When I took this photo in China

Ding Shijie, 22, (in mirror) left his family farm in Wei Zhuan, China, after middle school to sell kabobs in Xi'an.
Ding Shijie, 22, (in mirror) left his family farm in Wei Zhuan, China, after middle school to sell kabobs in Xi'an. Photo: Katie Hayes

The following article originally appeared in the 2009 edition of Abroadly Speaking, a magazine about international study and travel produced by students and supported by the Study Abroad Office.

Katie Hayes
Major: Journalism
Study abroad program: Faculty-led Maymester
Location: Xi'an, China

I knew immediately once I touched down in China that I would have a wonderful experience as a journalism student. The stories came at me from every angle, piquing my curiosity on topics ranging from the single-child limit placed on couples to the mass migration from rural life to the cities by people in search of jobs.

I became interested in the migration of the Chinese youth to the cities to find work in factories, stores or as salesmen on the street. While visiting a migrant village on the outskirts of Beijing, I documented residents' living conditions.

While visiting a small country village outside of Xi'an, my story took a different turn. I came across two men talking in a field. I was curious about the farming conditions and thought an image of a motorcycle amidst the crops could be interesting.

Through the assistance of a local translator, I learned that Ding Shijie, 22, (in mirror) left his family farm in Wei Zhuan after middle school to sell kabobs in Xi'an. His older brother, Ding Zhijie, is the only son of four who opted to stay and work the family farm.

I found their story compelling, thinking of the struggle for the rural Chinese youth who chose to leave their families. With this in mind, I tried to capture the essence of the decision to either stay on the family farm or to leave for more opportunity in larger cities.