Ting (Christina) Zhou (Class of 2023) is a current MBA student from Chongqing, China specializing in Management Science. Outside of classes, Christina volunteers in the community or is involved in various clubs on grounds. Christina shared more about her experiences at the University of Virginia Darden School with the Center for Global Initiatives. In her own words:
Christina, tell us about yourself?
Instead of giving a normal self-introduction, I would like to use some fun facts to showcase a rounded picture of who I am and what I’m all about. I call these fun facts “My Three I’s”:
1) I am a foodie, and I’ve tasted all kinds of delicious foods during my travels around the world. My favorite food is hotpot, which stems from Chongqing, my hometown in China. As a born and raised Chongqing girl, my personality is open-minded and hospitable.
2) I am a traveling enthusiast and have visited 20 countries. Such rich experiences enabled me not only to appreciate breathtaking and unique sceneries in different countries but also helped deepen my understanding of diverse cultures through interacting with local people and learning about different lifestyles and religious beliefs. Seeing spectacular sunrises is one of my favorite activities; so much so that I made special trips to the Sahara Desert in Egypt, Boracay Island in the Philippines, and Cinque Terre in Italy to see the amazing sunrises these places offer. I was also invited to join a local Sri-Lankan family gathering when I was volunteer-teaching in Sri Lanka. There, I learned to cook local food such as curry chicken and potato salad with coconut.
3) I am an entrepreneur. I started one venture during undergrad. I co-founded a milk tea shop during college and sold an average of about 400 orders of milk tea each day. Additionally, I was awarded the best performer in a highly selective management trainee program at Ping An (a Fortune 500 integrated financial group). Here, I earned the opportunity to assist a general manager in establishing a new financial department. I took charge of the entire operation from budgeting to human resource management, along with client and project management. Such opportunities empowered me to pursue a second “startup” within the company. With hard work and a great team, we promoted the Fintech company called Ping An Lufax to a successful IPO.
What inspired you to do your MBA in the United States? What attracted you to Darden, specifically?
After traveling the world, the US stood out as a place I felt I could place roots. I still remember a time in 2012 when I traveled from coast to coast across the U.S. I was particularly impressed with the atmosphere and natural environment in places such as Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC. At the time, I knew that I would return to the U.S. Outside of my experiences and desire to return, it is undeniable that the innovative environment and education system in America continue to lead the world. Such resources made me further determined to study here.
When it comes to Darden, what attracts me most is the culture. I first heard of Darden in 2019 when the Darden Shanghai office held its offline MBA information session. Through the down-to-earth and comfortable interactions with Darden alumni and the dean, I got a real sense of Darden’s sincerity and inclusiveness. Notably, Dean Beardsley, with his great humor and charm, marketed Darden in three “No.1’s”: educational experience, graduating salary, and supportive faculty. In addition, all the alumni were easy to talk to and excited to share their experiences at Darden and the impressive careers they started after graduating. From talking to Dean Beardsley and alumni, I was immediately enamored with the school and I became determined to join Darden.
How has coming to Darden expanded your global perspective?
The case study method has expanded my perspective the most; the discussions are incredible, and the faculty help guide the conversations in a way where we can hear diverse and unique points of view. One marketing case talking about the brand position of Buick really stands out. In China, most car advertisements, regardless of brands, market with a sense of business. Therefore, it is normal to see a businessman wearing business attire drive the car on the highway. This type of visual aims to either highlight the charm of the business car or the car’s good performance.
Instead, the car advertisements in the US vary depending on client segmentation. In this case, we analyzed three different advertising styles and I especially remember one in which a sexy model endorsed a Buick SUV. While I was confused, my learning team members shared with me that such an ad successfully caught their attention because when they thought of the beautiful model, they could easily associate with Buick SUV. Another ad featuring a famous football player wearing casual attire was also successful because the scene evoked the passion of American youth at that age. Cultural differences emerge in every conversation and that is where we can enrich and expand our global perspectives.
Beyond academics, the Global Food Festival was an amazing way to connect with our classmates’ cultures through food. Of course, I joined the other Chinese classmates in promoting Chinese food. At the festival, our team cooked some famous dishes such as spicy hot pot, sweet and sour pork ribs, spicy fried potato, and traditional Chinese porridge. Experiences like these naturally lead to the sharing of cultures and promote global learning.
What advice do you have for prospective students at Darden? Specifically, what advice do you have for international students?
During my first two months at Darden, what I felt most was a strong sense of leaving my comfort zone. It seemed that I had lost control and was scrambling to tackle everything in front of me. This experience helped expand my comfort zone and allowed me to embrace challenges and unknowns. Therefore, what I want to share is: accept the unknowns, opportunities, and challenges, and do your best but don’t be scared. We are here to learn and sometimes fail, but you can also have support from faculty or fellows.
As a member of the international student community, I am proud that this group adds much-needed multiculturalism. I believe we can better the community by becoming more involved. What I think is most crucial is to “Be prepared”, “Be confident” and “Be brave”, which I called my three “B’s”, especially for those whose first language is not English.
1) Be prepared: Academic intensity is a very real part of Darden, which may be an adjustment for many people. For those who don’t have a financial or accounting background, I suggest taking some time to brush up on these topics before school, for example through Coursera. You don’t want to experience the uncomfortable situation of not being able to follow a discussion in class. When you add on the language complexities, the situation can be tougher. Therefore, I can’t stress it enough: learn the basics of finance and accounting in advance, read English books, and speak English as much as you can. By addressing some academic weaknesses, you will reduce some of the pressure and allow you to focus on other areas of the school such as recruiting social activities or club leadership roles.
2) Be confident: Confidence here includes two aspects: speaking English and networking. It is understandable that many international students worry about their accent or less fluent expressions, and struggle to adapt to local norms; however, what I know is even natives are still nervous when speaking to new people and need time to organize their thoughts. Since we all are in the same boat, there is no need to be scared, right? What I do is capture every opportunity to speak English and directly ask for feedback from locals. I convinced myself that I can lose face in the short term, but I don’t want to be struggling in the long-time. Therefore, believe me, the only thing you can do is open your mouth and tell yourself: you can make it and then keep talking and asking questions.
3) Be brave: When I came here, I often heard one phrase: “There are no stupid questions.” Initially, I was confused, but now I have embraced this idea. Even if some questions sound silly, we came here for a reason—to uncover confusion, to learn something new, and to explore unknowns. All you learn and experience here will pave the way to future development. That’s what I believe. On the other hand, there is no criteria to judge whether a question is stupid or not; therefore, those psychological burdens are unnecessary. What’s more, the inclusive culture and positive instruction at Darden also give students a sense of security. Once you take the first step of raising your hands to ask a question or share your answer in the classroom, you will be braver to ask for help, share your perspective, or speak up in the future.
What has been the most unexpected thing you’ve learned at Darden so far?
As I mentioned above, one of the main reasons I chose Darden was its culture. The degree of support and inclusivity has exceeded my expectations.
Can you imagine your career coach would respond to your emails immediately late at night? Or professors would give up their evenings and weekends to help you with academic study? Or a second-year student support you every step of the way in learning how to recruit for your dream job? Or even on the first day, when you appeared in front of your interviewer (also an admission officer), that her excited eyes were full of tears and with a tight and warm hug, saying it was the best thing that you safely came here? I had heard about some of these things, but it is even better to experience them.
During these short two months, I feel that such a journey has been worth it, and I am more confident looking ahead. Undeniably, Darden deserves the reputation of having a supportive faculty and community, and I am a proud member of the Darden family.