The CEIBS Q+A
People in the US are distanced from the environmental damage done in making the things they consume, says Eric
We recently featured a story about the MBA students who worked to make CEIBS the first carbon neutral business school in Asia, and we decided to catch up with one of the “Decarbonators”, Eric Seidner, for an in-depth chat.
Eric, a native of Boulder, Colorado in the USA followed his yearning to explore Asia eight years ago. He is now in his sixth year in China and has gained a variety of experiences including business development and strategy roles, project management for the Chinese government and running his own English language school with over 170 Chinese students aged between 5 and 16.
He tells us about his passion for sustainability and social responsibility, meeting with one of his kung fu idols, Jet Li, and the unique benefits and challenges that come from living in Asia as an expat.
How did you end up in China?
I guess my sense of adventure drove me to explore Asia. Family members and friends always said enjoy life while you’re young and don’t have responsibilities. I was also very fascinated with the culture. I did martial arts and kung fu and Bruce Lee was one of my childhood stars. When I left the US, China was buzzing. It was pre-Olympics and I also visited Thailand and Nepal but there was something about my experience of China that just made me want to discover more.
What is the best thing about China?
It depends on the kind of person you are, because China is not for every one. It's very different from countries in the West. When I visited Europe, I found similarities and reference points I could draw on. Living in China has been an absolute growing point for me on levels of interpersonal development, patience and learning. There are endless opportunities to explore and so many more aspects of life here to experience.
What's the craziest thing that has happened to you as an expat?
When I first got here, I got a lot of attention as a foreigner, though not in Shanghai because it's an international city and very cosmopolitan. I remember stepping onto a train in Mongolia and everything went quiet. I sat down next to a child who was eating a banana and I said ‘banana’ to him. It turned into everyone listening in on my English teaching skills.
Did you have any embarrassing expat moments?
The embarrassing ones are really terrible. I wouldn’t want them on the internet.
How did you get Jet Li to star in the CEIBS 6th Annual Being Globally Responsible Conference in 2011?!
I would love to take the credit for that one but I have to put it down to great team work. We leveraged on networks using things like LinkedIn and Tianji and CEIBS alumni. It ended up that somebody called somebody who called somebody that then called somebody else until we got Jet Li.
Did you get an autograph?
No, unfortunately I didn’t. It was a professional event so I couldn’t be a groupie but I was glad that Mr. Li could attend. He was very gracious and was very keen to get involved because he knew that it was a student-led initiative.
Where do you think your interest in sustainability comes from?
I can’t quite pin-point it but all I can say is that it makes sense. Living in the US, you’re a bit distant from the results of the waste and inefficiencies that lead to environmental damage and I think this is because many of the manufacturing processes are outsourced.
In China, the results are in your face. In Beijing for instance, sometimes you can’t see the stars. The absolute rampant growth taking place here in the economy and with the population really makes you start to wonder.
It's something we have to think about and being a business student means coming up with solutions for business to apply.
Why go to CEIBS as opposed to other business schools in China or Asia?
I’ve been in China building on my entrepreneurial experience and wanting to merge my China experience with more structure. CEIBS is arguably the best business school in Asia so that was one of things I considered. China is still the place to be and it continues to be dynamic. The CEIBS motto, China Depth Global Breadth really exemplifies what I was looking for in an MBA programme.
Has CEIBS always been big on sustainability?
CEIBS has always expressed its interest in sustainability but I would say that sustainability and CEIBS really took off this year. There are so many teachers and students who care about it and are sharing their expertise in it. The administration is also on board and have supported many initiatives and projects.
You ran an English school in China. What was the most difficult thing about doing this?
The typical challenges of working with children and the responsibilities that come with that. I had worked as an English teacher for another school in Beijing and used to walk past through this dirt market on my way home and noticed that there were kids sitting down on the ground reading next to kerosene lanterns. I wanted to give them an extra opportunity so I offered English classes for free.
It became more popular and grew so I had even more challenges of communicating an entirely new language to these kids in a fun and interactive way. It was difficult to gain the trust of all the parents because not everyone got the teaching style immediately.
What can we expect from you next?
I would like to carry on working in sustainability at a company that places sustainability at the core of its business processes. Right now I’m looking at roles in both the US and Shanghai.
What would you say to people who are thinking about coming to live, study or work in China?
China is still growing and has many fantastic opportunities to offer but you have to come here with a strategy. I think the days of exploring Asia simply as an adventurer and hoping to get lucky are over. Things are not as simple as they once were but the great thing is that you can come and explore the scene for yourself. CEIBS is a great way to do that.
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