Hutong School Alumni Stories: From Bonjour to 你好

This week we have a special interview from a former Hutong School student, Laura Lee. She launched her career when she began working at lg2 located in Montreal, Canada. 18 months later she was mandated to lead the web design team in Beijing, later bought by Altima°, a known leader in E-commerce. A part-time Digital Nomad, she has developed an exceptional ability to balance work with travel.

After over five years of working with boutique and multi-national agencies, both locally and abroad, she made the decision in 2013 to devote her time to freelancing and servicing her own list of loyal clients.
In 2016 she founded ge-o-de Studio while continuing to enjoy a complementing variety of projects, including online teaching, the development and marketing of digital products, and an interest in street photography. 

How did you find Hutong School and why did you choose to come to China with Hutong School?

I was just arriving at the end of a contract, which was also my first professional job in Graphic design after graduating. I was looking for a thrill, a new experience where I’d get to travel (my passion) and gain experience in design, because hey, why not kill two birds with one stone!

After doing research on Google, searching keywords while I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for, I stumbled upon Hutong School and its internship program. I didn’t know a single thing about China, nor a single word in Mandarin, but I’ve always been intrigued by Asia.

Their internship offers within an organization directly linked to my field of study, while also learning Mandarin and being culturally immersed, sounded exactly like what I was looking for. I jumped on a call with one of the school’s advisor, talked a little bit about my experience, and not too long after, I was Skyping with the co-founder of a small E-Commerce agency in Beijing. I was convinced: I HAD to work with them! The fit was there, I had a bit of money saved from my first job…. A couple of months later, Visa in one hand and luggage in the other hand, I left Canada for Beijing.

Why did you choose to go to China? What were your expectations before coming here?

As I said, back in 2009-2010, I never thought of going to China prior to finding about the Hutong School online. Perhaps it’s because my name has “Lee” in it, I don’t know, but I was genuinely intrigued by Asia and China. I was definitely expecting a bit of a cultural shock, although I had been in West Africa the year before so I was kind of acclimated to being in a completely different country and mentality.

How was the reality compared to the expectations you had of China?

The size of Beijing completely took me by surprise. I knew it’s a big city, but never imagined it’s THAT big.

What were the things you wish you knew before coming to China?

Don’t bother bringing too much stuff from home; everything is so much cheaper to buy over there! DO learn your Mandarin, it will help you a lot to create contact with locals and get to know China better. And finally, try to have some savings to explore the country and do a few short trips, it’s so worth it.

What was the biggest culture shock you experienced when you arrived in China? How did you deal with that?

I actually didn’t get as much of a cultural shock as I was expecting! It all felt so natural, and I fell in love with Chinese people instantly. One thing that took me by surprise was the customs though, which are so different from western countries.

Why would you recommend Hutong school to new students?

To me, studying at Hutong School has been life-changing. What made me choose Hutong instead of the university, for instance, is the fact that HS is located in some very fun neighborhoods, and close to a lot of the things you’ll want to visit during your stay. The university is far up north and will take 45min/1h subway ride every time you want to go somewhere else than the university district, which is basically filled with bars for teenagers and people drinking…

Also, living in China while learning the language is absolutely the best way to learn fast. And the Hutong School’s teachers are professional, very talented and understand the reality of being abroad.

What did you gain from this whole China experience?

Living in China opened my eyes, heart and mind to another culture. It gave me confidence in myself, and showed me that hey! I CAN do everything I settle to, I just need the guts to do it.

What would you have done differently? (looking back on your whole China adventure)

I regret not staying longer… My initial internship was of 6 months, then the agency hired me because the fit was just perfect between all of us. I stayed for another 7 months but decided I had had enough of an experience and went back home. Sure I can’t say that my career afterward was not cool back home, quite the opposite, but looking back, I could have stayed just a little longer.

What are the things you miss about China?

I miss the people! Chinese people are so friendly, you just need to ignite a contact with a smile or a lively “Ni hao”, and you’re good for a little chat.

How has your China experience helped/changed you when you returned to your home country?

Because I worked as the Web Art director in the agency in Beijing, this experience on my CV certainly helped me catch the interest of companies where I later applied for a job.

Do you see yourself returning to China one day?

Certainly! Not too long ago, I strategically planned a 2-day overlay, when returning from a trip in Thailand. I visited some of my favorite places in Beijing such as Hou Hai and 798, the Art district. I’d clearly like to introduce China to my partner too!

Thanks very much to Laura for sharing her incredible experiences with us! Everyone at Hutong School wishes you the very best in your future endeavors and hope to see you again soon!

If you’re interested in hearing more about other former students’ experiences, check out our previous posts from former Hutong School alumni Michael or Delphine’s unique story of how studying with us in Shanghai inspired her to participate in a humanitarian rally in Morocco.

Feeling inspired and ready to embark on an international adventure of your own? Check out our wide range of award-winning programs, from intensive Chinese programs to internships. Get started today!

11 Jul 2019

Same great quality, bigger scale.

Hutong School is now operating as That’s Mandarin. Now you can expect the same great Chinese lessons with access to online Chinese learning platform NihaoCafe.