Alumni Spotlight: Monica Lutz

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, 20-year-old Monika Lutz has lived in nine cities, five countries, and three continents. Her experiences in China confirmed her commitment to pursuing a minor in Mandarin and return to the Middle Kingdom for work in the future. Now at Harvard University, she spends her free time salsa dancing, writing, and seeking out the city’s best bubble tea. Want to hear the full story? Support Monika's book project on Kickstarter and check out

Take a gap year in China!

Highlights: The highlight of my travel experience was eating scorpions in Beijing, most probably because I will never forget it (and have the film to prove it!). However, there is no way to compare the amazing educational experience of my time in Beijing to the beauty of Sanya, and the tranquility and good times I had in Suzhou. What I can say is that locations with a higher density of quality bubble tea (also known as tapioca or boba) shops always ranked higher on my list. (Such is the bias that comes with discovering your favorite food while abroad.)

Professionally, I will never forget going button, material, and zipper shopping while I was working for a famous fashion designer. My understanding of clothes will never be the same. Also, my presentation to the Board of Directors of a famous American company while working at a marketing firm gave me a deeper understanding of inter-cultural business relationships, which has made a strong impact on my professional career.

Morning: My mornings typically began around 6:30am because I liked being the first one at the office and getting a head start on my projects before my colleagues came in. That way, I knew exactly which questions I needed clarified and could inquire while I had all of my colleagues’ attention on their way into the office. Before I left to work, I would eat “dan gao” purchased from my favorite shop in People’s Square. It has a sticky, mochi-like consistency with delectable filling. I am certain it is not considered part of a “healthy diet”, but I justify it by eating it first thing in the morning so that I have all day to burn it off.

Monika enjoying her time in China

Afternoon: Afternoons would be spent at the office working on marketing projects after a lunch break with colleagues at a local Chinese restaurant. If I went out alone, I would bring a deck of Chinese flash cards and practice them with my left hand while eating with the right. The locals got a kick out of watching me. But interning is about learning good time management skills, right?

Evening: I can't go a day without exercising, so I typically went for a run after work, then studied for the classes I was taking from my home university. By the time my roommates came home, I would be finishing my Chinese lesson with a local tutor and we would all go out to eat in the local “restaurants” (more like a pick-up window for homemade Chinese food, but delectable!). Several rounds of competitive ping pong, chess, or cards would be played before the night ended (when you are the only girl living with four guys, everything is a competition).