HomeNews & Views Ask Away: 5 Questions with an NYU Shanghai Senior

Ask Away: 5 Questions with an NYU Shanghai Senior


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

Meet Maddie—a Business & Marketing major with plans to return to the U.S. from a four-year degree in China to work for IBM. Her advice? Be comfortable with the uncomfortable! 

ASK AWAY - Maddie banner photo

1. When did you begin to learn Mandarin and why? Why is learning languages important for other U.S. students?

I began learning Chinese at my high school in the 10th grade. It was a pilot program at our school, and I really didn’t know anything about Chinese. I didn’t even know what “hello” was. I took the course because I wanted something new and exciting to learn. I was also taking French at the time, and I wanted to start learning something different. The course was mainly online. I have to say that I wanted to quit after the first day, because the pronunciation was so hard. I stuck it out, though, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t.

Language learning is so important in the U.S. We may feel very isolated, but we are one of the only countries that does not learn at least one other language as a child. When I came to college, almost all of my friends from other countries had learned two, if not more, languages. It keeps you worldly and allows you to communicate with more people than you would have if you only knew English. It is honestly a disadvantage if you only know one language, especially in this globalized economy.

2. Tell us a little about your college program, NYU Shanghai, and why you chose to attend.

NYU Shanghai is a four-year degree granting campus linked with NYU New York. You begin your studies in Shanghai, China, when you are a freshmen and spend up to three and half years in Shanghai and then a semester somewhere else of your choosing. It is split evenly between international students (those from Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Australia) and Chinese national students.

As an international student, it is a requirement that you at least pass the intermediate level of Chinese in order to graduate from the school. The program is very rigorous, but we choose to live here, so it is essential to our day-to-day life. On an average day, you are speaking to Chinese people on and off campus at least 4-5 times just to survive, order food, call a cab, etc.

I chose this program for the opportunity to grow and challenge myself.

It is not your typical college experience, and it’s definitely not for everyone, but I have seen myself transform over these last four years into an intelligent, capable, worldly, well-traveled woman.

These are traits I believe the school instilled in me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

3. As someone completing a four-year degree overseas, we bet you’ve got great advice for anyone who may be nervous about jumping into language and cultural immersion during a study abroad! What would you say to them?

I always like to say that people should be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Do not fool yourself into thinking that doing a language or cultural immersion program is easy. It is not. But what is amazing about these opportunities is how much you can learn and grow from just being out of your comfort zone.

I try to find a least one instance a day that is going to challenge me. Sometimes that is just trying to find a new place to eat, or it can be something bigger like arranging a trip. No matter what it is, it keeps me on my toes and thinking. I think that is the most important part about doing anything—at home or abroad. Keep yourself engaged, don’t judge, and try to learn something new from the experience. Things will go wrong, but half the fun is finding solutions to all the issues that arise!

4. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a result of knowing the Chinese language and culture?

I think the biggest lesson for me was learning how different two cultures can really be, but understanding that in the end we all get up in the morning and put our shoes on. There will still be things I cannot wrap my head around, regarding why this culture does x, y, z this way or why I do it that way.

I think the biggest lesson I learned was acceptance. Even if you think your way is better or their way is fundamentally wrong, it is more satisfying to observe and understand where the other culture is coming from.

China has a deeply rooted culture, one that goes back 5,000 years. So, when I see something that I think is questionable, I have to take a step back: Who am I to tell them that I think their way is right or wrong? It is far more interesting to gain a new perspective as to why they choose to do the things they do than immediately dispel it and consider it wrong.

5. What’s next: How does Mandarin figure in your professional dreams?

Upon graduation, I will be employed with IBM’s Consulting by Degrees program as a business transformation consultant. I am very excited to be moving to Boston in the summer of 2018, with the hope that some of my projects will take me back to China because of my knowledge of Chinese. I have always seen myself traveling back and forth from the U.S. to China—and around the world—so consulting gives me the unique opportunity to do just that! I am so excited about this next phase of my life, while still enjoying my last year as an undergrad studying in the greatest city in the world.

Interested in the opportunities that Mandarin Chinese or another language could unlock for you? Choose Your Language and explore programs, scholarships, testimonials, and blogs. 

Does one of the above questions speak to you? Share your answer by joining the conversation @LeadWLanguages on social media!