Coming to Beijing from America for the very first time, Jordan Kronen had never studied Mandarin. He didn’t even know that a Beijing dialect existed. Learning all of this quickly wasn’t a choice — he had a compulsory language class four times a week, and had to take a virtual quiz each time.
Kronen, who is now 28, graduated from the Schwarzman Scholars programme in 2018. It’s an incredibly prestigious programme within China’s number one school — number 20 globally, according to the latest rankings. Students from all over the world vie to secure these incredibly competitive scholarships that are akin to the Rhodes Scholarship.
He now holds a degree in Master of Global Affairs with a concentration in Public Policy. “Some of my favourite memories centered around engaging the culture and people of Beijing,” he says. Read what Kronen has to say about his experience as a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University below.
Tell us some of your favourite memories of studying and living in Beijing.
A large segment of our cohort entered into a university-wide talent show at Tsinghua. We performed Mo Li Hua 茉莉花 (Jasmine Flower), a traditional Chinese folk song. Dressing in Chinese garb, and playing Chinese instruments.
Given the fact that around 80% of our cohort were foreign students, our attempt at this classic song hopefully showed our appreciation for Chinese culture and art. It also furthered our integration into Tsinghua’s community.
Some of the more satisfying memories were the ones directly linked to how what I was learning in the classroom helped accommodate my abilities to explore throughout the city. Taking my very rudimentary Chinese language skills and applying them at the convenience store or at a restaurant. This provided a needed boost in my confidence and motivation to continue to progress with this extremely challenging language.
Why did you choose to be part of Schwarzman Scholars, and what were the best aspects of studying at Tsinghua University?
I believed then, as I do today, that the Schwarzman Scholars Programme is one of the most, if not the most, unique and appealing international academic programmes in the world. A programme that rivals the Rhodes Scholarship in terms of selectivity, quality of instruction, and the prestige of Tsinghua University. It allows for one to engage and learn in one of the most consequential countries of the 21st century. I think for all of those reasons, the Schwarzman Scholars programme is in a class all by itself.
The best part of the programme as well as studying at Tsinghua was interacting with my classmates. These are some of the most highly ambitious, and highly intelligent individuals that I have ever come to know. They truly inspired me each and every day.
A light and breezy conversation during breakfast would be juxtaposed with a deeply philosophical discussion pertaining to world affairs, enhanced with expert knowledge and first-hand experience brought into the fold to inform and guide our conversations during class.
How did your experience at Tsinghua University prepare you for your career?
Studying at Tsinghua University provided the foundational knowledge and methodologies to approach issues that I care for deeply. For instance, I was able to explore my passion for mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, specifically how these deleterious effects have disproportionately affected lower-income and politically underrepresented communities.
This led to my capstone focusing on a project in Myanmar through the China Belt and Road Initiative where I examined the project through the lens of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. This research has infused my thinking and perspective as we tackle climate change in the state of Washington looking to pass a carbon pricing mechanism, a low carbon fuel standard and other policies aimed at reducing emissions. Creating jobs, and making the necessary investments to achieve these goals. This process has the considerations of communities of colour and lower-income folks squarely at the heart of these policy crafting deliberations.
What are some of the obstacles you faced being in a foreign country, and how did you overcome them?
The language barrier is a low hanging fruit. This doesn’t pertain so much to being in a foreigh country as much as it does about being in a prestigious programme such as this. I battled imposter syndrome for a while, and part of me still battles this feeling today.
This manifested in two different ways: amongst the cohort and outside of it. When with my classmates, the constant idea that these individuals hailed from some of the top universities in the world and had accomplished so much in their relatively short lives, I often found myself reflecting on my own resume and examining whether I truly deserved to be there.
Outside of my cohort, I battled the lofty expectations of others once they had learned I was studying at Tsinghua as a Schwarzman Scholar. The incessant need to prove that I belonged became tiring. Something that comforted me, however, was discussing this phenomenon with other scholars who also were struggling with this petulant feeling. I would wager that most of my classmates had felt this from time to time and that solidarity eased some of my nerves.
If you could do it all again, what would you do differently as an international student?
When reflecting on experiences like this, my mind immediately thinks that I could have gotten more out of the programme. If only I had attended that one lecture, or joined that once club, or dropped by that speaker-series event that I missed that one time.
Particularly, given how robust and plentiful the resources, opportunities, and events offer are, it is easy to want to do everything. As you might have guessed, it’s simply not possible. I would be lying if I still didn’t feel this way from time to time. That would be my overly-ambitious side getting out of tune with what is physically and mentally possible.
If I could do it all over again, I think I would have focused slightly less on the programmatic aspects of my year and more on the people in it. I believe the greatest resource the programme provides is the opportunities to forge long-lasting relationships with these impressive scholars. I am grateful for the time I did take advantage of to study, dine, travel and bond with them. But I would have loved to do just a little bit more if I could.
What is your advice for international students looking to study in China?
First, try your absolute best to go with no expectations. If you live in the West, especially in the United States, the news has a predominantly anti-China thrust and very few stories speak to anything positive about the country.
Even if you have a positive view of the country, try to go into your experience with a clean slate. Look to absorb as much information through experience and curiosity as possible. Second, which relates to the first, do not let the little things influence your attitude towards this place. China, particularly Beijing, can be a tough environment to live and operate.
Take all of these interactions with a drop of soy sauce. Take time every now and then to reflect and appreciate the opportunity you have to experience what it is like to live in a country transforming at a blistering pace during a pivotal moment in history. Be grateful and present.
Lastly, have fun! Drink baijiu, ride a Mobike/Ofo with your friends, (but not at the same time, of course) and explore as much of the country as you can while enjoying making memories that you will have for the rest of your life! Jiā yóu! 加油!