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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Alumni Update: Ally Sobol in Shanghai!

Personally, I knew what I would feel regret if I woke up in 20 years never having seen the world. Now that I am working abroad, I am making memories that 
will be the fondest of my life."

Ally Sobol ('11) graduated from the University of Hartford with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and then got her Masters of Arts in International Studies (with a focus on business) from Concordia University ('12) in China. She is currently living in Shanghai, China and working for the Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE) while she continues her Mandarin language studies. Read on to learn more!
 Hanoi, Vietnam
Why did you choose this job (at CIEE)?
This job lends itself well to my qualifications as well as the experience I am looking to gain while living in China. I am very dedicated to learning the Chinese language, which puts me in class five days a week. This makes it very difficult for me to hold a full time position until June when I complete my studies. Being involved in international exchange, CIEE is the ideal company for me to work for and this position fits perfectly with my schedule and interests. It allows me to continue my language studies and learn about educational exchange from a Chinese perspective simultaneously.

Tell us a little about your work and what you do:
My position as an interviewer aids Chinese students applying for a gap year, Bachelor's or Master’s degree at a school in the United States. As Chinese students applying to these institutions are often unable to fly to the United States for an interview, CIEE partners with many schools to help create a more personal relationship between the applicant and the school. I ask students questions about their educational background, future goals, hobbies etc… This helps students gain an upper hand by giving them the opportunity to express themselves in ways their application may not present. It also shows the U.S. schools a real version of the student applying to their school.

Tell us about the community (or city) where you are living:
I currently live in Shanghai, China, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. In all honestly, living in China is not an easy task. There are so many aspects of China that make you feel as far away from home as you geographically are. However, these traits are what make everyday life so exciting and this experience irreplaceable. The best part about Shanghai in my opinion is the contrast between China and the west. I can walk down a street with no store signs in English, no recognizable food and no confusion that I am walking around in China; but then I turn the corner and see a Starbucks, Italian restaurant and I feel as though I could be anywhere in the world. The lessons I’ve learned, people I’ve met, and memories I’ve made are incomparable and my years in China have been the best of my life so far.
What made you decide to go abroad to work?  How did you find the job abroad?
Studying abroad in college changed my life and I knew I had to live abroad again as soon as I could. Post graduation, I needed to continue my studies or work; in the end I decided to do both and throw adventure into the mix. It is my dream to see the world. The more I see the more I love and I know my interest will never fade. In the end, I saw no reason not to go abroad and work!

There is a big expatriate community in Shanghai (and most other big cities around China) with many connections to be made as well as websites catered to foreign interests. I spent some time talking to friends, meeting as many people as I could and searching websites for opportunities. One day I got lucky and stumbled on the CIEE posting on a Shanghai Expat website. I applied and was fortunate to be hired!

What do you find most meaningful about this experience?
It’s hard to put time spent abroad into words. There is no simple way to describe the sights, sounds and feelings I experience everyday. I am so grateful to have this opportunity where I can truly feel like I live in a foreign culture. There will always be books, pictures, and stories available to learn about the world. However, I believe there is no better way to educate than by personal experience. I studied Chinese history and culture before I moved here, but what I’ve gained in my two years here could never be learned in a classroom setting.

Washing the Tigers in Thailand
 What else have you been up to since graduation?:
One of the best parts about living in China is the ability to travel around Asia.  I have had the opportunity to travel to Japan and Korea, where I experienced first hand how delicious fresh sushi is, the professionalism of Japanese taxis (the drivers wear suits) and the beautiful beaches Korea has to offer.  In Thailand, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to play with baby tigers, walk full-grown tigers and play with elephants in a Thai river. Vietnam to me is a hidden treasure of Asia. I did not think I would love the country as much as I did! Vietnam has wonders such as Ha Long Bay in Hanoi and the best coffee I have ever had! Last spring, I went to Indonesia for the second time, experiencing local delicacies such as Lazy-Boy movie theaters in Jakarta and to the site Julia Roberts shot the movie "Eat Pray Love" in Bali. Last spring I also had the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong to see fellow UHA alum Tess Collins, who lives and sings professionally on the vibrant island. 

Former UHA Alum Tess Collins and I in Hong Kong
Recently, my dad came to visit and I finally got the opportunity to travel to destinations around China. We started in Chengdu, Sichuan Provence where we visited the Panda research base and saw Giant and baby panda bears in their natural environment. We also went to the Sichuan opera, which is an important part of Chinese culture. From Chengdu, we traveled to Xi’an to see the Terracotta warriors. The Chinese have an expression, “If you haven’t seen the Terracotta Warriors, you haven’t been to China.” These warriors were built back in 200 B.C. Over 7,000 life size soldiers (each with a different face) were uncovered. It is thought that each soldier took three months to build, and today two archaeologists spend at least six months placing them back together. These warriors are thought to be the eighth wonder of the world and with good reason. We even got to meet the farmer who discovered the remains! We also travelled Beijing, visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and of course the Great Wall of China, which is one of the most amazing sights I have seen in my life!  

Great Wall Beijing, China
Terracotta Warriors Xi'an, China

In what way has your international experience impacted your professional goals?
As I previously said, the more I travel the world, the more I want to center my life on continuing to explore! Before spending a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark during my junior year at UHA, I had no idea what I wanted my career to be. I watched my life change every day I was there and I had never been happier. I decided then and there I would dedicate my career to helping more students prepare for an experience similar to mine. Without my semester abroad, I might have been on a different career path right now. Instead, I’m living my dream everyday by living, working and studying in China.

What would you want to say to UHA students who are thinking about going abroad to work or study?
Deciding to take the leap and do it is half the battle! I know it’s scary to be in a country with no family, friends or support system (in the beginning). From personal experience I know that every day gets easier and easier until one day you wake up and feel like this new place is your home. It is an irreplaceable experience and one not to be missed. Personally, I knew what I would feel regret if I woke up in 20 years never having seen the world. Now that I am working abroad, I am making memories that will be the fondest of my life.

How was the Study Abroad Office helpful during your time as an undergraduate at UHA?
The Study Abroad office at UHA made it possible for me to spend a semester abroad. Some students believe because of their major or financial situation, going abroad is impossible and that is not the case for the most part. The Study Abroad Office gave me all my possible options and supported me before, during, and after my semester abroad. 

Any additional thoughts or highlights you would like to share?
I hope my experience and stories affect whoever is reading this. The best lesson I’ve learned from being abroad is you only live once! You have to do what makes you happy!

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