Before coming to America last August as a first-year MBA student in the charter class of Johns Hopkins’ Carey Business School, Zhiqiang Lin had never been outside his native China. He was well prepared for his American adventure. In trying to master the English language, he watched a lot of American TV shows on the Internet, including the Jerry Springer Show. His favorite movie: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” He infectiously laughs out loud when he admits these guilty pleasures.
Born and raised in Shanghai, Lin graduated from Shanghai University in 2008 with a degree in electrical engineering and a dream to see the world. He worked in residential real estate while researching U.S. business schools that he might want to enroll at. “I searched each and every school on the list of U.S. News and World Report,” he says. “I looked at more than 100 schools, even the University of Texas at El Paso, before deciding on Johns Hopkins.”
Lin has embraced the American experience. “I feel like I’m drinking water from a fire hose,” he says. “I have a lot of ideas and dreams. Johns Hopkins can teach me how to make my dreams come true.”
I grew up in a typical family in Shanghai. It was a middle class family. Both of my parents are workers in a country-owned factory that made fabric for clothes and drapes. We lived in a house given by the government. I’m an only child. That’s because of the one-child party. All my peers in Shanghai are only children for the same reason. The one-child policy was most enforced in big cities in the middle class, while in rural areas people might have more children.
I started learning English when I was nine in the third grade of my elementary school, Shanghai First Normal School. My mother can say some phrases in English, like “Long live Chairman Mao,” but otherwise my parents cannot speak English. They did not go to college. They spoke Shanghainese. Later I went to a private middle school, Qiyi, and that experience changed by whole life. When I graduated form elementary school, the policy changed. Before that we had to take exams to decide which school you would go to. I found out that this new private school was being established and registered for the school.
There was a lottery, and I was very lucky. I encountered the very best teachers at that school and went there for four years. My lottery number was 957. It has special meaning. In Chinese, it sounds like, ‘Only you can go.’ They took 300 students into the school and more than 1,500 students were in the lottery. So I was very lucky. I encountered a teacher there, Zhang Xun, who was very nice to me. He taught math. One day, he gave us a very hard question and asked who in the class could solve the question. A lot of students raised their hands, and I raised my hand as well. He knew that I am pretty good at math so he gave chances to the students who weren’t as good in the subject. No one could answer the question correctly. I was the last hand up when the bell rang. At that time, he had two choices. First, he could simply illustrate the answer himself because the class was ending, or he could give me the chance to answer it. He called me up and in front of the class he said, ‘my parents gave me my life, but Lin Zhigiang, you know me.’ That is a very famous Chinese saying. It’s used to describe a friendship. He was the teacher. He was 40 years old, and I was only 14 years old. He said this in a very humorous way. The class laughed and I gave the answer, 100% right. Class over.
It made me feel great confidence. That changed my life. I was born with a cleft palate. I should be shy or have self-esteem problems but I don’t. Why? That’s because of my experience in middle school. I did a very good job in the entrance exam for high school, I was number one on the exam and was able to enter the best school, Shixi High School, in the Jing’an District in downtown Shanghai.
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