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Spotlight Iowa City: The business of Chinese

BY MICHELLE HILLENBRAND | MARCH 31, 2010 7:30 AM

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As his housemates sat nearby eating Americanized Chinese food, University of Iowa junior Devon Jarvis described eating fried scorpions during his study-abroad trip to China.

Clenching his fingers in an imitation of scorpion claws, he said five of the insects were put on a skewer, still alive and snapping, for people to pick out — “like picking out your lobster at Red Lobster,” he said.

Even though he was unsure if he should eat the stinger, he took the plunge.

“It tasted like a Gardetto,” he said.

Jarvis, who is studying finance and Chinese, was recently selected as one of the Tippie College of Business’ “21 Under 21,” an award that recognizes leaders in the business school based on scholarship, professional development, leadership, and service.

Jarvis is a member of business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, Tippie Senate, and the Hawkinson Institute, in addition to the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi.

Fraternity brother and roommate Joe Sheridan said he and Jarvis push one another to succeed.

Because of Jarvis’ fascination with Chinese language, Sheridan was inspired to take Conversational Chinese.

“I would say he affects me in a positive manner, broadening my horizons,” said Sheridan.

Classmate Jennifer Layer said she is impressed by Jarvis’ knowledge of everyone in the business college.

“One time we were walking down the hall together, and practically every two seconds, there was another professor going, ‘Hi, Devon,’ she said.

Eventually, Jarvis said, he hopes to use his finance and Chinese skills at an American firm in Hong Kong or Shanghai.

“With China being a rising economy, if I could become proficient with it, it would be a good skill to have down the road,” said the native of Fairfield, Iowa.

But for now, his capabilities in Chinese benefit him in more unusual ways.

“When I was in China, I just assumed most people had a rudimentary knowledge of English, so I would speak in slang if I didn’t want people to understand me,” he said.

But international students here are somewhat more candid, Jarvis said, not assuming others can understand.

Once, he overheard two Chinese students discussing his bookbag. Another time, he gave a girl directions to Calvin Hall when he overheard her asking a friend in Chinese where it was.

“She had this crazy look on her face, like she couldn’t comprehend that I would understand her Chinese,” he said.

Next fall, Jarvis will head to China again, to study language at a university in Shanghai. Nominated for a scholarship from the Chinese government, he hopes to live in an international students’ dorm.

Even though Jarvis may have to wait to use his Chinese in China, he can still show off his knowledge by singing The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” whenever he desires — in Chinese.

“It’s one of my hidden talents,” he said, smiling.


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