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5 Questions for a Future Entrepreneur Learning Mandarin

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We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Carly—a University of Memphis graduate from Mississippi who majored in International Business, Mandarin Chinese, and Asian Studies & International Trade. Looking forward, she aspires to start her own world language tutoring and material publishing company.

1. We’d love to know more about what motivated or influenced your decision to major in Asian Studies & International Trade: How did you arrive at selecting this pathway?

Growing up, seeing Asian cultures, like Chinese and Japanese cultures, portrayed in media was such a formative experience. My community did not have a lot of people like me, so it was nice to see other cultures that had a lot of similarities and values to the Filipino culture I grew up with at home. Although it was the similarities that drew me into these cultures, I started to appreciate both cultures individually and enjoyed learning more about them.

This interest stayed with me, even when I applied to college, and played a huge part in my decision-making process and my final decision. My guidance counselor knew about my interest and suggested that I visit the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis as they had a major that would fit nicely: the Asian Studies & International Trade major.

The rest of my college experience was greatly influenced by that decision, as I actually ended up becoming a triple major in International Business, Mandarin Chinese, and Asian Studies & International Trade because I just continued to follow my interests in a classroom setting.

2. You’ve completed two study abroad stays in France: a two-week exchange program during high school and a semester in Strasbourg during college! What would you say were your biggest takeaways or most memorable moments/lessons from these experiences?

The best part of learning Chinese at the University of Memphis was Lan Zhang, my main Chinese professor. I felt that she was always so supportive and truly cared not just about me, but all of her students. She knew when I was giving my best and encouraged me to work harder when I wasn’t.

Zhang Laoshi (Professor/Teacher Zhang) also always made sure to tell me about different opportunities to further my Chinese. After my first semester taking Chinese, she told me that I would be a good fit for a study abroad program she led that would allow me to complete a year’s worth of classes in five weeks. I ended up participating in that program two times and this ultimately led to my ability to take on the new Chinese major a semester before I graduated within four years.

I truly think that my life would have been different if Zhang Laoshi hadn’t been as supportive as she was throughout my undergraduate career.

3. Did you complete any study abroad experiences as an undergraduate or recent grad? What would you say were the biggest lessons you learned (and/or what most surprised you)?

I was very fortunate to study abroad twice in undergrad to Wuhan, China; once as a recent post-grad to Dalian, China; and even intern abroad as a graduate student in Shanghai!

The biggest lesson that I learned from these experiences (other than obviously improving my Chinese proficiency) was that money should not be the reason you choose not to study abroad.

One of the main reasons I was able to study abroad so much was due to scholarships. In fact, I was able to have the cost of studying abroad fully paid twice because of different scholarships. During my undergraduate study abroad programs, I hunted for every single scholarship available to me. I was able to use funding from my majors’ departments as well as some outside scholarships. On my post-grad trip to Dalian, China, I was lucky enough to be an alternate and then finalist for the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), which was 100% fully funded.

I am so grateful for the help I received in writing my personal statements and in positive letters of recommendation that helped me get the funding I needed to study abroad as many times as I did.

4. Following graduation, you earned an MBA with an international focus... Please tell us more about your internship abroad! What was involved in your work and what was like to live in Shanghai?

Interning abroad was a completely different experience than studying abroad! I’ll be honest, being an introvert, it was so much harder to maintain a social life while I interned in Shanghai. With study abroad programs, you can typically rely on your fellow classmates and planned activities to help kickstart your social life abroad, but I didn’t really have that when I interned abroad. My program did have some social activities, but they were not as frequent as what I had previously experienced with my study abroad programs.

Of course it would depend on the company culture where you intern, but I felt a bit isolated at the company I interned for. Team bonding didn’t seem like a high priority for the company and it didn’t help that I was the only foreigner in the office. Even though I could speak Chinese, I think they were still nervous to speak with me.

However, I did gain a sense of independence during my internship abroad. I was determined to experience as much of the Chinese culture as possible, so even though I would often not have someone to go with, I would hop on the subway and go out to explore whenever possible. It’s an extremely exciting feeling to be able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted, without having to worry about someone else’s schedule.

5. What’s next on your language journey? Could you share with us more about your current work teaching English?

I currently teach English to students all over the world, and it has been an amazing experience! Obviously, world language learning has played a huge role in my life, so to be able to help other people in their own language learning journey with English has been a full-circle moment for me. My experiences learning Chinese have actually made me a better English teacher, as I have been in their shoes.

One day soon, I’d like to start my own world language tutoring and material publishing company. I want to take all of the challenges I experienced and make them easier for other students so that they can gain greater proficiency in their target languages. But for now, I find my job as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher to be extremely satisfying.


Complete this thought: “Learning another language means…”

Learning another language means opening up to another person’s culture and mindset on a whole new level.

I can learn as much as I want about a culture through textbooks and even by visiting the country, but I won’t be able to experience it as thoroughly without learning at least the basics of the language. Learning another language is not just learning another language. It’s also learning a new mindset to experience their culture and even aspects of their life.

I didn’t learn this until I started having problems learning some of the grammar structures in Chinese. I had been thinking and only translating from English into Chinese at that point, but once I allowed myself to start thinking of language as more of a mindset rather than just a filter, I found that I was able to learn Chinese so much better.

Check out our Connect with Chinese and Language Programs & Funding pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.