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‘I Have Grown More Confident and Courageous’: Patti Pan Highlights Darden MBA Experience

By Maggie Dodson-

Roughly a third of Darden’s Class of 2020 is comprised of international students, and their diverse perspectives are a critical component of the School’s unparalleled transformational learning experience. Over the coming weeks, we’ll feature several students who came to Darden from outside the United States.

Today, we’re thrilled to feature Tian “Patti” Pan (Class of 2020). Patti shares some of her unique experiences making the transition from her home in China to the U.S., why she loves being an MBA student at Darden and why she prefers a life of uncertainties.

Tell us a little about your professional background, pre-Darden. 

I have been in operational and management roles in [consumer packaged goods], retail and commercial real estate for seven years. My last employer was a conglomerate, and I was part of its leadership program where I was given many opportunities in different functions and exposure to different industries. Before doing my MBA, I was deciding between either securing a senior management role in a specific industry or choosing to explore life’s uncertainties around the world.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA in the U.S.?

I love traveling, and more than that, I love living in different cities or even countries. I am obsessed with meeting new friends and experiencing new cultures. In the past 10 years, I have lived in eight different cities in Asia and Europe.

I aspire to learn and explore. Life with possibilities excites me more than always knowing what to expect! I worked for seven years and realized that if I did not make a big change, I would be content with my status quo. It horrified me! An MBA, especially in a foreign country, can open new doors and possibilities. Also, as an Asian woman, I always highlight my career ambitions.

Why Darden?

I am diligent and persistent, and I share Darden’s belief that a diligent person can succeed. Then, I also learned about the case study method, great professors and relatively heavy academic workload. As I mentioned above, I love studying and I want to have solid knowledge, so that’s why I choose Darden.

How did you think leaving your home in China would help your personal growth and career growth? 

When you are in your own country, many things will be easier; there are no language or culture barriers. When you face difficulties, you might seek help from your family or friends, but when you are in a completely foreign country, you depend on yourself a bit more. No one knows about your history or accomplishments — it’s a totally fresh start where you can focus on what matters most to you.

Those challenges and the journey to conquer them can be greatly helpful for both personal and career growth. For example, I became a cooking master because I really missed my hometown food. Also, when I accomplished something impressive, I reflected on the experience and found myself more powerful and capable. Most importantly, I have grown more confident and courageous. I have also become more open to both culture and people. And I notice that the more open I am, the more welcomed I am by different groups.

Did you have certain cultural expectations that were challenged? How did you overcome some of the challenges?

Because I have studied in Europe before, I thought the U.S. was similar to Europe and I thought the culture shock would be less. Apparently, I was wrong. I felt super nervous the first time when people asked me, “What’s up?” I thought people wanted to have a small talk with me so I tried my best to think of something interesting to say. However, when I finally came up with an interesting topic, the person had already started chatting with others. I felt awkward and wondered if I had done something to offend the person. Then I went home, I searched online for “how to respond to what’s up?” When people say this, it’s often just a greeting or they are asking what is going with you, and the response can be as simple as “nothing much.”

I have made many mistakes and have had a lot of culture shocks, but I never give up trying. When I realized I was terrible at making jokes in English and made everyone confused, I kept trying different jokes, watching TV dramas that my domestic friend shared with me and laughing at myself about those awkward moments. I did that because I really care. I constantly remind myself of why I am here. I flew more than 20 hours to the U.S. because I wanted to learn about the culture and make lifelong friends.

It is also important to speak out about your feelings or confusion to others. I am Chinese and was taught not to bother other people and be polite even you don’t like certain behavior. However, if I never tell domestic students that I am not comfortable with certain behavior, they will not know and will not be able to adjust their behavior or help me. When I speak out, they understand my culture better and find a way to help me.

Finally, be proud of who you are. I like tea and not coffee. I do not find many tea fans here, but I keep introducing people to it, which is fun. I am also not a big sports fan, and when I watched the Super Bowl, I realized I did not like American football, but not all Americans like football either! I am happy with who I am and what I enjoy doing.


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