Ben Brown, SJU '96, Shares China Experiences
I chose to take the China study tour trip in 1994 for reasons irrational and rational: I wanted to see what the opposite of Long Prairie, MN was like; it was cheaper to go to China on the study tour than it would have been to stay in Collegeville; and Ann Smithberg was going to China. Ann Smithberg was really cute, and I thought she liked me.
Regardless of the reasons for my trip, the China study tour changed my life and my career path. Before I went to China, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. After I returned, I still had no clue. I was twenty years old and essentially knew nothing about the world or myself, but I knew that whatever I ended up doing it would have something to do with China.
In 1996 I graduated from St. John’s with a door-opening BA in English Literature. In 1997, on February 21st, at 6AM, I decided to go back to China. I remember this moment because I was in St. Cloud, standing outside my car holding a hair dryer hooked up to an extension cord, trying to warm up the car door lock so the key could turn. This is ridiculous. I need to go back to where they tie ducks to the tops of the busses. That was what I thought. It was twelve years ago and I still remember it like it happened last week.
I sent my resume to Dr. Li, the former foreign affairs director at Southwest University in Beibei, and he passed it on to six schools in Chongqing. Three of them offered me teaching positions. I accepted one, sold all my possessions, and landed in 102 degree heat with $0.65 in my pocket in Beibei. The first bus I boarded had twelve ducks tied to the top and a goat in the back. There were crying babies, men with long yellow fingernails smoking cigarettes, and that cacophony of noise that can only come from a tonal language.
Almost four years later I was fluent in Mandarin, living in Shanghai, and working as an account manager for an international real estate firm. I moved back to the US to get a Master’s in International Business, which I will complete in the spring. The St. John’s China study program whet my appetite and made me realize that there is an unimaginably large world out there. I’m currently looking for work in international business consulting, business analysis, or quality control. I have no doubt that my skills and experience qualify me to do a large number of things. My goal is to build a career that will allow me to travel around the world, learning new languages and cultures as I go. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone on the study tour. Or, maybe, it’s more appropriate to say none of this would have happened had Ann Smithberg not gone on the study tour.