Hannah Wilson

April 25, 2017

Where are you – and what are you doing – on your PiA fellowship?

I am living in Beijing, China. I am a teaching Fellow at China Foreign Affairs University. In my spare time, I am a docent at The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (an art-museum), volunteer remotely for an international non-profit, Lensational, that seeks to emotionally and economically empower women through photography, and eat all the jiaozi. I have also done some tutoring and teaching jobs. Earlier this year I led a few workshops where I taught children how to make pinhole cameras out of Pringle cans. 

Can you describe your experience in Asia thus far in three concise and varied words?

Evolving, Challenging, Tasty!   

What is the most significant thing you’ve learned during your time on PiA?

Distance and loss are essential in realizing who you are and what you value.

Tell us about one of your favorite 'teacher moments'. 

Gosh, there are so many. One that comes to mind is for Thanksgiving I did an activity to get my students to think about the things they are thankful for and to practice vocalizing appreciation. As homework, I asked my students to bring in an object, picture, drawing, or anything really of something they are thankful for to share with the class. Most of my students’ objects were funny or mundane like red dates, air pollution masks, or their cellphone, but I was surprised when this activity turned emotional in 5 out of my 6 classes especially since most of my students are fairly reserved. Students teared up sharing stories about regret over not saying goodbye to family members who had passed away, their classmates who had helped them through hard times, I even had a student become emotional talking about Kobe Bryant who was her lifelong role model and the opportunity she had to meet him. I was impressed with my students’ bravery, empathy, and desire to share such personal experiences with their classmates. This activity led me to think about my own practice of Thanksgiving differently, set a new tone in each of my classrooms and challenged me as a teacher, making it one of my most memorable teaching experiences.

If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to come to a dinner party in your host city, who would you invite and why? 

George Washington, Rong Rong, and my grandfather  

In 1784 George Washington commissioned a set of porcelain to be produced in Jingdezhen, China and shipped to the United States through the port of Canton (Guangzhou) aboard the Empress of China. This was the first shipment of porcelain to be sent directly to the post-revolution, newly established United States and the first direct trade relationship between China and the US. Not only do I have a fascination with George Washington, I think he would offer a unique perspective as an active participant in the foundation of the economic exchange that still exists between China and the United States. I wonder how he would address the current economic and political relationship between the two countries and if his views towards Chinese products would have changed over time.

Rong Rong is one of my favorite photographers and someone who has witnessed the drastic development of the Beijing art scene and Beijing in general over the last 30 years.

My grandfather is one of the smartest people I know and has inspired me my entire life.

Do you have any sage words of wisdom for future Fellows? 

You will face many questions and decisions you won’t know how to answer, which will be very confusing and hard. I think my best advice is to accept that you are always going to wonder if you are making the right decision or not. It’s ok to not have all the answers. In cross-country we used to say, “Get uncomfortable”. I think I have a different interpretation of what that means now. Only through discomfort can you grow and change. Accept the discomfort that you will not have all the answers, but rather more questions. Challenge yourself to do and think about things completely differently than you have before even the mundane things or those that challenge your existing beliefs. Also… journal from the beginning, I didn’t and I regret it.

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