Asia in His Heart
By the time Travis Harris enrolled in Willamette’s summer abroad program in China, the joint degree student had had plenty of exposure to Asian culture. At 13, he started learning Kung Fu. At 16, he traveled to Beijing. At 19, having taken intensive Chinese classes, he was posted to Taiwan as a missionary for the Mormon Church. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a major in Chinese linguistics.
A job at a Utah law firm translating documents from Chinese into English and building a Chinese language database sparked his interest in the law. Willamette’s study abroad options — and the combined JD/MB A program through the Atkinson Graduate School of Management — made the school an ideal fit.
“I really want to utilize my Chinese,” Harris said. “To have a law degree, an MB A and a degree in Chinese linguistics would be a very fearsome threesome.”
In addition to Willamette’s summer abroad program, Harris also did an externship at a Chinese law firm. The lawyers made good use of his language skills. “It was one of the best jobs I ever had,” he said. “I wasn’t a paper pusher. They really put me to work.”
Harris spent most of his time helping sort out claims arising from a Fortune 100 company that decided to shutter its stores in China. The electronics retailer was a client of the firm, and Harris played a key role in working out settlements between vendors and the company.
“He’s outstanding,” said Steve Fieldman, a senior consultant at the firm. “His Chinese skills are excellent. If someone is on the phone with him, they don’t know he’s foreign.” Between the lectures he attended for school and his duties at the firm, Harris feels he has a firm grounding in international law and business.
“You can make a lot of money if you do business in China because the labor is so cheap and resources are so cheap,” he said. “But there are headaches because the law is not on your side and the culture is not developed enough to afford you the same security you’d have doing business in America.”
Harris learned plenty about living and practicing law in China. The Chinese government doesn’t allow non-Chinese lawyers to take the bar exam. The smog in Shanghai is so dense that sometimes he couldn’t see more than 100 yards in front of him. He got used to strangers constantly taking his picture with their cell phones.
“People (in China) are super friendly and the language is super intriguing,” he said. “What got me into the language was the characters; it uses the right side of the brain.”
Harris, who is married and has two children under the age of 5, hopes to live in China full-time someday or work for a firm with deep connections to the country.
“The degrees I earn will open doors to the jobs I’m looking for,” he said, “but the job experiences will set me apart from other applicants.”