Alumni Spotlight – Abram Wagner (COL 2010), China

Like many prospective majors within the Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures at Georgetown, I had a strong interest in foreign languages, but I wasn’t sure how an academic background in Chinese language and culture would fit into a future career. I was fortunate to find that, at its core, the Chinese major was a great program for developing proficiency in the language, and giving students the flexibility to explore other academic interests. While at Georgetown, I spent two summers in China with the Associated Colleges in China – first in a residential language program and then in a field studies experience, where I taught American culture to middle school students using Chinese. The Chinese language curriculum on site at Georgetown was also integral to me gaining skills in the language.

I also developed a strong interest in health issues, eventually adding a second major in the Biology of Global Health. My Chinese advisor, Professor Kafalas, supported my interests, and I wrote my senior thesis on “National Identity and Traditional Medicine in Chinese Social and Political Rhetoric.”  For this project, I examined a range of documents from Classical Chinese texts to policy plans from Communist Party, and it was a great complement to my coursework in other departments.

The undergraduate program in Chinese at Georgetown gave me a solid grounding in Chinese language and in critical thinking within a humanities context. Both sets of skills have been key to my current success in work (and have added enjoyment to life!). I know that being a strong writer and having competency in Chinese have made me standout from other job candidates. Being able to say “I majored in Chinese, and I can speak Chinese fluently” is how I’ve been able to distinguish myself when networking with other professionals. I imagine that these skills will gain even greater prominance in the future as China develops economically and extends its political and cultural reach.

After graduating from Georgetown, I combined my interests in Chinese and public health and pursued graduate studies in Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, with my doctoral dissertation focused on the control of infectious diseases in China. In 2017, I was selected as a Fulbright Scholar based out of Fudan University, where I researched the implementation of new vaccine programs in Shanghai.

In my current job, I travel regularly to China and continually use the cultural and linguistic fluency in Chinese that I developed at Georgetown. My current work portfolio includes several research projects with health departments in China, and I regularly speak at conferences using Chinese. Being able to use Chinese removes all sorts of barriers and has given me a much richer experience in both my work in China and in leisure travel than I would otherwise have (as exemplified by any experience I have had traveling to a country whose language I do not speak).

My Chinese skills have given me life-changing experiences through study programs, in work, and in other travel and cultural activities. I do believe my background in the humanities and in Chinese from Georgetown have allowed me to critically think about the world and have marketable and usable skills.