Kaitlyn K. Szydlowski

Kaitlyn K. Szydlowski

Class of 2009
Winner of  Barbara Yen Sun Prize

I first began studying Mandarin with the goal having a business career after graduation.

After two-months at Mount Holyoke’s Summer Study in Beijing in 2006, however, my interest in Chinese language, history, and culture far exceeded any promise of a future salary. I was hooked on China. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the politics, the people, and China’s role in the world. More specifically, after seeing a blind child with Cerebral Palsy begging outside a supermarket one afternoon, I was determined to better understand the challenges faced by children and young adults with disabilities. Since that first summer in Beijing, I have travelled back to China three different times: once to study abroad, once to teach, and another to research. All of these subsequent endeavors were made possible with the support of the Asian Studies Department and the College.

With the support of the Barbara Yen Sun Prize this year, I was able to travel to China in January 2009 to conduct field research on Chinese disability law, policy, and its impact on children with disabilities, particularly orphans. During my month of research, I collaborated with social science professors from Anhui Agricultural University and Beijing Administrative College to conduct informal interviews of children and young adults with disabilities, spoke with government officials, visited special education schools, and talked with directors of Chinese-run NGOs in three cities: Beijing, Hefei, and Shanghai. I saw for myself the results of a weak disability support system, the gap between policy creation and implementation, and the outcome of uneven economic development. The information and knowledge I gathered is now the core of my honors thesis.

While I have spent much time in China in the past studying Mandarin, this experience was unique in extraordinary ways. Securing the connections I needed for interviews and making my way from city to city by myself challenged my resourcefulness, creativity, and my Mandarin. Collaborating with professors and graduate students with perspectives unlike my own challenged me to view my research from a different angle. Most importantly, visiting state-run orphanages and healing homes for disabled children redefined for me the meaning of hope and charity. I hope to return after graduation and continue work in this field.