Annabeth Gellman began studying Chinese in tenth grade and learned of NSLI-Y through her Chinese teacher. In the summer of 2009, just after graduating, she participated in the NSLI-Y Chinese program in Shanghai.
Upon arriving in China, one major challenge was learning the transportation system. This was her first experience with international travel, and her host family lived on the outskirts of Shanghai with no subway line. As a result, her commute to school involved finding her way on several modes of transportation. In order to succeed, she often found that she needed to ask for help from strangers. This provided language practice as well as some unexpected life lessons. “While my experiences abroad have increased my confidence, they have also taught me to be humble and to not be afraid to ask for help. Many times I have found myself in situations where I have had to rely on the kindness and assistance of others,” she says.
Annabeth’s fondest memories from her program are of spending time with her host family. Her host family was very close with their extended relatives, and as a result, they had dinner together every night. This allowed her to develop close relationships with many members of the family, especially her host grandmother. Annabeth reflects, “We would go for a walk together each night after dinner and sometimes even join in on some street dancing. Besides this being an opportunity for me to practice my Mandarin, it also showed me how important family life is to Chinese citizens.” Through this opportunity for cultural and language exchange, Annabeth felt that she found a new home and family and a love for the people and culture of China, which she continues to share with her family and friends in the U.S.
Her experiences in China also continue to influence her academic and career paths. After her NSLI-Y program, Annabeth earned an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from MIT. Alongside her engineering studies, she continued to take Chinese language classes. She was also awarded a Fung Scholarship from the Victor and William Fung Foundation through which she spent the summer just after her graduation teaching STEM classes in China. Her NSLI-Y experience had sparked her love of China, and the Fung Scholarship solidified her desire to return to work and live in China in the future.
For a period of time, Annabeth also worked for PA Consulting Group—a consulting, technology and innovation firm—in both London and the U.S.; however, she knew she wanted to eventually return to China. She decided to apply for the Schwarzman Scholarship and was accepted into the inaugural 2016 cohort. The Schwarzman Scholarship is a prestigious and selective leadership development program founded by American financier Stephen A. Schwarzman. It is designed to bring students from around the world who demonstrate leadership potential for a one-year Master’s Degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing. In addition to earning a degree, Schwarzman Scholars develop a lifelong professional network and learn about the role China will play in the world in the future. Annabeth feels that the past year at Tsinghua was one of the greatest of her life. “I can honestly say that I probably would never have applied had it not been for my first experience studying abroad with NSLI-Y. For this I am most grateful.”
During her time at Tsinghua, Annabeth was also a Strategy Intern for Siemens in Beijing. She researched potential clients for the Digital Factory and Process Industries and Drives divisions and provided recommendations for improving recruitment processes. She believes that her time on NSLI-Y helped prepare her for opportunities such as this:“Studying abroad helped me prepare for handling cultural differences and being able to assert myself in professional environments different from those in the US.”
In the fall of 2017, Annabeth will begin an MBA program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. While she is not certain what the future holds, she hopes that her career will involve international assignments and collaboration, particularly between the U.S. and China. She encourages other NSLI-Y alumni to apply for scholarships and other opportunities to continue to be involved with their NSLI-Y languages and host countries, saying that is worth the effort to apply. “After all, as my father has always told me, the only sure way to not get accepted is by not applying in the first place.”