Dylan Rothenberg is an alumnus of the 2010 NSLI-Y semester program for Chinese. Nearly fifteen years after his NSLI-Y experience, Dylan has remained focused on Chinese language and culture, returned to his host country for his Master’s degree and PhD, and started his own tea company in China.

After completing NSLI-Y, Dylan began his undergraduate education at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he continued his study of Chinese. He returned to Beijing through the Boren Scholarship, where he was introduced to the field of tea science through serving as a translator for a friend and began to learn more about the relevant vocabulary to the field. He connected with a professor at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou who encouraged him to pursue his interest in this field and continue his education with the professor in Guangzhou. Dylan returned to the United States to finish his Bachelor’s degree, took a gap year to work in Japan, and then moved to Guangzhou to start his Master’s degree. Dylan notes that he was the only American in the program and that everything was taught in Chinese. Even with strong Chinese skills, Dylan struggled initially in the program with studying complex topics like plant physiology and chemistry fully in Chinese. After a lot of reading and learning, he finished his Master’s degree and began his PhD. Now in his fourth (and hopefully final!) year of his PhD, Dylan has found his niche in tea science and sustainable agriculture. Dylan is curious about using organic growing techniques to reduce dependence on chemicals in tea production.

Dylan was inspired to study abroad after realizing his passion and talent for foreign languages in high school. After studying Latin and Spanish, he began to consider building a career in foreign languages, as he felt like he had found what he truly excelled at. He decided to learn Chinese due to the variety of career paths and options available to those who speak the language. He notes that NSLI-Y was the perfect environment for him to begin his language study. With limited language skills when he began the program, Dylan enjoyed learning and growing with the other NSLI-Y students in Beijing. He notes that they built a special camaraderie together around the novelty of being abroad and able to explore a new city, saying that “my eyes had never been opened to that degree before.” This feeling of newness has had a lasting impact on Dylan and he notes that, when he travels to new areas of China now, he still gets a tickle of excitement that reminds him of the way that he felt during NSLI-Y.

Dylan hopes to finish his PhD in Tea Science at the end of 2024, after which he is excited to be able to focus more of his time towards his own tea company, Wu Mountain Tea. Managing a business and completing a PhD has been stressful and uncertain, but Dylan has strongly enjoyed both ventures. Through this process, Dylan has learned a lot about himself, including how to be patient and not get burnt out and how to prioritize. Dylan looks forward to continuing to learn more about sustainable tea cultivation and soil microbiomes and supporting sustainable agriculture through his business, all while navigating life and business in a foreign language and culture.