Ode to Studying Abroad

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Saying that I like studying abroad is an understatement. Saying that I love studying abroad might even be an understatement. Studying abroad is my thing sounds about right.

I am writing this post to explain why you should go abroad and why you should convince those around you to do the same. Fortunately (unfortunately?) my college career is coming to an end a year early, but in my three years I still managed to fit two international stunts into my Finance major. Since I chose to condense my University experience I will refer to my years numerically rather than by title since this gets a bit confusing when I skip Junior Year for Senior Year.

Coming into University, I knew that I wanted to have at least one experience abroad, and I knew it was going to be China since I had a wonderful Taiwanese roommate in high school and had a chance to visit her home my senior year spring break. She inspired me to begin Mandarin classes during my first semester. The natural progression was to spend a year or a semester in China, testing to see if my career could one day lead me here. So that first winter, I applied online through The Experience Abroad Network to spend Fall of my second year in Shanghai. It ended up being cheaper than a semester at my home University and completely changed the rest of my college career.

What I Learned: 

1.  To be independent

2. To network internationally

3. To look outside the box when it comes to jobs

My sixth month stint in Shanghai exposed me to to a culture and a point of view that I would otherwise never have fully experienced at home. I had to navigate my way through the stickiness of Visas, negotiate with Shanghaiese-speaking taxi drivers, and build relationships with new friends in a foreign land.

It is hard to appreciate the difficulty of functioning in a completely foreign place. Even habits such as rolling out of bed and brushing your teeth become difficult when you cannot use the tap water. Walking to the nearest coffee shop for your morning boost is not just around the corner, it may take you miles to find a western-style place where the food and drink looks familiar. But each little daily detail teaches you not to take conveniences for granted. Being forced outside your safety zone is the only way to expand that zone to include new ideas and experiences and to ultimately grow as a person.

Yes, I am a business women. By networking, I do not only mean for business reasons. I look at networking as a personal web of friends, acquaintances, laughs, and experiences shared. Sure, this web can help you find a job, but it also is comprised of your personal advisors, comedians, and cheerleaders. My network includes people from every school I have attended, every country I have traveled to, every job I have held, and the extension of all of these plus my close friends and family. Through this web, I have gotten into schools, traveled around China, accepted jobs, and found opportunities I would otherwise never have been exposed to. Through the contacts I met in China alone, I interned with IBM, traveled to Seoul, Hong Kong, Hainan, and Chicago, and have a great hope of moving back after I graduate for a job.

Jobs are not 9-5 corporate bubbles anymore. I took my first consulting job based off my experience in China. Two of my friends I met in China are both working on startups, one in tech and one in fashion. My home university led me to believe that the best job out of school is a traditionally structured corporate job. But, from seeing all the opportunities alone in China and in Sino-US relations, I have come to see the world as more of a Build-A-Bear: there are pre-set jobs, and there are jobs that you can create for yourself.

China was my first step into the world of startups and entrepreneurship. My most recent, was to set up a FB group for all my fellow students at the LSE to connect over our passion for entrepreneurship. In two hours, there were 60 group requests. You do not need to go at the world alone.

Finding your passion can also mean building it. Do so by externalizing yourself, by pushing outside your comfort zone and abroad!

 

 

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East versus West: The Paradox of Beauty

I’m 5’10in and my complexion is true to my near-100% british ancestry. So when I touched down in Shanghai, not only did I stand ten inches taller than the average citizen, I also emitted a beacon of whiteness. In public places, I would have people come up and touch my hand or ask for photos. A few people would even take photos of me on their smartphones while pretending to be occupied elsewhere. FYI- it is pretty obvious when a photo is being taken of you- especially when the flash goes off.

Even at home, I am taller than average, but being in China exacerbated all these differences to the point where I wasn’t just a minority, I was the object of passerby’s attention. I was lucky to have many good Chinese girlfriends who walked me through this process. In asian culture, the whiter the skin, the prettier the girl. If you look at Chinese beauty ads, the model’s skin is retouched to a pearly white sheen. Wandering through department stores in Korea and China led to the same conclusion, all the creams and moisturizers promised whitening solutions.

But that is exactly the opposite of what I find at home. I have friends spending their break between classes to go lay in tanning beds. Sephora in Philadelphia or NYC is full of bronzing and darkening lotions. Just check out Shiseido China’s photos promising “white lucent” and 100% skin protection to US Shiseido’s “tinted moisturizer” photos. Just look at the beach in the summer: most Americans are baring their skin to the sun, while their Chinese-American counterparts use sun umbrellas and over-sized hats. So what gives?

Should you use the chemicals or the sun to darken your skin and be the envy of the West or bleach it whiter as they do in the East?

How about just loving your skin and your complexion! The sun provides a necessary dose of Vitamin D, but also deals out sun cancer. So be careful, protect yourself, and love your body. You are beautiful, no matter the current beauty fads.

And yes- those are tan lines from outdoor swim season.

Matching Up China and the US

CNBC

CNBC

In university, I devoted my studies to Finance and the Chinese language and culture. So when I went to study abroad in China, everyone half-expected it, but I still received poignant remarks about eating chicken feet and being safe with a different government and a different set of rules. What bothered me the most, however, was when people said that China was “taking over the world” or warned me about the restrictiveness of the Chinese government. I had a brilliant time traveling through Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, and even Hainan “the Hawai’i of China.” I had a life-changing job, studied at a top international university, met an incredible network of people, and developed a love for the people (and food) of China. I would recommend this study abroad experience to everyone!

I found this infographic on Richard Brubaker’s site. Richard is a man renowned for this experience as a consultant and teacher in the Chinese landscape and I have found his work and blog to be a true thermometer to ideas and movement in China. We have numbers thrust upon us everyday, from every new source imaginable. Sometimes an illustration of the culmination of these ideas puts things in perspective.

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    Jessie

    Jessie

    Entrepreneur, traveler, adventure-finder.

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