Posted by Wendi Zhang (CETI and DFJ Dragon Fund-Shanghai, China)
I recently graduated from MIT with a double major in management science and mathematics. Although I was born in China, I spent most of my life to date in a Houston suburb called Pearland, which, despite its name, actually does not have pears. I came to MIT wanting to do something international and business-related and exciting and new.
A month into my life at MIT, when I walked into the presentation for the MIT China Educational Technology Initiative (CETI), little did I know that I was about to immerse myself in what was to become the most meaningful summer of my life. I was so touched by the pictures and stories of previous CETI participants; images of them interacting gracefully with the villagers of ShanXi’s beautiful karst peaks area, and funny accounts of them being interviewed and filmed for the local TV station while eating in a street-side eatery in southern China.
CETI brought new knowledge, perspectives, and direction to my life. I was given the chance to work with three MIT students from the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. We worked together to develop a three-week, mixed curriculum of technical, communications, and fun content for students at two prestigious Chinese universities, Tsinghua University and Xi’an Jiaotong University. Although we were the teachers, I felt like our students taught us just as much as we taught them, if not more. I learned not only about the closeness of the Chinese university community and the unique eating culture among close friends, but also the thoughts, motivations, and hopes of our students; and, moreover, why Chinese students do certain things differently than those of us from the U.S.
I remember listening to some of the bright-eyed and energetic students in our Tsinghua class talk about their grand goals of eventually founding the next Microsofts of China. Just two years earlier, when I asked computer science undergraduates in Beijing about what they wanted to do, the most popular answer was to work for Microsoft. This change highlighted to me the increasingly entrepreneurial mindset of the Chinese population. It made me very excited to potentially be involved in the changing business environment in China.
My team also took many side trips in between our CETI teaching days. Through these trips, I realized how complicated China was – that it’s not just a country with a simple, homogenous culture, but it is a hotpot of many different groups with different traditions living in different places. My group was able to visit ethnic minority concentrated communities and it took our appreciation of China’s diversity to a new level. I remember on a train to Tai Shan, my teammates Mike Klein and Silvia Robles, who looked anything but typical Chinese, were mistaken by the Chinese locals as people from the Hui Muslim minority group. I also had my experiences being mistaken for someone else. I debated with a small shop owner in Beijing about whether I am from the Korean minority group or not. He insisted that I was, even though I kept on telling him I was not.
By the end of that summer, I gained a better understanding of how China and Chinese people work and formed new ideas of how to achieve potential synergies between U.S. and China for my future career.
Since my experience in CETI, I craved for another summer in China, except this time – I wanted to explore the professional opportunities there. I found the perfect internship through MIT-China that blended both of my interests in international travel and business. The internship site was at a U.S.-China joint venture capital firm in Shanghai called DFJ Dragon Fund. From my interactions with students from the CETI program and classes I have taken as part of my MIT Applied International Studies minor, I have learned that both the venture capital and entrepreneurship environment in China is extremely active at the moment. To experience this before I graduated was really a dream come true.
During my ten-week internship, I had the chance to work on investment projects related to innovative Chinese wireless technology startups, participate in fundraising activities for the firm, improve my language skills through conducting countless interviews and meetings in Chinese, attend large investment conferences and game exhibitions, and meet many prominent venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. It was quite an amazing experience. I came to MIT wanting to do something international and business-related and exciting and new – and thanks to MIT’s MISTI international programs, I have found that something…more than just once.