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Jake Spring

"[I aimed to study] abroad somewhere as far as possible out of my comfort zone"

I began taking Chinese my sophomore year with the aim of studying abroad somewhere as far as possible out of my comfort zone...

How did you become interested in AMES/Asian Studies?

I stumbled into the Asian Studies program while studying abroad my junior year. I began taking Chinese my sophomore year with the aim of studying abroad somewhere as far as possible out of my comfort zone, thinking it would be a "once in a lifetime" experience and not knowing it would turn into a much larger part of my life. My plan was to major in history and had already taken classes with Professor Carroll and Professor Macauley before setting off to study in Nanjing.

Study abroad far exceeded any expectations I had. I extended my study abroad from fall semester to a full year. At that point, switching to an Asian Studies major made sense. I simply wouldn't have been able to do a full year abroad if the major hadn't existed as I couldn't have gotten the credits to add up.

How did your interest develop while at Northwestern?

What started as a casual interest turned into almost an expertise by the end of my four years. For example, I remember taking Chinese Political Economy and knowing far more about China than my TA did.

During my senior year, I felt I had really found my field. The Asian Studies Program (Asia and Middle East at the time, although I think I took all of one class on the Middle East) forces you to divide your coursework among disciplines, and I enjoyed knowing a lot about different aspects of China whether culture, history or economy 

What were your favorite courses and professors and why?

I took a small seminar with Professor Macauley that was one of my favorite classes. I wrote a paper based on congressional records of a 1990s hearing into Chinese organized crime. I was pretty lost on the project up until the last couple weeks, but Prof Macauley was exceptionally supportive and helpful in guiding me to complete the paper.

The other courses that stood out were Modern Chinese History from 1911 to Present with Professor Carroll and a course on Chinese political economy.

If you studied abroad, where did you go? How did the experience affect you?

I studied in Nanjing, China at the CIEE program. When I was there, NU only offered three programs CIEE in Nanjing, another in Beijing and a third in Hangzhou that are affiliated and don't require filling out extra paperwork. Nanjing is no doubt what set me on my path to where I am now and is the reason I live in China. 

Not to be hyperbolic, but I feel like I was a child before study abroad and came back as an adult. Something about learning to function in another society, especially one as unfamiliar as China, forces you to grow up. I had a lot of fun and made lifelong friends, both Chinese and foreign. My Chinese ability grew by leaps and bounds, and really made my previous year of study seem like a bit of a waste of time in comparison, although it did provide the base I needed to be accepted to the program.

If you have an interest in living/working in China, I strongly advise not studying in Beijing or Shanghai. They're both great cities, and I've lived in both, but study abroad is a great excuse to see a different side of China that you likely won't have once you're working.

How has your AMES/ASP coursework affected your career and/or your life in general?

Asian Studies and study abroad set me on the path I am today. A connection through an Asian Studies professor put me on China Economic Review's radar and what I learned in school gave me the ability to answer questions authoritatively when interviewing for the staff writer post. I had previously been struggling as a newspaper reporter in the South right after graduation, and CER was my largest break yet, something I couldn't have gotten without doing the Asian Studies Program.

As a journalist, the knowledge of China is also indispensable day to day in providing context for my writing and the knowledge to form nuanced opinions about the country. I've continued to learn since college, but AS provided the foundation. I can say I'm one of a few people I know whose major is actually useful in his current career.

What are you currently doing as far as employment? Further education, etc.?

In August 2013, I resigned my post as the editor-in-chief of China Economic Review, a monthly magazine now turned web magazine in the style of The Economist. I had worked there, first as a staff writer and later as an editor, for almost two years. I'm now in an intensive one-year language program in Beijing. On completion, I hope to find a job at a wire service or newspaper bureau somewhere in the mainland. 

Are there any other experiences related to your course of study, whether in Evanston, abroad, or elsewhere, that you find particularly meaningful?

In 2009, NU held a symposium for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Both Prof Carroll and Prof Macauley were in Beijing during that time in 1989 and shared their experiences. I had no idea that they were both there then, and it was fascinating to hear them tell their stories. I felt lucky to have been their students.
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