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Maryan Escarfullett: “Learning Chinese Has Transformed Me”

maryannThe past year I’ve been living and studying for a master degree in International Studies at the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. But, my motivation and my decision to live in China went back to my time at TCNJ. At TCNJ, enrolled as a freshman in Dr. Mi’s Chinese 101 class I would have never been able to imagine that I would end up spending a quarter of my undergraduate experience living in China. Even more unimaginable is that I graduated with a self-designed major in Chinese language and culture in 2012. Back then, my decision to commit so much time and energy to Chinese-American studies must have also come as a surprise to both the Chinese faculty and the department. Nonetheless, I was fortunate enough to have worked with the faculty and staff at TCNJ in the WLC department.

Not only were Dr. Mi and Professor Liu approachable and accommodating, but they were also enthusiastic and helpful. Studying a new language, studying abroad, and choosing to live in another country after graduation is never easy. But these choices are not without their rewards. Immersing yourself in another culture teaches who you really are, and what values you want to embody by exposing you to people that think and live differently. You get to see how other governments function, how different economic systems affect the choices people make, and the humanistic values that trump our differences. Most importantly, you learn the value of hard work.

maryann5Self-designing a major in Chinese Language and Culture Studies, and a new study abroad program was a challenging, but rewarding experience. All of the work was worth it, because the global studies department, the history department including Dr. Shao and Dr. Weinstein and the world languages department all came together to give me the opportunity to receive the education I wanted. It wasn’t until I left TCNJ, and came to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center that I realized how amazing it is to have TCNJ professors at your disposal. TCNJ’s professors are receptive to working with you on projects outside of the classroom, they want to see you grow, and will help you figure out what you want to pursue academically and career-wise as long as you’re willing to be self-motivated.

maryann2With that being said, the greatest skill you’ll ever need to master both inside and outside the classroom is the ability to remain self-motivated. It is self-motivation, persistence, and stubbornness that will help you achieve your academic and career goals. If I were to give advice to current TCNJ students, it would be that you need to have the vision to see what you don’t like about your environment and change it so that it is the type of environment that you want to be in and helps you flourish. At same time work hard to earn the opportunities that you’re surrounded by at TCNJ, and don’t be afraid to create your own path and build your own career. Be stubborn enough to say, “this is what I want to study,” “this is where I want to work,” or even “this is where I want to live,” and persistent enough to make these goals a reality. And don’t forget to treat your professors and the staff with the respect they deserve so that when you need their help, they won’t turn you away. Whether it’s choosing to study abroad for a semester, or to live in another country after graduation, remember that the people at TCNJ are there to help you, so make best use of your time there.

maryann6China’s economic and political rise in our international order has many positive and negative consequences for Americans. On the one hand, opportunities for international and financial cooperation are increasing. Five year visas for mid-career professionals are being instituted in Beijing. Policy makers in Beijing and Washington are working to make resources and capital to flow more freely between America and China by lowering the barriers between direct investments in different industries. On the other hand, the cost of business and international cooperation between China and America is also rising. More often than not students and businessmen alike believe they can come to China and get rich quickly without having a specialized skill set. They believe that the rules of doing business in China that existed in the post-1980s opening up reforms still apply. The same can be said for their Chinese counterparts that want to come to America to study. Neither party understands that entry-level barriers such as language skills, work experience and cultural understanding are getting higher. Competition for existing opportunities is also increasing as a result of various private and government funded initiatives such as Project Pengyou, the 100,000 Strong initiatives, Confucius Institutes and the recent creation of a $300 million scholarship for study in China by the private-equity tycoon Stephen A. Schwarzman. That’s obvious not only in the amount of students who come to China to study every year, but even in the unintended consequences of Sino-American relations–the constant shifting of jobs for mid-career workers, and for workers with limited education or only entry-level skills in both America and China.

At the same time, in the dynamic Sino-American relations there are an increasing number of opportunities in various sectors–technology, financial, educational, and nongovernmental to name a few—for the budding sinologists and businessmen willing to commit to a career involving China. Improving your Chinese skills if you’re a novice, understanding the politics behind the CCP, or marketing your specialized skill sets while competing with Chinese competitors are the initial challenges you will face when first entering China. Yet, the pros of studying Chinese and working in the Chinese sphere still outweigh the cons. Without a doubt the best way to study Chinese and to gain cultural understanding of business practices is to directly enroll in an intense language immersion program in China sponsored by an American institution. My personal favorite is the China Studies Institute at Beijing University, although IUP is another preferable alternative. For those that do not have the ability of committing to a language immersion program, one-on-one tutoring is a great option for increasing your Chinese skills. The growing number of institutions and the Confucius Institutes provide scholarships and opportunities for students of all ages.

maryann8Above all else, TCNJ students should keep in mind that as the opportunities in China grow and change, so will the conditions they face. The solidification of China’s place in international institutions such as the WTO, the increasing popularity of Chinese culture and increasing standard of living in China means that our future challenges when cooperating with China are the ones that we are not yet prepared for. No longer will the opportunity be finding cheap labor, and easy business opportunities in China. Instead the challenge will be to find a way to use your Chinese skills, and specialized career skills to make the China sphere work for you in America too. That might mean applying your skills to a career involving policy that affects Chinese-American relations by understanding the political nuances of the CCP and China’s foreign policy. Or it might mean applying your language skills in a way that helps you communicate with a lot of the investors, students, and professors interested in investing in America too. You might even end up as a start-up cultural consultant, a journalist and a critic of society and cultural or an academic coordinator that organizes exchange programs. It’s up to you to balance the pros and cons of working with or in China. As a TCNJ student you must above all else find a way to have a strong literacy and a foothold in both cultures, in both economies, and in both environments by understanding the values that exist in each society, and finding a way to make them work for you.

maryann9Maryan Escarfullett is currently a first-year master’s candidate at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. She can be reached via e-mail at

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