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Exploring Chinese History: Kendra Bonde ’19
In her four years at Smith, Kendra Bonde ’19 has traveled the world, including study abroad and internships in Peru, India and Spain.
But no country she has visited has sparked her imagination as much as China.
“Something about China’s history just spoke to me,” says Bonde, who began studying Chinese language in her second year on campus and last year did an internship at a tea company in Beijing.
“I’ve always been interested in cultural differences,” she says. “And China’s culture is in many ways such a stark opposite to ours.”
Bonde—whose mother, Kimberly Bonde, is a member of the Smith class of 1986—arrived on campus with plans to study neuroscience. After deciding to change direction, she tried out courses in a number of subjects before finding a home in history and East Asian studies.
“I took Professor [Daniel] Gardner’s introduction to Chinese history course and just never stopped,” says Bonde, who has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in Taiwan this summer while she continues her Chinese language studies.
“China’s history is so long,” she adds. “I feel like it’s something I’ll never reach the end of.”
Bonde’s research on the history of the Chinese tea industry led to her Praxis program experience in 2018 at a Beijing tea company. “The company is going to open a European office and they were interested in my research,” she says.
Jeffrey Ahlman, associate professor of history and Bonde’s thesis adviser, says her tea industry research “is both innovative and important, particularly in the ways in which it challenges Eurocentric ideas of imperial capitalism.”
Bonde, who is of Somali heritage and grew up in Atlanta, Ga., has also applied her adventurous outlook to her time on campus.
She has lived each year in a different Smith house, has helped recruit fellow students of color to the college’s Ultimate Frisbee team, and has served as an inaugural teaching assistant in "The Historian's Craft," the history department's new introduction to the major course, acting as a vital link between faculty and students.
A recipient of a Mellon Mays undergraduate fellowship, Bonde plans to pursue a doctorate in Chinese history, with the aim of doing research that helps counter popular misunderstandings about China.
Her best advice to new Smithies?
“Explore all you can while you are here,” Bonde says. “Don’t be afraid to do new things.”