in Hong Kong

St. Mike's Freeman scholars see Hong Kong at historic time

August 16, 2019
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
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Images show Jeffrey Ayres, student Claire Mutty, some less-urban sites to be seen around Hong Kong, and a view of recent protests as witnessed by students. (Images courtesy of Claire Mutty)

Just 26 select colleges and universities around the U.S. including Saint Michael’s College had students funded by the prestigious Freeman Foundation supporting internships in Asia this summer.  Of particular note, the support from the Freeman Foundation helped 11 Saint Michael’s students participate in internships in Hong Kong this June and July as world attention became more focused on potentially historic political currents there.

“This is becoming a very vibrant and successful program, providing students with the opportunity to engage in experiential learning and to develop skills that students really need in the 21st century beyond just classroom work,” said Jeffrey Ayres, professor of political science/international relations. “Our 11 Freeman students this year were living with students from other mostly much larger universities, and not just from the U.S.; a huge piece of this is the global experience, deepening their soft global citizenship skills, global engagement and also networking skills with people.”

Jeffrey AyresHe said each student receives guidance in securing a Hong Kong internship with a business or agency in an area of special interest to that student. Ayres was pleased by this year’s variety of interests among the interns, including business/accounting, non-profits, medicine, economics, neuroscience and history. He hopes Saint Michael’s students from every major and discipline will consider applying for next year’s cohort. Ayres directs a four-credit course around the experience including online blogging and group conversations, reflection and assessment, along with ample preparation sessions before departure that cover such topics as Hong Kong politics, cultural norms, history, business etiquette and basic language instruction.

Student safety is always a top priority and this year’s group never felt at risk from Hong Kong’s escalating protests, the students and their mentors said; in fact, one student, Claire Mutty, wrote in a blog post that hearing coworkers at her internship site speak of their views on the matter was interesting and educational. Nonetheless, in the event that Hong Kong’s climate might become more volatile before next summer, there are other sites for Saint Michael’s to consider for student internship placement including Tokyo, Singapore and Mumbai, Ayres said—assuring this upcoming year’s successful applicants will still have a valuable well-supported experience in Asia.

Mutty said her Freeman experience in Hong Kong was life-changing: “I know I speak for each member of the Saint Mike’s group when I say that this experience was so much more than an internship,” she said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Freeman Foundation, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse ourselves in Hong Kong’s unique and fast-paced culture while still gaining professional knowledge in a major global economy.”

Ayres directs the campus Freeman Foundation Global Citizenship Internship Program, collaborating with two others on the advisory council—Robert Letovsky Professor of Business and Peggy Imai Study Abroad Director—that recruits and oversees Saint Michael’s Freeman scholar experiences. The number of those scholars grew from just four the first summer of 2018 to 11 this past summer, and a recently renewed grant proposal will help support another 10 or more Saint Michael’s students in summer 2020.

student admiring view of Hong Kong natural landscape “Having our grant proposal renewed to send students for a third consecutive year next summer is evidence of the confidence Freeman Foundation has in Saint Michael’s and the program we’ve created here,” Ayres said, stressing the value of what educators call “high impact practices,” referring to study abroad, service learning, internships or undergraduate research. “These Freeman students have the opportunity to combine a high impact practice with international experience,” he said. As it happens, a Vermonter, Juefei Wang, who has a strong working relationship with Ayres, is the National Program Director of the Freeman Foundation.

This year’s Saint Michael’s students who studied as Freeman scholars in Hong Kong were Katlyn Smith ’21, an accounting major from Millis, MA; Rachael DeVeau ’20, an economics major from Lutherville Timo, MD; Keyana Smith ’20, an English major from Cambria Heights, NY; Sophie De Fries ’20, a biochemistry major Boulder, CO; Claire Mutty ’20, a business major from Hudson, NH; Victoria Gray ’20, a business major from Plymouth, MA; Matthew McGlynn ’21, an economics major from Walpole, MA; Matthew Mosher ’20, a neuroscience major from Fairfield, CT; Patrick Richards ’20, a history major from Narragansett, RI; Diego Calderon ’20, a business major from Revere, MA; and Ryan Ramos’20, a business major from Trumbull, CT.

Saint Michael’s works with the Academic Internship Council (AIC), the custom internship division of the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), to place students in Hong Kong to be interns at sites that mesh well with students’ professional interests and majors.

The Freeman Foundation grant helps support scholarships for U.S. undergraduate students to find internship placements in workplaces in East or Southeast Asia.  One of the major goals of the Foundation is to increase the number of U.S. citizens with professional experience in and an understanding of Asia, its people, and its cultures.  Recipients of the grant are required to share their experiences with their home campuses or communities upon returning in the fall in order to fulfill the program’s goal of encouraging other students to participate in internships in Asian countries and increase overall understanding of Asian cultures.  The eleven Saint Michael’s students who participated in internships in Hong Kong this past summer were selected to receive this grant through a competitive application and interview process.

Claire Mutty called her time in Hong Kong this summer two of the greatest, most memorable months of my life.”

Claire Mutty '20 in Hong Kong “The memories that I have from my two months in Hong Kong seem endless. From bonding with my coworkers over delicious Dim Sum meals to exploring centuries-old fishing villages on the weekends, I was fortunate enough to truly get a taste of local culture,” she said. “Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong residents and visitors can easily avoid the crowded, urban city-life by taking advantage of the breathtaking hikes, picturesque beaches and island escapes in the area. My friends and I were lucky enough to climb a Giant Buddha, see a pink dolphin, watch a few Dragon Boat races and of course go to Disneyland. Within the city itself, we found a unique blend of tradition and modernism as we uncovered the scattered temples amidst the iconic skyscrapers.”

She had this advice for Saint Mike’s students considering this or a similar international trip: “Push yourself out of your comfort zone and explore a culture that is extremely different from the one you are used to in the United States. I now believe this is the only way to truly understand how extensive, and yet how interconnected our planet actually is.”

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