To be inspired by the people you once knew as your student, is one of the highest accolades in this job.
“Know what you want, don’t be afraid of rejection and be nice to people” said Yixiang Zeng. It’s an aphorism that sounds like a humanist religion. For Yixiang it’s come to define how she’s made her journey from determined MA student, a decade ago, to a confident professional now some where in Hong Kong. Watching the news, she popped into my head.
She cut a diminutive and slightly nervous figure as a student, and when I invited her to deliver an impromptu testimonial of her life I saw a new confidence. Humility is one of her other endearing qualities.
But such is her story, how a shy Chinese student fought to find work from one British media establishment to another: the BBC, The Independent, The Financial Mail, Euro Money, that her story begs to be told. “I got a lot of rejections, a lot of rejections, but I believe if you really want to do it, you will”, she says.
The International Student
Eager, if not a little unsteady. Willing, if at times somewhat perplexed. If it wasn’t the bullet-speed variable accented English she had to get used to, it would have been the weather — muggy, grey and oh so uninspiring. But Yixiang, proud to be in the UK, fulfilling the wishes she harboured for so long, soldiered on.
With an infectious laugh, at first by default, she went about things the not-so-easy-way. I enquired about the province she grew up in China and how her parents were coping with her being in the UK. The response was courteous and parried. She was like so many other ambitious students, whose parents could just about afford to give their daughter the dream she wanted to pursue: study in the UK. That’s one of the few times I pried into a student’s life.
In the second semester, Yixiang lit up. She became more enquiring. The shy girl was now doing twenty questions with me ever so often. In fact there were many times when I’d appear in the door way ; she would spot me and make light of the distance between us, with another question.
Yixiang, I just saw you thirty seconds ago with the same question, I would bemoan. We’ve laughed about it many times since. Then I’d set about explaining or sending her off to the library for the specific book.
What Yixiang might have lacked in the quick grasp, she more than made up in her undiminished zeal. I’m certain if I’d set her a task in the freezing snow, I’d come back to see her persevering to finish the job, with indentions in the snow; more questions.
In the year I taught her, she mentioned she was applying for a BBC Scheme. What would they ask? And what did she need? I listened and it was clear as always she had the answers, but was seeking validation.
10 March 2008 13:34
I want to ask you that tomorrow could you kindly share some time with me discussing my application. I will have interview on Thursday.
I will bring my web critique and some other question answers, hope you could have a quick look, and comment on it.
Here is the link for the programme I applied:
You might be very busy, but I really need some help, and your suggestions and comments will be useful for me.
I thank you in advance
You write and I’ll check, I mentioned. I didn’t have to. Armed with her blog, her videos, radio packages et al, I would learn later that she ran over her interviewers. They asked one question and Yixiang turned into a guru extolling what she had done and how, and why she needed to be a BBC Intern. She got the place.
She was the last interviewee and first saw and applied for the position with a day to spare. Her BBC mentors spoke highly of her. At the point she was into three minutes of her eight minute soliloquy, they’d decided to giver her the much coveted place.
In final projects, Yixiang, back from the BBC, would burn the candle both ends and was rewarded for it: a distinction. She had managed to convince some of the best musicians from around the world, studying at the Royal College of Music to film them, write about them, become part of their lives.
The email traffic between herself and interviewees is the stuff of book plots. You don’t get to be one of the best musicians in the world by not wanting to control your own PR. But rejection was just a gateway to another path, and Yixiang went back to fulfil what she wanted to do.
She did some shifts at a local newspaper nearby, but now, now, she had secured an internship with CNN International. Many of us teared up. Yes I did as well. Brilliant! She would go onto work for Reuters and then City Wire in Asia, and is now an analyst with a major analyst firm in Singapore.
During her journey, I received a call from Hong Kong. Could I, said Human Resources, talk about Yixiang and support her application? I did and as a parting shot, asked if they ever intend an office party and there’s a piano in the corner, to gently cajole her to take a seat. She won’t tell you this, she’s too modest. She’s a concert pianist.
This year, I discovered, she’s going back to school part time to do a BSc in Accounting and Finance. Here’s wishing her all the very best.
Her willingness to learn and general outlook is intoxicating. So please raise a glass, water-filled even, for Yixiang, and for the triumph of perseverance, the right attitude and that age old mantra — if you want help, you must try and help yourself first and that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.