From IWU Magazine, Spring 2013 edition

Tim Cousins: Cultural Exchanges

Cousins waits for a train along what he describes as “probably the busiest walking street” in downtown Dalian. His college travels paved the way for him to launch a career in China. (Photo by Sun Peng)
Tim Cousins '10

“Like a wide-eyed child” is how Tim Cousins ’10 describes himself before his college study-abroad experiences in Asia.

As a junior, Cousins completed a semester-long business, language and culture program in Shanghai sponsored by the Council on International Educational Exchange. Before that, he says, “I didn’t know a lot about how the world works. It gave me the space to look at the United States from the outside and see a bit more clearly how the world thinks of us — as well as how we look at the world.”

Today Cousins is looking at the world from the vantage point of Dalian, China. Called “the Hong Kong of Northern China,” Dalian is both a major seaport and home to several high-tech enterprises. In Dalian, Cousins is a project manager for E-Graphics, a subsidiary of the New York-based marketing and advertising conglomerate Omnicom. It’s a position he secured through “persistence and luck,” as well as online job-hunting tools such as LinkedIn.

“One of the nicest things about living in Dalian,” he says, “is that it feels like a small town because it’s compact, and the foreigners stick together, so you have a fairly close-knit community. Beyond that, the city itself is one of the cleaner and less congested ones in China.”

As a junior high student growing up in the Chicago suburb of Darien, Cousins took Japanese classes and dreamed of one day studying abroad. When he arrived at Illinois Wesleyan, he had an inkling he would major in “something international.” Eventually, that inkling translated into a double major in international business and Asian Studies.

In addition to his spring semester in Shanghai, Cousins also joined a May Term travel course led by Fred Hoyt, associate professor of business administration. Through the class — in which students visited businesses in Shanghai, Xi’an, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul — Hoyt taught about the changes and challenges Asia is bringing to the world economy.

“I saw more of the world in those 30 days than I probably ever will be able to do again,” Cousins says of Hoyt’s course. “The experience helped me understand how the world’s businesses work.”

Hoyt’s introductions also paved the way for a post-college internship with the International Channel Shanghai (ICS), which reaches an estimated 4.4 million families in Shanghai. For ICS, Cousins helped produce “Culture Matters,” a bilingual talk show. It was unusual for ICS to hire non-Chinese interns, Cousins says. He credits the opportunity to experiences gained both at IWU and at Valparaiso University, where he earned a master’s in Chinese studies and completed an intensive, semester-long program at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

One thing that struck Cousins in traveling back and forth between Asia and the U.S. was the relative lack of knowledge that most Americans possess about other cultures. “Everything is so interconnected today,” he says. “Everyone needs to learn about the rest of the world, whether you like it or not. It’s impossible to treat the U.S. as an island.”

“The Chinese certainly care about the rest of the world,” he adds. “I even had a taxi driver in Shanghai ask me about Rod Blagojevich during the height of his scandal” that resulted in the former Illinois governor being jailed on corruption charges.

For his job at E-Graphics, Cousins manages production of clients’ electronic direct mailings, making sure graphics and text work together smoothly to create clear, compelling messaging.

Cousins says it took some time to get accustomed to the Chinese workplace’s “culture of indirectness.”

“When I had my internship, if the boss had any complaints, she would have a coworker tell me rather than do it herself. In my current company, there’s much the same happening. When a coworker is dissatisfied with a certain issue, he doesn’t bring that up, but rather brings up complaints on things he has standing to complain about more. It’s a bit hard to get used to, but once you know how it works, it’s easier to learn to go with the flow.”

The pay is low by American standards, he adds, but so are prices for everyday living. “My apartment is fairly big for local standards and in a nice area,” Cousins explains. “It’s probably 30 to 40 percent less than I would pay even in the less trendy areas of Chicago.”

Although Cousins admits it can sometimes feel a bit lonely being so far away from friends and family back in the States, he’s committed to staying in China as long as he can. “Every single day is a new adventure, and even studying as much as I have about this country, those new experiences are not about to end soon.”

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