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PKU Personalities: Grounding His Roots in Beijing

MAY . 19 2021
Peking University, May 19, 2021: Peking University students and alumni are spread all across the world. PKU Personalities interview series is a part of our determination to keep Pekingers connected in this time of global isolation. This series of interviews aims to introduce notable Pekingers dedicated to international dialogue and cross-cultural communications to the rest of our PKU family and the world.

Jose Antonio Caraballo Fernandez from Peru and Venezuela is currently working as a commercial assistant at NIU Technologies where he looks after exporting logistics to Latin America. Jose completed his undergraduate degree from Yuan Pei College of Peking University where he majored in International Economics and Trade. Upon graduation, Jose continued to pursue his master's degree in Economics from Peking University where he focused his research on understanding trade relations between China and Latin America.

Growing up in Beijing

Unlike most international students who usually start their academic journey in China at the undergraduate or master's level, it was different for Jose. The first time Jose stepped foot in China was as a child in primary school when his mother decided to move to Beijing for work. He was enrolled in a normal Chinese Primary school and attended classes with his Mainland Chinese classmates. Jose recalls his initial days when engaged in the Chinese academic curriculum to be simply "challenging and unforgettable"; He was the only foreigner in class and has little if not zero understanding of the Chinese language. Coming from Spanish-speaking countries, Jose had to overcome both English and Mandarin as language barriers from a young age. Nonetheless, he considered himself fortunate, thanks to his ever-encouraging teachers and mentors, very kind classmates, and his loving family for being his vital pillars of support as he trudged through his tough times in adjusting to the Chinese way of life. “After so many years of living in China, sometimes my Chinese is better than my Spanish, which is why I listen to and read Spanish news every day so that I can still keep my Spanish proficiency!”

Picture of Jose with his first chinese teacher in Beijing when he was young

Realizing his calling for economics at PKU

Growing up in a Chinese high school environment has also influenced Jose to see PKU as his dream school, and with the prestige PKU upholds, Jose was afraid he may not be qualified enough to be admitted. Nonetheless, he was determined to give it a shot. With great eagerness, Jose proceeded to apply to PKU's Yuanpei College and received his admission letter in July 2014 to pursue his major in economics.“I couldn't say I was the one who chose PKU, it is PKU who chose me.”

Now working as a commercial assistant at NIU Technologies and actively engaged in the trade relations between China and Latin America, Jose credits PKU as the nurturing ground for his ever-growing passion for economics. Admitting to Yuanpei College has allowed Jose to explore his options and eventually settled his interest in the area of International Economics and Trade, in which he continued to pursue a master's in economics after his undergraduate studies. Jose also highlights how PKU provided him with the unique holistic platform of opportunities to learn and develop himself, an opportunity he may not have acquired if he was anywhere else.“We received a lot of guidance and help from our professors. They are patient, insightful and always offer constructive criticisms and advice to our academia and professional life.”

The resilience factor

Despite attending his high school in China, handling economics with the Chinese medium for his undergraduate and masters programmes, is still a big challenge for Jose. The intensive math curriculum required of the students studying in PKU's School of Economics not only calls for students' solid foundation of the Chinese language, but it also demands a strong understanding of technical jargon which are more often than not, less used in daily conversations. Overcoming the language barrier remains a hurdle for Jose to overcome, in order to keep up with the academic rigor which his major requires.“It requires a lot of work, and no one is going to lie about it; I know it was difficult, but I also knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Jose eventually moved on to research deeper into the economic cooperation between China and Latin America for his masters, as he looks in-depth into improving the eco and trade relations between the two regions. Jose further emphasized how PKU's dynamic campus was also a great support platform for him to interact and cooperate with many people from different backgrounds, which he deems as "a crucial platform to enhance effective and authentic communication bridge between China and other countries, creating greater opportunities for the whole world". To point out a few, Jose mentioned PKU's annual International Culture Festival as one of the biggest events which showcase the unique multi-cultural campus PKU has.

Jose at Weiming Lake

With China and Latin American countries embarking on different development paths, it is not uncommon for the mainstream media to paint a different picture of China. Jose believes that by being physically present and immersed in the Chinese environment, international students studying in China are in better positions to observe and fairly evaluate, with a sincere understanding of the ground reality. Equipped with sufficient cultural knowledge, these individuals and communities will then become the vital spokesperson to pave the way towards building and enhancing relations between China and their home countries. “There are many key lessons that my country could learn from China. China achieved great developments in such a short span of time, and this is something developing countries should be learning from.”

When asked for his biggest takeaway from PKU, Jose quotes PKU's four core school values "Diligence (勤奋)、precision (严谨)、factualism (求实)、innovation (创新)". Jose believes that acquiring knowledge and developing professional expertise only takes up a part of one's PKU journey, but more importantly, it is the spirit in which Pekingers learn and possess which makes PKU not just a school, but a home that creates many windows of opportunities. “We are always going to be faced with new challenges, new difficulties, exposed to new situations and new knowledge, but these four core values stay true in any context.”

"Never be afraid of what you may encounter in the future"

Like many international students who graduated with a master's in China, Jose was faced with two choices, to seek job opportunities in China or return to his home country for good. "To be honest I didn't know what I will be working at after graduating, I just know I wanted to be in the field of handling trade relations between China and Latin America, and I just started off from there".

Jose going on a learning journey trip organized by International Students Division to understand more about Peking's history and core values

When asked about how he landed his career in China, Jose explains "Preparing for a job is dependent on a lot of factors, and sometimes it is not just about what capabilities or assets you can offer, but rather also opportunities that come to you". Jose was planning on returning to his home country right after graduation but was unfortunately held up by administrative issues with his passport and subsequently, the COVID-19 pandemic. But Jose classifies this as a "blessing in disguise", which lands him an opportunity to gain his work experience in China and to explore Beijing even more, as he did not get a chance to amidst the hectic workload during his academic years. “I've always wanted to try the smelly toufu (chou doufu) in Beijing, and I finally did it!”

Goh Chia Chia, Aneka R. Rajbhandari
Editor: Pu Hairui
Producer:Amanda Hu
Photo credit to:Jose Antonio Caraballo Fernandez
Designer:Goh Chia Chia