China — A Bridge to My Past; A Path to the Future


Terese Brennan, Senior Vice President of Quality Improvement and Compliance, was one of three Americans selected this past summer to participate in the Professional Fellows Program (PFP), a 10-day global exchange program to China, sponsored and paid for by the U.S. State Department. Terese shares her personal experience visiting the country.

My recent trip to China was an incredible experience. I’ve always wanted to see where my grandparents are from and where my father, who came to the United States when he was about 5 years old, spent some of his childhood, so this opportunity was really amazing.

I was hosted by Zhongkai (Scott) Sun, the Executive Director of Stars and Rain (a non-governmental organization, or NGO, that serves children with autism) who had spent four weeks at May Institute this past spring. During my first day in Beijing, I not only learned how NGOs work in China, but was also able to visit two NGO facilities. It was eye opening for me in that there is no support or funding for individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities, and as the NGOs are not government or state-run entities, there are no regulations in place.

While there, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop on quality improvement and safety risk management in order to share some of May Institute’s best practices. The workshop had 30 participants and included leaders of other NGOs as well as people looking to form their own NGO to serve individuals with autism. They were a dedicated and inquisitive group, some of whom traveled over two days to attend the workshop. The most surprising thing I learned was that the country did not have any standardized first aid or safety training for their employees. However, not a surprise, some of the roadblocks these organizations faced in China were very similar to ours in the States.

The PFP program not only focuses on sharing professional practices, but also encourages participants to experience the cultural aspects of the country they are visiting. One of the ways to experience any local culture is to try the local cuisine. Being Chinese, I was familiar with a lot of the food. At a restaurant Scott took me to, the chef made a simple soup of vegetable broth and winter melon. Tasting it brought back memories of my grandmother, her amazing garden with the wonderful winter melons, and the soup that she used to make.

Sheila Fesko, another PFP Fellow, and I were also fortunate enough to take a couple of sightseeing trips with Scott and Sheila’s host “Di.” Visiting the Great Wall of China was one the highlights, and seeing it for the first time was breathtaking. Having the chance to climb the steps and take in the countryside from the towers was simply surreal. Looking at the expanse of it - to see it for miles in front of you, winding its way over the hills, it almost doesn’t seem possible. It was a memorable experience, but a sobering one as well when you think about all the hours, all the work, and all the lives it took to complete the wall.

While having dinner with our hosts at the end of that day, Sheila and I wondered if it would be possible to see the Terracotta Army in Xian. Discovered by farmers in the 1970s, the thousands of life-size warriors were created 2,000 years ago to protect the First Emperor of China in the afterlife. Scott and Di got out their smart phones and before dinner was done, had made all the arrangements for us from booking our train tickets and hotel to finding us a tour guide.

I would love to return to Beijing. It is my hope that Scott and I can continue to collaborate and share expertise as he works to implement safety risk management systems at Stars and Rain.