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East Asian Studies

Stephanie Hsiao ’05

Marketing Manager, NFL China in Beijing

I graduated from Princeton with an undergraduate degree in East Asian studies (EAS). Originally I matriculated with the intention of majoring in something “practical,” like economics; however, after taking a few East Asian history courses (to fulfill my historical analysis requirement), I found myself really enjoying the classes and taking more offerings in the department. I also made a last-minute decision to learn Chinese during the second semester of my freshman year—a choice made in large part because I no longer had any desire to study French (the language of choice in high school) but more so because, for the first time in my life, I was living on the East Coast, a mere hour away from my maternal grandparents, and I was embarrassed that as an American-born Chinese I could not communicate with them, save for a few phrases of salutation. Because I genuinely enjoyed the courses, I was immersed already in learning one of the requisite languages, and the idea of being a part of a small department (12 students at the time) really appealed to me, when it came time to declare a major, I decided to major in EAS—somewhat to the disapproval of my stern Asian father.

He is much more supportive of my decision now, especially since this one decision essentially shaped the course of my current career. During the course of my EAS study, I was able to travel to mainland China for the first time to conduct research for my thesis about the Chinese sports system—a unique opportunity given that my parents were born and raised in Taiwan after my grandparents fled the mainland in 1949, never given the chance to return to their hometowns. This visit proved to be life-changing and one that I believe set me on the path that brought me to where I am now.

Reaching my goal

Upon graduating, I spent one year working in Los Angeles in the sports marketing department at Speedo (I swam all four years at Princeton, so the transition to the “real world” was thankfully a smooth one). My professional career then followed a very fluid path: Having set a personal goal to make it to Beijing to work and live after my thesis research visit, I moved there in June of 2006 and began working at Octagon, a U.S.-based sports marketing firm with which I had become familiar during my time at Speedo. Through Octagon, I met representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and joined the team in July of 2008 after the league opened its fifth international office. I am currently the marketing manager for NFL China and am responsible for the organization and execution of the NFL’s grassroots programs and fan development initiatives.

My studies as an EAS major have profoundly influenced my choice in what career to pursue and also allowed me to function successfully in my current position. Had I not taken the language courses I did while at Princeton, I would not have thought it feasible to thrive in a Chinese work environment; had I not been exposed to the diverse cultural and regional historical analysis courses offered by the EAS department and brought to life by my professors, I would not have developed the desire to travel to this region nor have been able to appreciate the rich traditions maintained in the rapidly changing environment to which I am exposed on a daily basis. Most importantly, had I not been given the opportunity to visit Beijing as an undergraduate doing thesis research, I likely would have never had the desire to move to China after graduation.

I’ve heard people say that “it doesn’t matter what you major in,” and perhaps for some that is true, but for me the choice to be an EAS major is one that set in motion a series of life-changing events that brought me to where I am today. I look forward to discovering where else this journey, started in that first Chinese history class I took freshman year, will take me.