Derek Hardy was set to go to London for Study Abroad. But the Olympics changed his mind.
As he watched the television coverage, Hardy was lured in by the dramatic contrast between Beijing’s modern architecture and ancient culture. As a financial economics major with minors in business administration and history, he was also intrigued by dichotomy of China’s new economy.
At the eleventh hour, Hardy found a program at Peking University that was the perfect mix of academics and cultural activities. He ended up spending the spring and summer of 2009 studying and working as a business development intern at Zhanzou.net, China’s second-largest social networking firm, which offered a product similar to Facebook.
“I was really interested in how they reconciled this deep-set Communist ideology with the world market,” says Hardy, a Deer Isle, Maine, native and UMaine honors student. “It kind of feels like you would imagine the Wild West would feel. It’s Communist, but you wouldn’t know it. The streets are full of people selling stuff, and everyone has a back-of-the-napkin business plan they are trying hard to make work.”
Hardy is co-president of SPIFFY, UMaine’s Student Portfolio Investment Fund, which manages a $1.3 million endowment for the University of Maine Foundation, so he already had a working knowledge of global markets. He had also studied China’s transition in his business classes. But nothing beats experiencing it firsthand.
“Reading about it, I didn’t really understand how things worked. It’s still pretty complicated, but it was good to see it in person,” he said.
The experience set him up for his honors thesis on Maine-China trade relations, and he has been in touch with business leaders in both locations. Because of geography and demographics, Maine and China don’t have a natural, obvious connection, but he says everyone he’s spoken with is excited about the possibilities and recognize the importance of such trade ties.
Hardy will graduate in May, and he plans to return to China. He credits UMaine and the Honors College with instilling the value of a global mind-set, and for providing him with the broad cultural knowledge base he needed to succeed.
“It was great to prove to myself I could do something like that,” Hardy says. “The high school-to-college jump is one thing, but to go to another country where I didn’t know the language and I didn’t know anyone, it was just great to know I could do that. There are a lot of jobs there now if you know Chinese, which I do now, and they really value people with a Western education. There are a lot of opportunities.”
Image Description: Derek Hardy