As long as you're going to think, says Donald Trump, think big. Well, you can't get much bigger than China, so I figured I should take Trump's advice and think about this supersized superpower.
It was two years ago when I initially began to think about China. My father piqued my interest in China by showing me articles about the country's exciting new business ventures and economic success. On top of these articles, my father's insightful lectures, which I am lucky enough to get to listen to every day, played a large role in getting me interested in China.
As I spoke more and more with my father and continued to read about China, one word kept popping up: global. This word seemed to be everywhere, and the idea behind globalism intrigued me. Being global, my father told me, was the way the next generation was going to make it in this world. Since he is usually right, I listened.
As I write this article from a cafe in Beijing, I cannot help but notice I am the only American customer inside and that very few non-Chinese people have walked by. I wonder why this is.
From my perspective, I find it absolutely fascinating to walk the streets of the oldest living civilization, to witness the juxtaposition between East and West apparent in daily life, and to see the world's most rising superpower from its very core.
I want the young population of Northwest Indiana to know that stepping out of their comfort zones and becoming global, be it in China or elsewhere abroad, is thrilling.
Although the froyo in Beijing has nothing on that of Northwest Indiana, there are so many positives that a journey here can bring.
The most intriguing of these positives is language. Studying Mandarin has been one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, experiences of my life. Although it was not offered at Munster High School, I knew I wanted to learn Asia's language of business. I had to seek out my own opportunities.
When everyone thought I was insane for attending Chinese class every day of my summer last year, I was having the most intellectually stimulating and positive academic experience of my life. When people heard I took the train into Chicago after school during my senior year to work with a Mandarin tutor, they responded with perplexed faces. This, I realize, is the problem. This is the reason I have not seen one young Hoosier in this cafe.
Young people's perceptions about doing things other than working at the local froyo place or "hanging out" in people's basements are often negative simply because pursuing a different path is not the norm in our community. Through my global experiences, however, I have learned that following a uniquely different path usually ends up being more fun than one can even imagine. We just need to use our creativity and plan experiences for ourselves that are not only strategic for our futures, but enjoyable by teenage standards also.
Strategy, creativity and planning: The three skills I had to use in making the most of my trip to China. Yes, there were many times when I had to step outside my comfort zone. I had to contact people over and over again who had no reason to answer me, I had to venture into a crowded, unknown city by myself, and I had to put myself out there, socially and professionally, and hope for the best.
Through it all, I adopted Steve Job’s famous advice as inspiration. I told myself to never be afraid of being seen as foolish as long as I was expressing my sincerest hopes and dreams.
Young people of Northwest Indiana, we have the potential to be innovative, global leaders of today, tomorrow, next week, for the rest of our lives. Creating our own paths and following our unique passions are the first steps.
About a month ago, I was finishing up dinner with my grandparents at a Chinese restaurant in New York City when I read the most insightful fortune cookie message I have ever seen — and I have had many fortune cookies over the years. "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it," it read. This is now my mantra.
We all have varied imaginations and we all dream different dreams, but what we do have in common is the potential to achieve our greatest aspirations and become whatever we want to be. This might be the naïve 18-year-old in me, but I have experienced what big dreams and a broad imagination can result in. After just two weeks in China, my Mandarin had improved immensely, I landed an internship at a top firm in Beijing, and I cultivated an eclectic network of new contacts and friends.
In Keith Ferrazzi's phenomenal book “Never Eat Alone,” the networking guru and CEO of FerrazziGreenlight writes, "The world is your stage. Your message is your play. The character you portray is your brand. Look the part; live the part."
The world does have the potential to be our stage, Northwest Indiana, and we each have the potential to be the stars of our own play if we are willing to go on audition after audition and not give up until we get the part.
Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu coined the famous line, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So, whether your desired destination is a thousand miles away, or on the other side of the world, as mine is, take that first step now. It will not be easy, it might not be everything you think it will be, but chances are it will be wonderful.
Kelly Bershader, 18, of Munster, is currently living in China. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.