Tsang, Tiffany

Name: Tiffany Tsang
E-mail: ttsang@nd.edu
Location of Study: Shanghai, China 
Program of Study: Summer Business Chinese and Internship in Shanghai
Sponsor(s): Justin Liu


A brief personal bio: 

I’m an American Born Chinese (ABC), born and raised in New York City. I decided to attend Notre Dame because of the genuine sense of community I felt when visiting here. I welcomed that sense of community as I was getting tired of New York City’s competitiveness. Like many Notre Dame students, I struggled finding my perfect major. I went through civil engineering, architecture, math, and now finally settling into a double major in finance and applied and computational math and statistics with a minor in Chinese.   I am currently pursuing an academic track on Financial Math and Actuarial Science. I will be organizing a team to participate in the Rotman International Trading Competition in February 2012. I am also the current Co-President of the Actuarial Club for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

My current major is finance and applied and computational math and statistics. In a few years I see myself working actuarial science or finance with an international firm. These international firms all have major Chinese offices. I would love to be able to take my Chinese proficiency and be able to conduct business in Chinese. This Shanghai Business Chinese and Internship Program with Columbia University would equip me with the skillset to accomplish just that.  By attending this program, I hope to develop a more professional working proficiency in Chinese, as well as experience how the Chinese conduct business on a daily basis. Not only would I be gaining invaluable language acquisition skills but I will also be gaining invaluable professional experience as well.  Academically, professionally, and language acquisition aside, cultural exposure is also very important to me. I am ABC and would love to be given the opportunity to reconnect with my heritage and my culture. Not only would I be able to incorporate Chinese into my future through learning the basics of business in China but I will also be able to reconnect with my past.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

Academically, I hope to be able to learn two semesters of Chinese III during the summer. During my internship with a local Shanghai office, I hope to be able to take the Chinese skills I will have learned during the summer and apply it positively and actively in a meaningful manner. I hope to be able to contribute to projects within the company and not hinder anyone from not knowing Chinese as my native language. In short, I would like to develop a professional working proficiency in Chinese that would allow me to conduct business in Chinese and benefit those working around me.  Socially, I hope to be able to connect with the natives in China and be able to communicate with them in a meaningful manner. I hope to be able to understand and submerge myself into China’s unique culture. And experience my culture and heritage as I have not been able to in the States.  I believe that studying abroad anywhere leads to further personal development and maturity. In order to challenge myself personally and academically, I left New York City to the middle of nowhere: South Bend, Indiana in order to study at the University of Notre Dame. Isolating myself from my friends and family allowed me to develop my personality independent of their influence. I challenged myself by pushing my limits from the boundaries of what I knew to something foreign to me. I hope to push myself even further by crossing international borders. There is a thrill and sense of excitement coupled with anxiety and a sense of exasperation by throwing oneself into foreign territory. But I believe that this experience allows one to grow and develop oneself in such a way that cannot be imitated otherwise. I yearn and welcome for such an experi

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to conduct business in Chinese.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Chinese with native speakers on academic, political, and economical topics.
  3. By the end of the summer, I hope to return to America as a global citizen who has grown personally, culturally, and academically.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

My summer program consists of two parts: a six week intensive Chinese language portion and a four week internship in a Shanghai office. During the four week internship, I would have the opportunity to attend meetings, assist in projects, translate, research, or observe how the Chinese do business; all in Chinese. This summer program also mandates that I take a pledge in which I agree to speak Chinese only, thus fortifying my use of Chinese throughout the program.  The program also includes several excursions to local sites such as Zhou Zhuang, the Shanghai Museum of Civil Development, and the Oriental Pearl Tower. Guest lecturers are also invited to speak to program students, such as the WTO and Issues in Chinese Economic Development and more. All of these events organized by the program help facilitate a more complete immersion into Chinese culture centered on business.  I hope to be able to more fully immerse myself into the Chinese culture by getting to know the people of China. I hope to be able to volunteer for a Chinese organization and visit some rural villages or teach English to children in an effort to gauge the whole picture of China; not just city life.

Reflective Journal Entry 1:

I will be attending Columbia University’s and Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Business Chinese Language and Internship program in Shanghai from May 31st to August 11th. Before heading off to China’s business capital, I spent a few weeks with my family in Canton and Hong Kong. During this time I spoke mostly Cantonese and was anxious to start speaking Mandarin again. Coupled with the fact that I had only been hanging out with my family and no one my age, I got really anxious to finally begin the program so I could finally get away from my grandparents and their old-fashioned traditional Chinese views.

I had also been exploring Hong Kong and Canton like a tourist at this time – checking out new places every day, walking around, trying out the local food, and just being content with not having an agenda. And even though I couldn’t possibly have explored all of Hong Kong or Canton, I was ready for a new scene; I was ready for Shanghai.

But what did I expect of the summer? I thought it would be not as much studying and more touring and having fun in a new city. I thought my Chinese would improve two-fold just by being around and interacting with the natives.

Boy was I wrong.

By the time we started classes, we had daily homework, fifty new vocabulary words a day, the bi-weekly essay, and whatever other preparation for class. We had daily twenty-minute one-on-ones with the teachers and daily hour-and-a-half with our language partner. In the beginning, other than the trips the program had organized for us as excursions, we rarely got to go out and really explore. We mostly hung out and played hold’em or studied in our hotel rooms or in the neighborhood, Xujiahui, which luckily for us, was an urban and lively district.

The number of students in my program was fairly small compared to other programs in Beijing where my friends were studying. We had about 20 students and lived on the fifth and fourth floors of this hotel across the street from campus. We ended up always leaving our hotel doors open and would weave in and out of each other’s rooms just hanging out and having fun. It was a great set up and we quickly became intimate friends.

Getting away from America, from my past, and from future expectations, was a great getaway for me this summer. I forgot about my four-year plan, the pressures of the upcoming junior year internship, and about the many math and business classes I would be taking when I returned. For a few months my heart and mind were at blissful peace and contentedness. It didn’t matter that the work was difficult or time consuming or that I had to wake up at 8 AM for classes or 7 AM for my internship; I was learning the intricacies of the Chinese language alongside the complicated business culture and etiquette. I was living and exploring a new city with new friends. I was thriving in Shanghai. And I’ll be sad to say goodbye.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Although slightly off topic and a little inappropriate, I encountered a unique situation at work yesterday. Or might I say, an after-work experience.

I came to work at Huatai Insurance assuming it would be a normal work day. One of my colleagues came up to me saying “Hope you’re free tonight, department dinner after work!” My presence was called for. Just a normal family-styled dinner with co-workers right? Then my immature and lively 学妹 says to me, “You’ll probably have to drink.”

We arrive at a fancy hotel restaurant and pile into one of their VIP rooms. We started eating dinner and I thought everything would be fine. I’ve heard rumors of Chinese drinking etiquette and frankly I was a little scared. I overheard that the department head was going to 考or test everyone in their drinking ability. Another classmate in the program also frequently went on business dinners with clients and frequently came back to the hotel red in the face and quite intoxicated. I hoped that I wouldn’t be put to the test.

I had also learned a little bit of drinking etiquette in class. There’s a popular idiom that says, 感情深,一口焖. 感情浅,添一添. Which basically just says if your relationship is deep, bottoms up; if your relationship is shallow, take a sip. Well, needless to say, when you’re drinking with your mentor, the department head, the Shanghai branch executive manager and his second-in-command, you have to give him some face (留面子) and take the shot as if he were your best friend.

Nine bottles of red wine. If you’re French, you might want to stop reading. My coworkers drank red wine like shots. Each person had a wine glass and another larger glass filled with red wine. Each person individually refilled their wine glass after gulping down what was already in it. They also do this with 白酒, China’s lethal 50% or higher alcohol distilled from rice. Luckily, I was spared from a 白酒 experience because if it had come to that I probably would have had a lot of trouble finding my way home.

Chinese drinking etiquette. As a newbie, I was to toast to the person (敬酒) with the highest position, then to the second highest, then to the third, etcetera, as a sign of respect. As a newbie, they also had to toast me in order to welcome me to the company. You also have to toast with two hands on your cup. And when toasting, the person with the lower status is to toast his/her cup lower relative to the other person’s cup. Although I guess to give everyone face the higher ups still try and toast lower, but as his subordinate, you have to go even lower.

They also love playing drinking games. As a child I remember playing a game where someone picks a number and then you have to skip a number with that number and its multiples. My co-workers used that game I had frequently played as a child as a drinking game. They also played a game with toothpicks where there are as many toothpicks as there are people and then one person chooses a number of them and hides them in his hand. Whoever guesses correctly, drinks. If no one guesses correctly, everyone takes two drinks.

My mentor (needless to say, a little intoxicated) told me that Chinese people liked to drink around a table at dinner. Not like the parties or other gatherings that Americans are used to. Drinking with your coworkers also aims to bring everyone together and allow for more harmonious work and relations during the day. When being considered for a job, your resume and experience is important, but whether or not you can cooperate and work well with your coworkers is really important, too. It’s all about the 关系 or the relationships you maintain at work. It’s also all about respecting your superiors and preserving the group dynamic. If you have something to say you have to say it in a 委婉or roundabout manner in order to save the other person some face. 关系, and 面子, the forefront of Chinese business etiquette.

Needless to say, it was a very interesting experience and I learned a lot about Chinese drinking culture in a business setting and I learned a lot about my co-workers. It really is a bonding experience and not just an excuse to drink. Cheers to Shanghai experiences!

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Shanghai sucks.

No, not really.

But actually, yes.

A lot of people call Shanghai the New York City of China. Sure. They have People’s Square 人民广场, their own little take of Times Square. They have a large and staggering population of 23 million people, making it the most heavily populated city in China. Its skyline might remind you of New York City’s, or more likely of Chicago’s or some other less impressive city’s skyline. Their subway or 地铁 is new and impressive. But most comparisons stop there.

No matter how modern their地铁is, it sucks. For the first six weeks in Shanghai, I rarely used the地铁. And I’m glad I didn’t have to. Jiaotong University’s campus was right across the street and their International Student’s Classrooms were only a ten minute walk from my hotel. If I ever needed to go anywhere I usually just took a taxi since they’re relatively cheap. But as a working gal, I found myself struggling to take the地铁 for about fifty minutes every day. The Chinese people are everywhere. And to make things worse, they smell bad (because Chinese people don’t believe in deodorant – they don’t even sell it here), they’re pushy, and they have no manners!

I live in New York City – the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps – but even on the MTA, if someone bumped into me I’d still get a quick “sorry.” Not in Shanghai. Everyone is rushing off to work and doesn’t care if they step on a few toes.

And what about the transportation on the streets? Bloody awful. It’s no longer look twice before you walk. It’s more like look six times; twice for cars going both ways, twice for motorcycles going both ways, and a million more times for whatever moving vehicle is doing illegal turns or swerves. It’s an obstacle course on the roads of Shanghai. A life or death obstacle course without any rules.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Shanghai. But part of loving a new city is acknowledging and accepting its flaws. China is still a developing country. Its cities are still lacking. Its people are still lacking. Since the Mao Zedong era ended not too long ago and Deng Xiaoping ushered in his policy of 改革开放 or roughly, Reform and the Open-Door Policy, China and its people have been exposed to a wealth they have never seen before.

And what happens when you give a starving man a banquet? He wants more. He will gorge and gorge on food. What happens when the Chinese people, after years and years of poverty and oppression, are given opportunities to make money? They’ll make money and become greedy. They begin to only think of themselves. And that’s what I believe is the greatest flaw of Chinese society. They only think of themselves.

I’m not saying it’s their fault. If my parents had been starving, if I had been starving, and now I could change that, of course I would look to help my own first. Of course I would make sure the people around me had enough food before I turn my eyes to others.

Its a luxury and a custom that Americans are used to. Americans and other citizens of the leading nations across the globe are comfortable in their status and position so that they can lend a helping hand to those who need it. That they can spend their time thinking and helping others. But from what I have seen, China and its people have yet to achieve this ideal.

But how do Chinese people view Americans? Or any foreigner? Over the summer I have come across many natives from all over China. But for most of these natives, I was their first American friend of acquaintance. Which says a lot when Shanghai is filled with foreigners doing business. The truth of the matter is that its very separated. Natives hang out at native hot spots. Foreigners hang out at the foreign hot spots. My cousin who is a Hong Kong/Australian citizen and is currently working in Shanghai doesn’t have many local friends even though his Chinese is good enough to communicate with them.

The foreign policy between China and other countries doesn’t help the situation either. It is so hard for Chinese citizens to get visas to visit many of the Western country. My aunt was trying to go to Spain for her honeymoon but the process is so long and exhausting. She has to make an itinerary, have a set sum of money in the bank, and just pray that her application goes through. I ask a lot of my family members why they’ve never visited me in the States and they just say cause they can’t get there.

It also doesn’t help that the exchange rates are so off. It is so cheap for an American on an American salary to get by in China. Things here are so cheap. But for a Chinese person to visit abroad, everything is so expensive. Which doesn’t make much sense when you compare salaries. Chinese salaries are low (compared to American salaries) but their cost of living is also low. Their salaries allow them to get by in China. It’s just that their salaries wouldn’t last long in the States.

Nonetheless, I’ve come to love and become accustomed to living in Shanghai. Despite all the cons I’ve lamented on, Shanghai has still treated me very well. Even though I’ve already spent two months in Shanghai and almost three months in China, I’m not ready to leave yet.

China’s cities are all filled with dichotomies. In Shanghai, the modern skyscrapers of Pudong face parallel to the historical 1900s Europen-influenced buildings of the Bund (外滩). There are new high end malls with every luxury brand imaginable like thee IFC mall yet there are malls filled with the cheap clothes that made China famous like 七浦路. There are alleyways of international restaurants just for foreigners like 田子坊 and there are authentic local eats like at 豫园.

Like the dichotomies of my own background – an American born Chinese – being here in China has allowed me to embrace both of my cultures. Grab a burger one day, 生煎the next. Find some foreigners (who are all over the place) to chat with or find some local Shanghainese to 交流 with. Being born and raised with other Chinese people has allowed me to adapt and connect well with others in China. It’s been a great home for me this summer.

It’s easy when you know the language and can walk around with ease. However, even though I studied Business Chinese Three for six weeks, I’m not sure my Chinese improved much speaking-wise. Although my reading and writing has definitely improved. I thought my Chinese speaking would improve simply being around Chinese people. But in Shanghai, the locals speak mostly Shanghainese and a lot of people speak English.

Although to be fair my Chinese has not improved much since I’ve formally taken it up in college. As a first-year I could hold a conversation with the third-years. As a second-year I could still hold a conversation with the third-years. As a business third-year I’ll go out on a limb and say that I can probably hold a conversation with fourth-years. If you want to improve your Chinese, go to Beijing. If you want to learn about business etiquette and amass a vocabulary of business jargon, come to Shanghai.

China is also great if you like Chinese food. And not just Panda Express. I’ve grown up eating Chinese food – Cantonese food to be exact (and everyone knows that Cantonese dishes are the best) – so eating in China is fairly easy for me. A lot of my other classmates have gotten stomachaches and some have even had to go to the hospital. If you’re not ready to embrace authentic, local Chinese food, eating in China will cost a lot since anything “imported” demands a price increase as well.

Shanghai’s Notre Dame alumni has treated me very well, too. You can always count on the Notre Dame family to make you feel at home no matter where you are in the world. My program consists of students from the top colleges across the States – including the Ivies – yet by far, I was the only one who met with so many of my school’s alumni. Only Notre Dame’s alumni are so welcoming and helpful. Only Notre Dame’s alumni will go the extra mile to welcome students to Shanghai. And it’s exactly those alumni that make the SLA grant and my summer abroad possible. And for that I shall be forever grateful.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Last night I had dinner with my 堂哥 who works in Shanghai since I’ll be leaving the country soon. A few of the things he said to me were interesting.

I’ve interned in Shanghai for about a month. But my 堂哥 said that a month isn’t enough to understand China’s business culture. He said it takes about three or four months for the conflict to really kick in.

My 堂哥 is from and has worked in Hong Kong but grew up and attended school in Australia so even for him, working in Shanghai has been quite the learning experience. My 堂哥 works in IT/finance for a Chinese logistics company. Although he started off in the Hong Kong office, he signed a two year contract to be a team leader for the Shanghai office.

His reflections:

In the work place, if workers run into problems they usually hand them over his supervisor or superior to solve.

Workers do not take direction well, they take orders well. In America, you’re given a task and you run with it. In China, you’re given a task and told how to do it.

There’s also a saying that says “有徒弟没师傅.” When there is a disciple, there is no master. That’s why training programs in China are rare – superiors are afraid that if they teach newcomers everything, it would be too much competition for them. What will stop the newcomer from taking the superior’s job? My 堂哥 put it this way – there’s only one bowl of rice. If I teach someone else how to do my job, he will steal from my bowl of rice.

My 堂哥 said that’s why Chinese salaries stay low. Workers here pass things off to their supervisors – most of whom are recruited from overseas. Training programs are lacking. Interns who haven’t graduated yet are barely given any training at all. New hires are only given simple tasks. Supervisors aren’t just consulted, they play too much of a proactive role for a worker to grow and mature properly into a professional. If you simply do grunt work and never strive for better, never show that you can do better, the executive management rewards you on that. However those who take initiative are rewarded with steady raises and leadership opportunities. Unfortunately, my 堂哥says he rarely sees Chinese natives take that initiative.

My 堂哥 continued to rant about how the Chinese IT industry has the hardware but not software. China has advanced technology and the proper environment to thrive – it has the soaring skyscraper, the newest tech – it’s just the people who are trying to fill those skyscrapers that are lacking.

A Notre Dame alumnus who kindly took me out to lunch and showed me around Shanghai offered me this advice: if you’re looking to work in China in the long run, it is better to work for an MNC in the States where there is proper training and promotions and later on transfer internally to a Chinese branch and take on a more authoritative role as team leader or director, etcetera. MNCs won’t transfer you to do grunt work, they’ll transfer you to lead. Comparatively, if you start off from the bottom up in China, training programs and promotions may be lacking. In my 堂哥’s case, when he took the two year contract in Shanghai, he accepted a position two tiers higher than his position in Hong Kong.

In my business textbook, it spoke about how to recruit and attract foreign talent into China. The world knows that China’s industry is booming and developing. There’s a whole country of consumers that are ready to spend money. And that is why there are also a lot of foreign investments into China’s still infantile industries. But, the manpower is still lacking. Compared to Hong Kong, China has significantly less professionals. This problem hampers China’s ability to develop further. Without the right leadership to take hold of China’s potential, the country’s unprecedented speed of development and growth will cease.

Maybe I’m not giving them enough credit. Economic reform only began some thirty odd years ago. China’s speed of development is already impressive. China’s still learning. Let’s hope they learn quickly.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

The Chinese language is one of the hardest languages to properly learn. But it’s also a very rewarding process. While in Shanghai, I did not think that my Chinese improved as much as I hoped. But after coming back to the States, I realized that my Chinese language acquisition has improved at least one’s year of study here at Notre Dame. My original goals were to (1) conduct business in Chinese, (2) communicate in Chinese with native speakers on academic, political, and economical topics, and (3) return to America as a global citizen who has grown personally, culturally, and academically. I do believe that I have achieved parts of my goal. Although I may not be able to conduct business or have political conversations like a seasoned pro, I have made leaps and bounds in regards to being able to do so.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

I learned a lot about the insurance industry and business in China. I also learned about the many flaws and drawbacks of conducting or participating in business in China. To be honest, after China overtook Japan as the world’s second biggest economy, I thought business in China would be similar to that in the U.S. However, there are still many obstacles that exist in China that do not in the States. I used to have a glossy-eyed outlook on being able to conquer the business industry in China. After being exposed to it, I know that I still have a lot to learn and a long ways to go. And even though my Chinese has improved and my language ability may be considered good on Notre Dame’s campus, I still struggle with holding an in-depth and deep conversation with natives.  Learning a second language is a process that never ends.For those who plan on studying abroad in China, I advise you to keep your eyes and ears open and just absorb everything that China has to offer. Interact with natives and don’t forget to have fun in this new country and be respectful of the natives there!

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

Although this semester I will not be taking Chinese again on campus due to my other academic conflicts, I still plan on actively using and applying my Chinese and actively participating in Chinese cultural events on campus. My SLA Grant experience will forever play a big role in my future. I am entertaining the thought of interning in China next summer in order to gauge even more exposure and understanding of business in China and to further develop my Chinese past the classroom sitting.My summer in Shanghai will be helpful not only towards things pertaining to China and its language, business etiquette, and culture, but towards helping me acclimate to any type of new situation that may span from adjusting to a new country, a new culture, or new people.My summer in Shanghai has been a very treasured experience and I am grateful that it was made possible through the generous funding of the SLA Grant.