(Yes, I have a self-assigned seat. Don’t act surprised. You already know I am a creature who thrives off structure and routines…Call me OCD, whatever.)
I cannot believe I am sitting here about to write my last Sunday post of the school year.
Wow. Year one DONE. What a whirlwind adventure it has been!
Where do I ever start?! I know I simply cannot let myself board my Korean Air flight from Hong Kong to JFK this Tuesday without first writing a reflection in the bloggie, so here it goes.
Part I: How am I feeling?
Proud. Relieved. Grateful. Antsy. Terrified. Yes, in that order, too. These are the first words that came to mind when reflecting on the completion of my school year.
Proud? Yes, I admit. I do feel quite proud of myself. Coming to Shenzhen to study business was a big BIG leap outside of my comfort zone. Not only did I know absolutely nothing about Shenzhen, I also knew nothing about business (I think I knew less about business though). When I say nothing, I literally mean NOTHINGGGG. As in, completely blank slate. I never took a single math course in college. I avoided the business section of the newspaper because I would get confused after the first sentence, or even word…intimidated by unfamiliar terminology. To paint an even better picture, when my Operations Management professor (Professor Huang) asked me my opinion of the American multinational corporation, Boeing, on day one of class in September, I thought he was talking about Bose (a company specializing in audio equipment) and mixed up the two (entirely different) companies…”Oh, I just LOVE their headphones! Their stereo system is excellent quality, too” I replied in front of the entire class of 50+ students. (Background giggles and murmurs broke out). He tried not to outwardly express his disbelief that I, an American and native English speaker, did not know the American company, Boeing. He obviously failed at concealing his utter shock and made me feel like a total idiot. I will never make that mistake again. Duh, they make airplanes…Everyone knows that! ;) Hey, at least both of the companies are American…It makes my mistake a bit more excusable! Let’s just say, I felt a lot like Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde on her first day of Harvard Law School…#BlondeMoment. You might not get the reference, but I know my family will…We have only seen that movie 100+ times or so (during every long car ride since it’s one of the only DVDs we own)…Even my dad can quote the entire movie for you (*guilty confession*).
In addition to having zero business background and moving to an entirely new city across the world from my family, I knew no one. Not a soul. As if it wasn’t hard enough not having any friends or relatives in Shenzhen, being the only American girl certainly did not facilitate the transition. As I already mentioned in one of my earlier posts, it was initially difficult and stressful going from Shanghai (surrounded by fellow Americans, a boyfriend, and close friends) to my campus in Shenzhen with almost nobody sharing my culture or background (or native language for that matter). It was lonely. I felt isolated. I doubted my decision to start over. What in the world was I doing here?! I remember calling my mom my first week hysterically sobbing “I don’t think I can do this...”
Change is hard. The unknown (especially in a foreign country) is beyond daunting. Yet, I stuck it out. I truly embraced the unknown and let myself accept my new life here. I needed to let go of my amazing adventures in Shanghai, stop comparing the present to the past, and allow myself to take advantage of an entirely different but exhilarating new experience.
“Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be.”
That is precisely what I did. This is why I am proud.
I did it. (Hence, feeling “relieved”). I took this huge leap of faith and proved to myself that not only could I “get through” but that I could achieve great academic success and form meaningful lifelong friendships with classmates from around the globe. I am ending year one with an A- average (A+ in three classes: Business Math, Strategic Management and China Studies, woo woo!) and best friends from Zimbabwe, Israel, Tunisia, India, Canada, Belgium, Germany, UK, Russia, just to name a few. Now, THAT is just plain AWESOME. I am truly internationalized. Once afraid of being the only American, I now wouldn’t want it any other way. Everyone on this planet has a unique life story and abundant experiences to share. Listening to so many different stories from my international classmates has undoubtedly been one of the most valuable aspects of my experience thus far. Fortune painted a vivid picture of the tribal traditions and customs of everyday life in her Zimbabwean village, Harsh introduced me to authentic foods that he eats in India when we dined at Bollywood Café in Shenzhen (it was actually quite authentic according to Harsh), Khayem cooked me Brik (a special Tunisian dish) and educated me on Ramadan, my Belgian friends had me try real Belgian beer…Leaping out of my comfort zone and completely opening myself up to new friendships and cultures has forever transformed my life, sense of self, and world view. This explains why I am feeling “grateful”.
We are all people. We all have stories. Take some time to listen and learn from those around you. Life is too short to always stick to what is cozy and familiar.
“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Oh, and I now read the business section of the New York Times every morning. Come on, try asking me about Boeing company now! Actually, please don't. I still know nothing about them, but I DO know they don’t make headphones :)
Part II: My greatest takeaways.
Well, considering my mind was a blank slate in the world of business on day one, I have made a lot of progress. I certainly learned a lot of new terminology, best practices, business ethics, strategic decision-making tools, etc., which have enabled me to actively participate in (and even lead) professional conversations and better understand the world around me. Everything just makes so much more sense now! I am pretty sure that I would not have fully understood the financial crisis in Greece or the China Stock Market crash earlier in the school year. Studying business, whether or not it ultimately becomes my career, is certainly helping me to become a more informed and responsible citizen of the world.
Yes, I can now analyze a Harvard Business Review case, conduct a SWOT analysis to determine a firm’s competitive advantage, clearly communicate an effective marketing mix for a target company, develop a regression model using STATA software, blah blah blah…There is one thing I have learned, however, that clearly stands out from the rest. That is, I have learned how to work productively with and manage a truly diverse and international group of individuals. As one of the only native English speakers in the majority of my classes, I was consistently nominated as the “Group Leader” for group projects and reports. It was my responsibility to communicate with the group, assign tasks and deadlines, coordinate meetings, and ensure everyone contributed to the final product. With so many different cultures, languages, perspectives and work styles, this was definitely not easy. Oftentimes, this meant it was my job to have those “difficult conversations” with group members who were not following through on their task. These conversations are hard enough when they are with a fellow American, but become significantly more challenging when cultural barriers and misunderstanding is added to the mix. These conversations were considerably more difficult with my Chinese peers, for Chinese people don't typically have these sorts of confrontational conversations since Chinese culture strongly emphasizes not "losing face". I had a lot of practice managing a range of diverse groups this year. One of my groups, for example, consisted of: 2 Chinese students, one German, one Russian, one Portuguese and me. That’s five different native languages. The ability to organize and manage extremely diverse groups of people is definitely a transferrable skill that I will be able to carry with me upon graduation and beyond.
Part III: What’s next?
This is where the feelings of “antsy” and “terrified” come into the picture. Why antsy? I am ready to work. I feel ready to use the knowledge and skills I acquired this year and put them into action. Bring it on! There is still a ton I don’t know (obviously), but learning is an ongoing process. I feel very ready to take my next leap outside my comfort zone into the big scary world of vast opportunities. At the same time, this TERRIFIES me. I have completed year one, yet I still have no freakin’ clue what I want to do career-wise. Yikes! What kind of company do I want to work for? What industry? What country? (Or rather, which continent?) Do I want to stay in education, a field for which I am extremely passionate, or try the corporate world? …What about a boyfriend? Eh, that can wait ;) So many unknowns. It is all terrifying, but incredibly exciting at the same time. I am just going to roll with it!
“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you” –Ralph Waldo Emerson.
So, what’s next on the agenda? Well…I will be in America in a few days! I am going to be doing my Birthright trip to Israel for 10 days, visiting my best friend Jeanne in North Carolina and then spending a few weeks in Cape Cod…No complaints here. I am one lucky gal and feel very appreciative that I get to have these opportunities. It is certainly a privilege.
On August 25th, I will be headed back to Shenzhen to finish up my studies! I only have two more classes I need to take (Financial Accounting and one elective course) and then will be writing my graduate thesis. I need help thinking of a thesis topic, so if you have any ideas please share! The goods news is that I don’t need to physically be on campus to write my thesis, I just need to show up in June with it completed and ready to successfully defend in front of a panel. An internship or part-time job in America (preferably California) from December-June while working on my thesis seems like a real possibility…
This concludes my reflection on year one. (Partly because my laptop is about to die and I do not have my charger with me). To all my blog followers, thank you for all your support and encouragement during my rollercoaster of a journey. I hope you have all enjoyed my updates and have been able to visualize my life here in Shenzhen. Writing about my China adventures in my blog is one of my favorite pastimes, and I am already looking forward to continuing the blog in September.