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Why a US Navy Chinese translator’s 1st China visit was to study his MBA at CEIBS

It’s not unusual to see International MBAs speaking Chinese in the corridors of CEIBS Shanghai Campus, but in most cases they have picked up their language skills as part of a previous university exchange programme or expat work assignment in China. However MBA 2019 Shawn Luehrsen learned his Chinese before making his first visit to the country, which coincided with him beginning the 18-month full-time MBA programme at CEIBS.

The son of a nuclear naval engineer, Shawn earned a BA in History and Chinese from George Mason University in the US before enlisting in the United States Navy. After completing his MBA, he is hoping to pivot his career towards China’s burgeoning tech industry. When asked what sparked his initial interest in studying Chinese, Shawn has two answers. “During my childhood, a family friend from Taiwan taught me how to write some of the simple Chinese characters such as water 水and forest 森, so when it came time to decide what to study at college, I was already hooked on discovering more,” he says. “The second influence was a popular video game at the time called Mortal Kombat, this led me to go through a Kung Fu craze and establish a growing affinity with Asian culture.” 

After completing his Navy basic training, Shawn transferred to Monterey, California where he attended the US military’s premier foreign language institute. He went on to work as a military translator until his honorable discharge in 2017, then turned his attention to MBA applications and business school.   

For one reason or another Shawn had to turn down previous opportunities to visit China, so he barely hesitated when boarding the plane to Shanghai in August 2017 to finally be immersed in the culture and language that he had dedicated much of his adult life to.  “So far there haven’t been any large culture shocks, but maybe that is because we have been kept very busy with the MBA workload on campus,” he says. “Four weeks in and I have only managed one trip over to the fun side of the river. ‘Puxi’ is more renowned for its restaurants, museums and history than the more modern Pudong where CEIBS campus is located.” Shawn also notes that he hasn’t yet had much opportunity to use his Chinese, since all the instruction in the MBA programme is done in English. “But given how new core modules such as financial accounting are for me, I am actually very glad of that,” he says. “The military is a not-for-profit organization so it is taking me a while to find my place in discussions on topics such as accruals.”

Given his military background and transferable skills, the core module in Organizational Behaviour is a different story. “At the moment we are working on a case study on arctic exploration and the impact of different leadership styles on success.  One of the teams we looked at was under a military-type leadership style, so I feel more confident in analyzing their success and sharing my insight with the group,” says Shawn. “I also think that ‘time discipline’ is a super important transferable skill for surviving the intensive schedule. Sometimes when my study group and I are still discussing the finer details of a presentation until the early hours of the morning, my military side takes over in order to be wrap things up in an efficient and timely manner.”  

The MBA Class of 2019 has students from 22 countries, many of whom are new to learning Chinese. Shawn advises them not to neglect spending time on character repetition. “Going through at least 20 to 30 flash cards on an app each day is a great way to build the foundation, and also a good way to kill time when riding the subway in Shanghai. Most of my friends in the States who I studied with that now speak fantastic Chinese didn’t take short cuts at the foundation stage, so I encourage my classmates to follow suit.” 

What is next for Shawn (apart from a well-earned trip across the river to Puxi)? In his words, survival, given the particularly intensive nature of the first two terms.  After that Shawn has already started to prepare himself for the new concentration in ‘Digital Business’ by teaching himself computer programming and signing up for electives in Israel and Shenzhen that will give him a behind-the-scenes look at life in startup and tech companies.

Shawn Luehrsen is a current MBA Class of 2019 student at CEIBS. For more details about how you can do a world-class MBA curriculum at our Shanghai Campus while being immersed in this century’s most dynamic and exciting market – China, please click here.