Jack Strauss ’19 remembers a bus ride down a dirt road in rural Southern China. He thought he was heading toward Longsheng for a quiet weekend exploring the county’s famed rice terraces, and it wasn’t until he’d traveled 10 miles in the opposite direction that he realized his mistake.
It was the summer before his freshman year at USC. The bus driver, shrugging off his dilemma, told him to either wait an hour until the next stop, or get out then and there. So, in the dwindling daylight, Strauss disembarked and stuck out his thumb, hoping his basic Mandarin could get him a ride back into town—and on the cheap. He eventually made it, and shared a meal with the one driver kind enough to give him a ride for free.
“I’m a big proponent of getting yourself into situations outside of your comfort zone—situations that scare you,” he says. “It’s one thing to make a mistake in your dorm room. But when you’re out in the real world in an environment completely foreign to you, speaking a language you barely understand, you’re forced to rise to the occasion. And you grow.”
"USC offers so many more untraditional opportunities for international travel in any capacity you could dream of.” --Jack Strauss '19
Indeed, his passion for learning Mandarin has been fueled by his love of the challenge. “China is the place that’s most different from what I’m used to,” he says. “And that’s extremely intriguing to me.”
After spending seven months during his junior year in Guilin and Shanghai, Strauss was eager to put his language skills to the test. In his final days in China he took—and passed—the formidable HSK 5 fluency exam. “It was the hardest test I’ve ever taken,” he laughs. “But it was a great feeling to see that metric of how far my Mandarin ability has come.”
For context, those who pass the level 5 fluency test can “read Chinese newspapers, enjoy Chinese films, and give a full-length speech in Chinese” according to the organization that administers the exam.
Strauss took his first Chinese classes in high school, and he chose USC Marshall in large part because of the international opportunities he knew it would offer him.
“As a freshman I was traveling through Shanghai and Beijing with my business classes, and interning in Taipei over the summer. Then as a sophomore I spent three weeks in Ireland on a Maymester studying language revitalization. When I list out all of these experiences, it sounds unbelievable. Any university can offer you a semester abroad, but in addition to that, USC offers so many more untraditional opportunities for international travel in any capacity you could dream of.”
Strauss, who grew up in the Bay Area, is graduating with a double major—Business Administration and East Asian Language and Culture (his chosen emphasis in Chinese). He’s optimized every opportunity for keeping up his Mandarin on campus while still getting involved in the leadership of a handful of student organizations, chief among them the Trojan Consulting Group and the Marshall Student Ambassadors, both of which he led as president.
Bain & Company knows a good thing when it sees one. The consulting firm offered Strauss an internship last summer that he loved, working first in LA and then in Bain’s Shanghai office.
“That’s when you really learn how good—or how lacking—your language skills are,” he laughs. “In a professional setting.”
He will soon be starting full time in Bain’s Los Angeles office, but hopes to transfer back to Asia sometime in his first few years. “Bain is already such an incredible place to work, and the global mobility options make it that much more exciting to me,” he said.
Advice for entering freshmen—get as far away from your comfort zone as possible. And maybe do it in Mandarin.