Graduate Stories: A Jamaican’s life-changing experience in Beijing

Graduate Stories: A Jamaican's life-changing experience in Beijing
Toussaint Williams plans to use all the knowledge and experience gained in Beijing to his work in the US and eventually his home country — Jamaica. Source: Toussaint Williams

Toussaint Williams is one of those people blessed with a colourful personality. He’s a jetsetter, has worked in Kenya, as well as travelled to countries all over the Caribbean and Europe. It was while pursuing a Chinese Language and Literature degree at Beijing Language and Culture University, however, that Williams felt he truly grew personally.

“My time in China equipped me with a more expansive worldview and awareness of people that I believe supplement my work as a relationship-builder with Connecticut’s business leaders, municipalities, and higher education institutions,” Williams tells us.

We caught up with him via email to learn more about life in Beijing, the diplomats he met and how his Chinese degree is proving more than useful in the States:

Beijing sounds fun! Tell us about your life there, and what you enjoyed about it.

Williams: In the summer of 2015, I lived and interned in Beijing for three months as a Research Assistant for Dataway Horizon — a very formative internship experience. I fell in love with Beijing because of the friendships I formed, and the outside-office experiences I had. 

Toussaint Williams believes his time in Beijing added to broaden his multicultural perspective, especially in the business industry. Source: Toussaint Williams

Because of this internship, I returned after graduating from Gordon College in 2018 as a Chinese government scholar. This gave me the chance to revisit and enjoy the city before I headed back to the US to pursue my career in economic development and planning. 

The Forbidden City, alongside many other ancient history sites in China, draws millions of visitors every year. Beijing is also one of the most multicultural cities in the world — but what did you enjoy most about it? 

Williams: I enjoyed the large diversity of people on the campus at Beijing Language and Culture University. My classes were populated with students from North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. 

You’d think applying to study in Beijing would be a complex process. What was the application like for you? 

Williams: It was a fairly straightforward application process. The only thing was that it took a very long time to get the results: about six months. The most important thing I’d recommend is to have all of your documents ready to send.  

What are you currently doing at the moment, and do you think your experience in Beijing helped? If so, how?

Williams: I currently work as a Business Associate for Partnerships at AdvanceCT — a nonprofit organisation that works in tandem with the Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development (DECD) to engage, retain and recruit businesses.  

Here, Williams (far left) is seen enjoying visiting cultural sites in China. Source: Toussaint Williams

DECD also helps advance overall economic competitiveness in Connecticut, and my time in China at the Beijing Language and Culture University equipped me with a more expansive worldview and awareness of people that I believe supplement my work as a relationship-builder with Connecticut’s business leaders, municipalities, and higher education institutions. 

Would you happen to have a fond memory of your time at Beijing Language and Culture University? Tell us more about it. 

Williams: Yes. Apart from quality time with friends outside of the classroom in Beijing, one of my most memorable experiences was the time that a Diplomat for Myanmar sat in on my Elementary Mandarin class. It was cool to see, and also strongly reminded me that I was participating in a very impactful and renowned Chinese government programme.  

Aside from academic ones, what activities in China did you enjoy doing?

Williams: I enjoyed the short getaways from Beijing, I revisited the village 灵水村 (líng shǔicūn) where I was given my Chinese name  — 杨开泰 (yáng kāitài) in 2015. When I returned to Beijing then, I brought four friends along to experience the landscapes and the insane level of hospitality of the people living there. Also visiting Inner Mongolia was such a thrilling experience.

With plans to use knowledge gained for his career, he has plans to eventually have a successful business in Jamaica. Source: Toussaint Williams

China can be an unfamiliar place for many visitors. What were some of the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them? 

Williams: Sometimes I missed the sense of stability and familiarity you get at home, like the comfort of knowing how things are and how things work. However, my love for the constant “wow” factor in Beijing held me down. In terms of curing my homesickness, I had many new friends to celebrate holidays and just fellowship with. 

What is your advice to others planning to study in Beijing? 

Williams: Go with an open mind, knowing that many have gone before you and had their lives changed for the better. Don’t be scared, and enjoy yourself with all the pleasant surprises China has to offer.  

Do you have any plans for the future?

Williams: For the future, I plan to do contractual work for the Ministry of Economic Growth & Job Creation in Jamaica. between the US, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. China has had a hand in a lot of international affairs and developing countries in the areas of planning and development — so I would like to play my part and start something along those lines in Jamaica — my home.