Rob Schmitz wasn’t ready to settle down.So as a college student, he traveled to Spain, studying Spanish for a few years. Then he traveled around Australia for a while. And after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he served two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zigong, a remote community in the Sichuan Province of China.“A lot of my classmates were in a hurry to get done, get a job, get married, have children,” said Schmitz, 40, who lives in Shanghai and is the China bureau chief for American Public Media’s “ Marketplace.” “I wasn’t.“I did a lot of not-so-wise things in my life, but that was a wise thing.”That’s because it prepared him to compete in the increasingly global economy, Schmitz said.The Minnesota native will talk tonight as part of the TCU Language and Culture Festival — a campuswide event that runs through Thursday — about how his immersion in foreign cultures helped him become an international journalist.Schmitz’s lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Ed Landreth Auditorium, 2800 S. University Drive. TCU officials recommend that those attending park in the University Christian Church lots near West Cantey Street and Rogers Avenue and say overflow parking should use Lots 3 and 4.Boosting awareness of the importance of studying foreign languages and increasing sensitivity to cultural diversity are among the top goals of this festival, TCU officials say.Schmitz, whose brother Ryan is a Spanish professor at TCU, said his Peace Corps experience changed his life.He had hoped to go to South America to use his Spanish. But he was given three choices: Pakistan, China or Siberia. He chose China.“We were the first foreigners to live in the rural town since 1949,” Schmitz said. “It was a very eye-opening experience. Everyday existence was kinda crazy.“People hadn’t seen a foreigner before, so we attracted a growing entourage watching us, following us,” he said. “I learned the language fairly well, partly because there was no other way to survive there.”After his two-year Peace Corps stint was up, he returned to the United States. “But I went back to China quickly,” he said. “I felt it was premature to leave.”Schmitz is now a journalist who has covered a variety of topics in China, from education to labor conditions. He covered the fallout of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and in 2012 he exposed performer Mike Daisey’s fabrications of Apple’s supply chain on This American Life.But he wouldn’t be where he is today if not for his willingness to travel and learn other languages, such as Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, when he was younger.“If we want to grow our economy further, not a slight growth but a long-term growth, our young people need to learn other languages and have these experiences … to compete,” he said.In China, he said, young adults are competitive and hungry for opportunity.“They want to learn. They are curious,” he said.
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley