The Trinity Reporter Winter 2004
Alice Barnes '04
A global perspective on local involvement

by Steve Veshosky

  Alice Barnes '04
  Alice Barnes '04 organizing the first annual Habitrot 5K run to support Habitat for Humanity
photograph: Nick Lacy

While spending the fall semester of her junior year studying in Beijing, Alice Barnes became so convinced that her trip to China had been a good decision that she arranged to stay abroad for another semester. This time, however, rather than continuing to take additional classes through the International Education of Students (IES) program, the Trinity senior worked as an English-speaking business consultant and taught conversational English. The depth of that experience only reinforced Alice’s fascination with Asian culture—she is half Chinese, on her mother’s side—and helped increase her understanding of the global community. It also offered her a perfect, and rare, opportunity to connect with her extended family. “My grandfather’s sister still lives in Beijing, and my uncle is an English teacher there,” Alice explains. “He put me in touch with the people at the school where I eventually worked. I lived in a small apartment and got to eat dinner with my family every night. It was amazing.”

During her first semester in China, Alice was a student at Beijing Foreign Language University, where she took courses in advanced Chinese language, anthropology, and economics. Part of her work there involved extensive research on Beijing’s migrant communities, including intensive study of the so called “floating class”—groups of rural transients who are forced to work and live illegally in the cities because they would otherwise be denied access. Through the IES program, she also traveled to Xi’an and Tibet, journeys that Alice says caused her, “to seriously question the issues and causes of the major cultural divide that exists between the cities and the rural areas of China. They’re like two different worlds and they shouldn’t be. It’s really not fair to the people in either place.”

An international studies major with a concentration in Asian studies, Alice is a lifelong resident of southern California. She says that among the reasons she chose Trinity were a strong desire for a change of scenery and Trinity’s location in the city of Hartford. “I really didn’t know what I wanted,” she says, “but I knew that I wanted a radically different environment, so I decided on the East Coast. I originally thought I would be a political science major, and Trinity was the best small liberal arts school I saw that is located in a capital city.”

Useful lessons from community involvement

While her academic focus has shifted a bit since she first arrived on campus, Alice has taken advantage of many of the neighborhood-oriented initiatives available at Trinity. An active member of the College’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, she has a strong faith that motivates her toward community-service work. She was involved in the Cities Program for two years, which, she says, gave her “an appreciation of cities and a greater understanding of the problems that come with sprawl, white flight, development, ghettos, and squatter communities.” Alice credits that experience with inspiring her to spend last summer working at a Christian social service agency in inner-city Washington, D.C., a position she landed after being forced to leave China early because of the SARS scare.

Alice Barnes '04  
Alice Barnes '04 teaching elementary school in Beijing  

Following a stint as a volunteer tutor at the Trinity Boys & Girls Club during her first year at Trinity, Alice and a few friends established a mentoring program through the club the following fall. Kids Involved in Community Service (KICS), which is directed toward elementary and middle school girls, organized weekly tutoring sessions and monthly field trips to cultural and educational destinations. Alice is particularly proud of the fact that KICS continued to operate during her year abroad, although the program is currently searching for a new student director. Alice says that creating and coordinating the KICS program “was probably the most useful lesson I had in my sophomore year. It taught me how to bring an idea to fruition, how to organize a project, and how to become part of a community that is drastically different from where I grew up.”

Having been involved with the College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity since her first year, Alice is currently serving as cochair. In that role, she is focusing much of her energy on fundraising efforts to benefit a local house the chapter is cosponsoring. So far, they have organized a raffle, held carnation and candy cane sales, and operated a car wash. “I was involved with a group at home that goes to Mexico every year to do the same kind of work as Habitat. And I would get really torn up about substandard housing,” Alice says. “It just doesn’t seem right. When I came to Hartford, I knew there were a lot of problems in the city. I just want to do whatever I can to help.” Trinity’s Habitat for Humanity group also hosted this year’s Northeast Habitat Conference, during which Alice and cochair Patricia Allen ’05 addressed a group of approximately 600 students and Habitat affiliates. In addition, the first annual Habitrot 5K run was held on campus in November, with all proceeds benefiting the group’s home-building efforts.

Alice plans to join the workforce for a few years after graduation before continuing her education. She hasn’t decided whether she wants to attend law school or work toward an advanced degree in Asian studies. She hopes the experience she gains working will point her in the right direction. “I’m hoping to get a job in San Francisco, either at a law firm or a nonprofit agency working to improve immigrant rights. I am also interested in doing development work in the United States to support grass-roots projects in developing countries.” No matter what career avenue she pursues, there is little doubt that Alice Barnes will be helping someone, somewhere around the world.

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