Many of my school friends still make a funny face when I tell them that I studied Mandarin Chinese at University. It isn’t the most obvious of courses to choose, especially as I admit I didn’t really know exactly where China was when I left school.
I took a year out between finishing school and starting University. I wanted to earn a bit of money, and more importantly, I wanted to travel the world. Originally my plan was to return from these adventures to take up a place studying German and Russian at Leeds University, having always been a “˜languages person’ at school and secretly desperate to become a spy, but my time abroad changed my mind.
I had decided to head to China. Shanghai, to be precise. I spent 3 months living there, working for a business magazines editing the English, and trying to understand the city. Everything was different; the culture was so vastly removed from anything I knew, even though Shanghai is a huge, cosmopolitan city, and the language was an incomprehensible mystery. Despite being something of an outsider, however, I was enjoying myself immensely. So much so, in fact, that I started to wonder if maybe I had signed up for the wrong course!
After a good few weeks of agonising, I realised I should at least check if changing my degree course were even a possibility. I called the University admissions office and asked if there might be a way to switch, and as luck would have it, there was. All I had to do was write a formal letter of request, and I was away – 4 years later, one of which was spent in Taiwan, and half on another for which I was in Germany, I graduated with a degree in Chinese and German.
What felt like a scary, irrational leap at the time, has turned out to be the best decision I ever made.
On graduating I moved back out to China, but this time to Beijing. The Olympics were looming and the atmosphere was pure excitement. I found an internship to last around 6 months, and following that, after some intensive and determined pestering on my part, (I was told three times that they weren’t hiring but was persistent and fortunately, was in the right place at the right time) I was hired as a Fixer/Interpreter by BBC Sport for the duration of the games.
Almost as soon as the final firework faded from the closing ceremony I returned to London to begin the WPP Marketing Fellowship, a fantastic 3 year programme run by the world’s largest communications services group. I had applied for this from China and was interviewed initially by telephone. Since then I have returned to China a number of times, for business and for pleasure, and I still enjoy it every time.
I chose to study Chinese simply because I liked the country, and loved the culture. I am sure this passion helped me to get the best degree I could, and from there, has helped me to make choices that were right for me, and have got me to where I am now.