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.

2 Replies to “Sino-Serendipity, or the Adventures in China of an IGS alum”

    1. Here’s hoping I can come see you all over there at some point! You folks are heroes to the IGS China crowd.

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