Alumni Spotlight: Daniel T

Barely qualifying as a "Millennial" (on the old end of the spectrum), Daniel decided to prolong his youth by starting a company in the bar and beverage industry in Shanghai.

Why did you choose this program?

Silk Mandarin and my teacher, Jasmine Zhou, came recommended by a friend whose Chinese went from atrocious to more-than-passable seemingly overnight (or at least she fooled me). My friend attributed her quick progress to both Jasmine's dedication and adaptability as a teacher and to Silk's organic approach to learning Chinese. I interviewed a few other teachers, but Silk was an easy choice.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

I found Silk Mandarin through my own network, so this question does not apply to me. However, recalling my own study abroad experiences, I think it is useful for a program to offer students access to resources if they need them without being overbearing.

In my opinion, study abroad experiences are best when you are free to make your own way. Over twenty years from my first study abroad experience, the best stories are from the times I had to figure things out on my own.

I find overly manicured programs get in the way of discovery and learning, but it is useful to have contacts and support for emergencies.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Go, go, go abroad, and suspend preconceptions, judgment, and stereotypes. China, specifically, will surprise and occasionally disorient you but savor those moments. The worst thing that could happen to you probably is not that bad, and you will emerge with some of the best memories and stories of your life.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I answer this question with the caveat that my schedule prevents me from regularly attending class, but when I do I am taking 90-minute evening classes twice per week. Ideally, I would spend more time studying between classes, but with limited time to study, my teacher and I often begin class reviewing previous lessons before diving into new material.

Despite the infrequency of my classes, they are a highlight of my China experience, and anyone able to fully immerse themselves in Chinese study would have an even more rewarding experience.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Not so much a fear but a concern I expressed to my teacher before starting class was that I would have limited time to devote to class and study and may have periods of time where I would be unable to attend class for several weeks in a row. The only way to overcome this would be to sacrifice something else in my schedule in favor of Chinese study or to hire a teacher to come to my office. This is an aspiration and resolution for the new year.

Is there any other advice for prospective travelers?

I have spent nearly a third of my life abroad, and while my views on travel and life in a foreign country may have evolved, I never underestimate the value of cultural exchange and the responsibility that comes with being a foreigner abroad.

Many people you meet will have never been abroad and may have perceptions about you or your home that you disagree with. Remember that being abroad means that you are both a guest and an ambassador. Being inherently "different" will expose you to some of the most rewarding and challenging interactions of your life. Embrace those moments, preserve and cultivate your empathy, remember the golden rule, and smile.