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Eight months in Beijing

( Updated: 2015-06-26 16:38

Eight months in Beijing

David Zhu and Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group, at the Sina Weibo Night in January 2011. [Photo provided to]

Editor’s note: The theme of this interview is to share experiences and enhance readers’ understanding of gap years and providing advice for future participants. Here is one interview with David Zhu who is a graduate from Columbia University and now a CEO of Ci Xiang Mao, an Internet company in Beijing.

Q: Introduce yourself and overall situation in the gap year briefly.

A: Zhu Yingnan, you can also call me David, I took a gap year in Beijing from September 2010 to June 2011.


- On May 2010 I finished my junior year.

- From June to August 2010, I interned in the information management department of Goldman Sachs,Hong Kong.

- From September 2010 to May 2011 I went on a gap year.

- From June to August 2011 I interned in the investment banking department of Goldman Sachs, Hong Kong.

- In September 2011 I returned to the University of Columbia.

Q: What was the biggest obstacle to your way when you took your gap year? How did you overcome it?

A: My biggest obstacle was the objection from my mother. She couldn’t understand why I had to suspend a school year to do these so-called “necessary” things. I gave her lots of explanations: after graduation I would be too busy with work to do something I like; if I suspended my job at that time, I would pay more for my dream. Besides, I could use the trip as a good opportunity to reexamine myself, which would possibly help me make a wiser decision on where to work in the future. In my mother’s eyes all of these arguments were not acceptable. My family did not agree with my plan until I said I could find some good internships during the period which could help me get an edge on other competitors in job markets.

Q: Why did you want to go on a gap year? Did you get any support and understanding from your family or friends?

A: America saw a severe financial crisis in 2008 and many American university students worried about whether they could land a good job after graduation. Some who previously intended to get a job here even began to consider working in some developing countries. However, the Chinese economy was much better at that time, which gave lots of overseas students a ray of hope. I was sent to study abroad at the age of 10 and now many of my living habits had been westernized. I knew little about the Chinese society and social customs. Then the most confusing thing I have was where to work after graduation - New York, Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. I would rather experience what each city was like than simply daydream in my dorm.

Different people have different opinions about graduation. I was in the circle of ABC when I was studying at Columbia University, so my surrounding friends all took it for granted that they should go to Wall Street after graduation, so did my family. They also think that staying in America is the best choice, while they also accept developed international financial centers like Hong Kong.

My friends totally repudiated my decision. In their opinion it was a great pity that we couldn’t go up to the stage to get our graduation certificates collectively after spending four years studying together. They didn’t understand why I wanted to delay one year to graduate. Actually, I cared a lot about this matter then, but now I recall it is a little silly. Graduation is overrated; it is just a moment, though it is worthwhile. However, the experience of a gap year could accompany me all my life. Moreover, I would surely come back China to seek opportunities; therefore relationships established at home are more worthwhile than those established at abroad. At that time, a lot of peers wanted to engage in finance in Wall Street, whether they liked or disliked the idea. I was aware of fierce competition in our generation and began to feel like others “just be interested in finance”. Then I wouldn’t stand out, even though I’d graduated from Columbia University。

In a word, actually, my pressure is pretty big during the gap year,because as for me, gap year is not meant to travel around the world to have fun, it means to have some personal achievements, even better than that I made during the university.

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