SPECIAL REPORT: WISCONSIN IN CHINA
Among those most excited by the recent launch of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Shanghai Innovation Office and the visit to China by Interim Chancellor David Ward are the loyal Badger alumni in the region.
“Having a UW presence in China is really a milestone for our commitment here, as the first question Chinese would ask is whether you have something on the ground,” says Neville Lam, the founding president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Shanghai Chapter. “I am particularly thrilled to see the UW office in Shanghai as an additional resource to help grow the Badger community.”
Today, UW–Madison has 878 living alumni in China and 1,367 in Hong Kong. In the coming years, the Badger alumni population in China is especially poised to surge. In recent years, more than a third of the non-U.S. students enrolled at UW–Madison come from China—1,671 out of 4,928 international students for the spring 2012 semester.
In June 2012, hundreds of alumni turned out to celebrate their Badger pride at receptions in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Lam, director of China business development for American Appraisal China Limited, received his bachelor’s degree in business at UW–Madison in 1997. He has played a vital role as UW–Madison’s on-site consultant for getting the Shanghai office ready to open and will continue to serve as the office’s interim director.
At the reception in Shanghai, he was honored as Badger of the Year for his efforts.
Lam reflected on his experience at UW–Madison. He came to Madison in the summer of 1993 to study accounting.
“It was my first trip to the States,” he says.
“The best thing about Madison is surely the environment. It has been voted as one of the most livable cities and made me choose it over the University of Texas–Austin for college. I have a lot of fond memories of State Street, Lake Mendota, the Arboretum and scenic Monroe Street. I remember there was always a sense of going home whenever I returned to Madison from occasional short trips elsewhere.
“Admittedly four years of undergraduate study was a relatively short period, but the experience lasts,” he says.
In particular, he points to a great cross-cultural experience in his freshman year:
“I was obliged to take English as Second Language (ESL) class as an international student. At the end of the term, we needed to submit a reading report on a book of our choosing.
“I picked a novel that was highly critical of the social ills of modern day American society, especially immigration and racism. I chose it just to see what sort of reaction my instructor would have. She ended up writing in length, analyzing various sensitive issues which were not particular to the U.S. but elsewhere in the world as well, and admitted frankly that there were things to be improved.”
Lam concludes: “I was brought up in a non-confrontational culture that you are not supposed to ‘rock the boat,’ especially when you are a guest in a foreign country. The ESL instructor impressed me on how to be critical but remain constructive.”
Another UW–Madison alumnus who stepped forward to help his alma mater was Samuel Mak.
When Mak started his own Hong Kong-based public relations/advertising firm in 2004, he named it Madison Communications—which many observers assumed was a reference to New York City’s Madison Avenue. No, Mak explains, the name refers to Madison, Wisconsin, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations in 1990.
When he learned about the university’s plans to establish a presence in Asia, Mak volunteered to assist with public relations and helped to stage the office-launching ceremony in Shanghai.
“I always wanted to give back to a school that has made my life so enriched, so memorable. Being involved in this initiative means I could at least contribute a small part as Badger,” Mak says.
Pointing to the growing number of UW–Madison alumni in the region, he says, “We are the de facto UW-Madison Ambassadors in China and naturally a UW-Madison ‘embassy’ must be set up to facilitate mufti-dimensional collaboration. … We love our alma mater. The physical presence of UW-Madison in Shanghai in a way means much like an extended Madison campus to us.”
As a student at UW–Madison, Mak further extended his cross-cultural experiences as an UW exchange student to Budapest, Hungary in 1989-90, at a time when major changes were occurring across Eastern Europe.
Looking back on the most important lessons he learned at UW–Madison, Mak says, “Nothing is impossible. I was humbled by the encouragement and support I got from lots of great teachers, fellow classmates and many others. They inspired me a lot to go out and see the world.”
— by Kerry G. Hill