Fastow explores business in China

Sukul Mittal, Staff Writer

From September to December, Dartmouth College sophomore Jeffrey Fastow (‘14) was catapulted into a new country where he rode yaks, ate pig intestines and learned Shaolin Kungfu.

Fastow and twelve other Dartmouth students attended Beijing Normal University as part of a language study-abroad trip. Despite never taking Mandarin in high school, Fastow had to speak the language daily.

“I had taken a few classes at college, but I came into the country knowing relatively little about the language or culture,” Fastow said. “The trip was extremely rigorous. Our teachers didn’t speak any English, so we were forced to learn Chinese pretty quickly.”

Fastow lived with a Tibetan family of yak farmers, whose son had left to become a Buddhist monk. Locals persuaded him to try Yak cheese and Yak butter tea, a local drink.

“All I could think about during our discussions was how incredibly different their faith and line of work was from my own, yet how similar their household customs and manners were to those of my own family.”

Fastow sits atop the Great Wall of China.
Chase Migas
Fastow sits atop the Great Wall of China.
















Fastow’s presence also excited citizens and passerbies.

“People here are sometimes taken aback by the sight of an American. Their enthusiasm to take pictures of me lies somewhere in between amusing and shocking.”

Although he was fascinated with his experience in China, Fastow missed Texan culture.

“I missed Texas BBQ and not having to wake up early in the morning to watch football games,” Fastow said.

Fastow advises potential tourists to use public amenities with caution and be aware of counterfeit products. 

“Tap water or street food can seldom be trusted, and the authenticity of many local goods is often suspect, with many knock-off brands like “‘Abercrombie and Mitch’ and  ‘The South Face’ garnering widespread appeal,” Fastow said.

Besides practicing Mandarin, the students also observed local and international business practices. Fastow hopes to use his new knowledge in career decisions.

“I talked with local entrepreneurs about everything from the Chinese labor force to the devaluing of the yuan,” Fastow said. “I think it gave me a really interesting perspective about potentially starting a business or working abroad after college.”

Although Fastow had difficulty learning the distinct regional dialects of China, he gained a working proficiency in standard Mandarin.

It’s fun to see Jeffrey talking to my family in Chinese now,” April Chang (‘14) said. “He can even talk about the economy in Mandarin because he knows the words for things like GDP.”

By the end of the trip, Fastow could hold lengthy conversations with native speakers.

“Being able to relate to someone on a deeper level by speaking their own language, and realizing that the people you meet are so shockingly similar to you but also incredibly different, can offer good perspective on how you may want to live your life,” Fastow said.

Fastow reflected on the personal differences between his life in the United States and in China.

“I gained a valuable perspective about what it’s like living in the ethnic minority for the first time in my life, and especially in light of escalating racial tension in the U.S. I think that is an ever important viewpoint to have,” Fastow said.

Fastow rides a Yak on Tibetan mountains. (Chase Migas)

Younger brother Matthew Fastow became interested in his brother’s stories.

I’m super jealous. Hearing about his travels made me want to leave Houston and join him,” Matthew said. “I too want to learn a new language once I go off to college, and noticing his quick improvement reassured me that I too could do the same.”

Matthew hopes follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“I’ve lived in Houston my whole life, and I’m a lifer at St. John’s, so I don’t really have a very diverse or cosmopolitan worldview,” Matthew said. “Once I graduate, I’m definitely going to travel more and explore cultures that diverge from my own.”