In both his studies and his career, Tobias Ross has been able to combine his two passions – football and China.
After completing his BA in Chinese and Business at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen, Germany, Tobias went on to study an MA in Development Studies at Beijing Normal University.
He has pursued a career in international sports marketing, and is currently working towards his PhD, which focuses on business-state relations in China’s political economy in the case of China’s recent football development reforms. He also works as freelancer on China-related sports marketing projects.
Breaking down the language barrier
In 2005, Tobias Ross went on a trip to China with a group of classmates for the summer. As he travelled across the country, he was desperate to be able to communicate with the people he met. Frustrated by not being able to speak to locals and fully immerse himself in the community, he decided to learn Mandarin in the hopes that when he returned to China he would open himself up to more conversations and connections.
Mandarin learning challenges
One of Tobias’ early memories of learning Mandarin was being introduced to tones in class in Germany and having to repeat the same word over and over again. He remembers looking around at his classmates and laughing at each other as they tried to get their heads around this new language.
Tobias admits that he has found mastering the pronunciation of Chinese words difficult and sometimes frustrating. He particularly struggled when he was looking for a specific product in a shop or trying to pronounce the name of a place, as in these situations it’s more important to pronounce it correctly.
Tobias approached this challenge by having conversations in Chinese with as many people as possible, listening carefully when they are speaking and trying to emulate how they spoke.
Mandarin learning breakthroughs
This was when I realised, ‘okay, you’ve got to a different level now!
While everyday achievements like buying vegetables and ordering lunch in China were very rewarding to Tobias, a significant breakthrough moment in his Mandarin journey was finally being able to argue and debate in Chinese! Having experienced times when his emotions ran high and his Mandarin escaped him, the moment he was able to have an argument in Chinese without slipping back into English was exciting for him – he even remembers pausing the argument to mention that he was speaking in Mandarin!
Making connections through Mandarin
Tobias recognises that many important connections he has made would not have happened without Mandarin. One friendship in particular was born when he was studying in Beijing and visited a local street food vendor, where he often saw a man who would wear a different football shirt each day. When Tobias saw the man wearing his favourite football team’s shirt, he knew that he had to start talking to him!
Through this conversation he discovered that the man was a huge German football fan, and this led to them watching football games together, sometimes going to the local football stadium. Now looking back he recalls how this friendship could not have blossomed as it did without being able to speak Mandarin.
Using Mandarin in a work environment
After studying for his MA, Tobias’ separate passions for football and China merged in his working life when he landed a competitive role working for the German football Bundesliga as a manager in international marketing, working on several projects linked to China’s football and media industry.
Tobias appreciated that his work with the Bundesliga has allowed him to maintain a connection to China whilst pursuing his passion for football. While the role was globally focused, he was able to have frequent business trips to China and participate in projects with Chinese partners, which enabled him to practice his Mandarin and continue to experience Chinese culture. This role gave him the perfect balance of his personal interests in business, China and football.
He continues to do freelance marketing work for China-related projects which expands his experience in this field and helps him to develop his understanding of the industry.
Chinese helps you to stand out – it gives you an edge .
Working in the football industry in Germany is extremely competitive, and Tobias recognises that his experience with Chinese language and culture helped him to stand out from the crowds and land his role at the German Bundesliga. His background in Mandarin along with his intercultural competence gave him a unique perspective to offer the role, and ultimately he feels this was a major reason that enabled him to get into this career.
The value of work experience
Tobias was also able to draw from the experience he gained from a six month internship he undertook in China whilst studying for his BA.
Working in the EXPO World Exhibition in Shanghai as part of a German-Chinese cultural project gave him an invaluable insight into working in a Chinese business environment, as well as being challenged to use his Mandarin. As people rarely spoke English at the EXPO administration offices, Tobias was often the only link between the German and Chinese administration, and had to complete lots of difficult tasks in Mandarin.
He attributes this experience as a key step in his career path, and values the skills and awareness that he gained from it.
Reflecting on the value of Mandarin
Tobias values the access that learning Mandarin has given him – access to a new world of conversations, friendships, and opportunities that he would not be able to experience without it.
Whilst travelling in China, he was able to have conversations with far more people than he previously would have been able to; when working for Bundesliga he was able to make connections that non-Mandarin speakers would have had the ability to do; and now, in his research for his PhD, Tobias has access to a much broader variety of resources.
The Mandarin Aspirations Project