Sino-Serendipity, or the Adventures in China of an IGS alum

Jake Labandby Jake Laband

Editor’s Note: Jake Laband was one of the most accomplished members of the IGS Class of 2012: cofounder of the journal Wander, fluent in Chinese, author of the one of the year’s finest honors theses, and a fine violinist to boot.  Here’s a recent account of how he surfed from job to job in Beijing after graduating — from scavenger hunts to bike tours to billion-dollar international trade — and how he’s ended up with a great fit. 

I hope job-seekers in the Class of 2014 get some inspiration from Jake’s tales…

I remember at the 2012 IGS commencement ceremony, Prof. Rosenberger said something along the lines of “you guys have no idea where this degree, or life, will take you.” I’d say that’s held true so far.

After graduation in May, I headed home without a job offer in hand. Eventually I decided to take the leap and bought a one-way ticket to Beijing. Having spent time there during my time at Brandeis, I figured I knew enough people that I could find some way to pay rent.

After a number of job interviews ranging from promising to skeezy to downright weird, I settled on a small cultural exchange center called The Hutong.  I’ve been able to witness and participate in some incredibly interesting entrepreneurial adventures. When I joined The Hutong, we had only 8 full time employees (including myself). In the past year and a half, we’ve grown to over 30 full time employees, along with a solid group of freelancers and other groupies who help out with projects.

My job has been developing experiential travel programs for international schools and multinational companies based in Asia. The company runs a variety of culinary events, as well as scavenger hunts that take participants to different neighborhoods in Beijing. It’s been great to grow the business, and I managed a small team of up to ten people to plan and execute these events.

The largest department of the company, however, is our Educational department, which runs experiential curricula around China for a number of International Schools based in Asia. During the third and fourth quarters of this year, we took over 1,400 students to nearly a dozen locations around China. I was lucky enough to return to Xishuangbanna (the area in southwestern China where most of my thesis research was based) and lead a series of bicycle trips throughout small villages and tea mountains. Riding bikes, I’ve found, is the perfect way to see and get to understand an area of the world. Speaking the language helps, too.

I’ve also become fairly involved with the expat Jewish community here in Beijing, and do a fair bit of community organization and event planning for them. Not only does it help pay the rent, but it’s also a great opportunity to meet diplomats and businesspeople working on fascinating projects across Asia.

The jobs I’ve taken over the past couple years have been completely unlike anything I imagined I’d be doing when I was a senior at Brandeis, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the acumen I have for entrepreneurialism.

Recently, however, I’ve transitioned into something more like what I imagined I would be doing after graduation. I’ve begun a position at US-China Business Council, a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides advisory and advocacy services for its roughly 220 American companies that do business with China. I’m charged mainly with conducting policy research and analysis of Chinese government regulations that affect US Business interests in China, as well as organizing roundtable events with business executives and government officials. Even though I’m just starting out, I’ve already met with officials from both the Chinese and American government, as well as executives from some of the world’s largest companies.

I’m still learning, of course, but I’d say Brandeis, and IGS, prepared me well. The research I did while abroad, my thesis projects, my ability to combine a wide range of resources, and any other number of skills I’d say are in part attributable to classes I took at Brandeis, and landed me a job that I feel would usually go to someone with a grad-school degree and much much more professional experience. I’m not the only one, either. There are a number of Brandeis grads here in Beijing, China, and greater Asia who are doing amazing things right out of undergraduate.

Immigration, Jobs, and Welfare: How Do The U.S. and Europe differ?

Should wealthy countries give recent immigrants welfare or jobs?

Europe and the United States have long had almost exactly opposing policies on work and welfare for immigrants.  The United States has let immigrants work but tried to deny them welfare benefits; IngressbildeEuropeans, on the other hand, have distributed benefits but kept jobs for their native populations.

Even within Europe, Scandinavian countries have been unusually generous with benefits.  But is this model now under strain?  Have Europe’s generous benefits led to a backlash against immigration, even to mass attacks of neo-Nazis such as the 2011 killings in Norway?

In its last cosponsored event of the spring semester, IGS welcomes the perfect person to discuss these issues: Grete Brochmann, chair of the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo and former chair of the Norwegian Welfare and Migration Committee.

“Immigration and Integration in the Nordic Countries”
A talk by Grete Brochmann
Friday, April 25
2 pm
Mandel Center Reading Room (3rd floor)

Still undecided about FA 2104 Courses? Your UDRs recommend…

POL 160a- The War on Global Terrorism: “I took a Muslims in the West with Prof. Klausen and I absolutely loved it. She is an expert on her field and took this semester off to continue her research on Jihad in Europe. In order to get the most out of the class, definitely do the readings and participate in class discussions. I’m planning on taking this class myself as well.”

POL 164a- Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East: “If you’re interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or just learning more about the issue, this is a great class to take. Prof. Feldman and the two other professors involved with the class have an interesting and diverse background on conflicts in the Middle East. “
ANTH 139b- Language, Ethnicity, and Nationalism: “I was definitely nervous when I took my first anthropology class at Brandeis as part of the IGS major, but it was a great experience! I loved learning about something entirely new and the anthropology department offers some great courses.”
AAAS 158a Theories of Development and Under-development with Professor Wellington Nyangoni. “This course exposes you a wide array of development theories and history of their implementation without being too heavy on the economics side. Also, Professor Nyangoni is an expert in this and backs up classroom readings with real world examples from his own life.”
HIST 144b The Cold War in East Asia with Steven Pieragastini. “A special one time offering about modern Asia history from one of our best graduate students. This class uses propaganda in all forms and primary source documents from the end of WWII to talk about how the great power struggle of the 20th century played out in an area of the world not often talked about in this context.”
POL 174b Seminar: Problems of National Security with Professor Robert Art. “This course explores some of the challenges faced by countries attempting to ensure security in the age on globalization. It looks in conventional and non-conventional methods of attack (and this year, as a little bird tells me, will include a special look at security in the age of big data and cyber-attacks). This course will look at issues of weapons proliferation and US power abroad, post-Cold War and is taught by one of the best national security experts in the country.”
Also, please note that IGS is helping to relaunch two critical classes.  Please consider taking:
REL 107a, “Introduction to World Religions,” to be taught by Kristen Lucken.  An essential class for anyone who pretends to know the world.  Do you want to be the one person at a cocktail party at the Thai embassy who has no idea what Buddhism teaches?  I didn’t think so. 

We’re also bringing back POL 153a, “The New Europe,” a critical class on the European Union.  From rebuffing Putin to recovering from the slump, the EU is back on the world’s center stage.  For those of you returning from Europe this would be an especially fine point of re-entry.  Any other recommendations?  Comment below or on the Facebook page.  And happy hunting!

What’s ahead for the European Union?

The European Union has had a great six decades: peace, prosperity, and ever-greater expansion.  But after the financial crisis of 2008, can it sustain its “social welfare” model for the decades to come?  Can it ensure the continent’s security at a time when the U.S. is retrenching and Russia is flexing its muscles?

What did you take away from the conversation on the EU’s future?