Brandon Fleming studies Chinese because learning the difficult language requires a great amount of dedication.
The commitment required would drive most 16-year-olds away, but Brandon finds challenges irresistible. In fact, he is looking for more.
The Baltimore Polytechnic Institute student has the chance to go to China for 3 1/2 months, if his family can raise the money.
He was the only Baltimorean among 18 students chosen to travel to Beijing next month with School Year Abroad, a private, nonprofit corporation that operates language study programs.
For almost 30 years, the program has sent high school students to France and Spain for culture and language immersion. This is the first time the Massachusetts-based company will offer a program in China.
"When he told me he was going to China I laughed, because of the money and stuff," said his sister Summer, 14. "But he told me he was going. The thing about him is, when he wants something, he goes after it."
Brandon said, "I know what I want to be, and I'll just do anything to get there."
Studying a foreign language is a step toward his goals of becoming a genetic engineer and building a hospital in a Third World country. He's taking another step by getting some college experience this summer in a biotechnology program for high school students at Morgan State University. He is determined to get a doctorate because "that's the highest, you know . . ."
Brandon's tenacity mirrors his mother's. Edna Fleming has waged a full-fledged campaign to raise money for Brandon's trip since they were notified of his acceptance May 27.
School Year Abroad awarded Brandon a $6,000 scholarship toward the $8,900 tuition. The Flemings must pay the rest, plus a $500 enrollment fee; about $2,000 for airfare; and about $600 spending money. The total cost of the trip is about $12,000.
"You just can't part with that kind of big money between May and August," said Mrs. Fleming, who works as a legal secretary and helps her husband, Brunzo Earl Fleming, run a business transporting medical patients. "For me that's a lot of money."
She contacted more than 30 businesses, foundations and individuals in an effort that consumed much of her time. Several turned her away.
"A lot of the places want doctors and lawyers and professional people going out to study," Mrs. Fleming said.
Through her employer, Piper & Marbury, the philanthropic group Black Professional Men Inc. and other donors, Mrs. Fleming raised $2,050. She still is seeking $3,760, but the Flemings are optimistic.
Brandon applied for fast-food jobs to help earn money for the trip, but was not hired because his studies at Morgan limited the time he was available to work, he said.
When he is not at Morgan doing genetic experiments, he is planning for his trip. He is collecting college applications so he can start applying to schools while in China. He made a recent trip to Poly to borrow biology and physics books so he can study for college board tests while he is away. He will be doing all this in addition to months of intensive language study.
In Beijing, the students will get two hours of language instructiodaily and lessons in Chinese history. Brandon will also earn high school credits in English and math.
The classes will be held at a Chinese school where American students will have a chance to join in sports and other activities with local students. Brandon will live in a dormitory weekdays and with a Chinese family on weekends.
He said he will miss a few things while he's away, such as American books, music and food.
And while he may not believe it yet, Brandon's mother thinks he will also miss his family.
"The agreement is, if I can get him going on this trip, then he's supposed to write me once a week," Mrs. Fleming said.