Leadership Network member's China odyssey redirected by Covid

After focussing his studies on a career in China, the onset of Covid forced Leadership Network member Sam Brosnahan to reconsider his options. However, he says the Leadership Network has helped him keep in touch with his Asia aspirations, and he looks forward to future adventures in the region.
Sam Brosnahan standing in front of a glass door with the ANZ logo on it

Sam: "Having the Asia New Zealand Foundation has been awesome because it gives you perspective, to keep the bigger picture in mind."

When he was a student, Sam Brosnahan could picture his future – and it was Asia focused.

He was at the University of Canterbury studying for a Bachelor of Commerce in international business and a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese language.

Combining the two was a no-brainer for Sam.

“I thought, let’s study Mandarin, because I saw what was happening in the world and I thought in terms of a language it would be a useful one to study.”

It was obvious to him future employers in the business sector would be wanting China-savvy employees.

He pounced on opportunities that took him offshore, especially to China – he was learning the lingo after all.

In 2014, he received a Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia to study at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. He says as a twenty year old, venturing to China was a new and exciting experience.

“My dorm building was a mix of international students and some local Chinese, so it was great getting to know people from all over the world.

“Being the financial hub of China, Shanghai certainly has an globally-connected feel to it (compared to other Chinese cities), so it felt like I was in the right place completing my international business degree with Mandarin as my language component.”

Having studied Mandarin for only a year, he arrived in Shanghai at beginner level but being immersed in the language was just what he needed to progress.

“It was a steep learning curve needing to use Mandarin day-in-day-out. However heading into the ‘deep end’ was the best thing for my Mandarin, as by the end of my six months in China I was comfortably at a conversational level of speaking ability.”

The next year, he took up the role of president of Global China Connection Canterbury, a non-profit, student-led organisation connecting students to opportunities in China.

Later, he returned to China, interning at an engineering consultancy company based in Shenzhen that specialised in manufacturing bespoke computer equipment. He loved living in the modern thriving city bordering Hong Kong.

“Something I really enjoyed about Shenzhen was how the innovative nature of the city really translated to the mindsets of individuals. Everyone seemed to be on the mission to build ideas and concepts as well as discover improved ways of working.

"Another aspect I enjoyed about Shenzhen was being in relatively close proximity to other destinations around China - such as Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Guilin or Hainan Island, which were often only a weekend trip away.

The world was his oyster.

But, that next chunk of life for Sam – those first few years of real-world work – came during the closed-in years of the pandemic.

Sam Brosnahan pulling his luggage across a busy Hong Kong street

Sam passing through Hong Kong on his way to Shenzhen

New Zealand, and New Zealanders, were forced to become more inward looking.

He's almost apologetic that his current job is not China focussed: “I guess, I’m at ANZ at the moment, based in Christchurch...what I’m doing isn’t directly related to Asia or China, at all.”

His experience isn’t unique – that transition from school or university to the hard slog of working to a job description hits plenty of young people.

“It’s (university’s) very aspirational. There’s these opportunities - internships and overseas experiences - and then when you actually graduate the rubber hits the road.

“It’s not exactly that you have to take what you can get, but it’s definitely you have to become a lot more focused in terms of what opportunities are actually out there.”

He says his involvement with the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Leadership Network has been a way of keeping that dream alive.

“My job, my career, at the moment, is a big part of my day, a big part of my week. So, it just naturally becomes the focus.

“Having the Asia New Zealand Foundation has been awesome because it gives you perspective, to keep the bigger picture in mind.

“Definitely, it’s kept the fire burning in terms of wanting to do something in that space [Asia] in the future.”

He thinks particularly over the “insular” years of the pandemic, when borders stayed shut in New Zealand, the foundation provided a “lifeline” for many by “keeping people plugged in to Asia”.

Events and the networking they facilitate continue to be “instrumental in keeping an ear to the ground, he says.

While Sam’s Asia experience has been largely focussed on China, he says he would love to experience life in South Korea or Japan.

“I think they are also fascinating cultures and ones that would have been really insightful visiting short-to-medium term and experience how they also live and work. Will have to visit them next!