Opinion | Op-eds

The global connection

“What are you doing here in China?”

It’s hard to explain what it is I do, mostly because it’s not the easiest thing to simplify in a five-minute conversation.

As the co-founder and senior vice president of Global China Connection, I manage the world’s largest international-China student network. That’s 40 chapters at 40 universities, with over 1,000 of the world’s most capable and ambitious students.

Of course, I’m also realizing that, in China, my status as a grandson, son, and older brother to two younger siblings is amplified.

The same can be said for being ethnically Chinese while holding a U.S. passport in the crowded airport express.

“What are you doing here in China?”

I have participated in collaborative group enterprises my entire life, but until this past summer, I had never fully understood the true potential power of “we.”

A year after founding GCC with my close friend Gavin Newton-Tanzer, CC ’11, I returned to China with him and four other friends—GCC Vice President Keith Miao, CC ’12, Director of Network Management David Zhu, CC ’11, Director of China Affairs Yu Xiao, SEAS ’12, Columbia Chapter President Alice Zhang, CC ’12. Over a span of four months, we set out to solidify GCC’s presence in China, and oversee the educational, community engagement, and internship programs we offer to college students and young professionals around the world.

Clichés aside, it was the best summer ever.

We were hosted as delegates by the student government unions—the future leaders of China—at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Renmin University, Beijing Normal University, and many others.

We were invited to China’s first-ever “Global Think Tank Summit” in July, and sat among the likes of former president Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen Jiabao, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and two of Columbia’s finest educators— professor of economics and Nobel laureate Robert Mundell and Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute. The event also featured numerous other luminaries of the past quarter century in fields such as politics, industry, and academia.

We held our second conference–Envisioning China’s Development–at Peking University on July 18. Over 250 students from 30 different universities attended.

We were sponsored by the China-based Everbright Bank to travel to Henan province for a weekend to give a presentation titled “Dreams and Realities” to 350 Chinese students. We met with top banking officials in Zhengzhou, and ate dinner with the mayor of Xinzheng.

We were featured on China Central Television and Sina.com.We were also featured in publications such as BQ Magazine and Beijing Youth Daily. We had the opportunity to speak on “A Date with Luyu,” hosted by Chen Luyu, “China’s Oprah,” and to speak with Oprah Winfrey herself through a live video-feed.

Big rock, big splash. That’s what we were looking to do and did, and by no means did we pick a small pond.

“What are you doing here in China?”

With my blue Victorinox backpack bursting at its seams and zippers, I rush up the stairs of Bridge Café at 12:15 p.m., 15 minutes late for my private daily four-hour Mandarin lesson. I scan the room—it’s tastefully homey and charmingly familiar. As always, I’m met by the smiles of the Bridge waitresses. My tutor signals for me to come sit down. As I start apologizing, a waitress timidly approaches and asks if I’ll have the usual. I nod and begin to discuss my weekend with my tutor.

I could speak Mandarin more fluently.

I’m an American-born-Chinese, which means I’m an American of Chinese descent. I am American but do not look American—I look Chinese but am not Chinese. This is a confusing circumstance.

Coming to China this time made me see things clearly.

This summer made me realize how fortunate I am to have a passion and a means to pursue it . It made me realize how much more I want in life than a white collar, I-banking job on Wall Street (like all the other financial engineering majors), and that not only am I capable of achieving that life, I’m entitled to it.

It made me realize how I want to differentiate myself from other American-born-Chinese, and how determined I am to both unite and empower us.

It made me realize that the only way I can make my voice heard is by doing remarkable things. It made me realize that the only way to do remarkable things is by working with remarkable people and having remarkable friends.

Here’s to them. Here’s to the summer of 2009.

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