Schwarzman Scholar Bo Kane ’17 pursues his passion for China.

Interview by Kim Catley

After graduation, Patrick “Bo” Kane ’17, followed the path of many economics majors to work as an investment banking analyst with Bank of America (formerly Bank of America Merrill Lynch) in New York. After a couple years on Wall Street, he transitioned to financial technology, landing a position in capital markets with Affirm, a company that provides point-of-sale installment loans for online purchases.

But Kane—who triple majored in mathematics, economics and Chinese—never let go of his passion for the Mandarin language and Chinese civilization.

That interest led him to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program, which supports students from around the globe as they pursue a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Beijing’s top-ranked Tsinghua University. The program is highly selective; more than 3,000 candidates applied and more than 400 were interviewed. Kane is one of 152 Schwarzman Scholars selected for 2022-23. Members of the seventh scholar cohort come from 33 countries and 107 universities.

Headshot photo of Bo Kane“I invested so many hours in my Mandarin education, and I haven’t had a chance to use it in the past three or four years of my professional career,” Kane says. “I’m excited to get back into the language, and to go back to China.”

Here, Kane talks about the origins of his interest in China, what he hopes to gain from his experience as a Schwarzman Scholar and how the U.S. and China can learn from one another.

What first interested you in Mandarin?

I went to a pretty unique public boarding school, where they took some of the top students from high schools in North Carolina, and they taught Mandarin. I’m an ambitious person, and it’s considered a very difficult language to learn, so I wanted to challenge myself.

I ended up having some truly incredible teachers who did such a good job at getting students interested, and I just fell in love with it. One of them ended up recommending me for this U.S. State Department-sponsored scholarship. And so, between my junior and senior years of high school, I went to China on the State Department scholarship. It was my first time traveling internationally, and my first time being in a big city. I went to Beijing, which is a city of 30 million people, before I even went to New York.

That just cemented it for me.

How did you continue your Chinese studies at Williams?

When I came to Williams, I also had the good fortune of having some incredible teachers. Professor Christopher Nugent taught me classical Chinese, which is kind of the Latin of modern-day Mandarin. It’s the written language that Confucius, and a lot of historical figures throughout the 5,000 years of Chinese history, wrote in. I fell even more in love with the classical piece.

I ended up doing an independent study in classical Chinese where I worked with another professor in the comparative literature and Asian studies departments to produce original translations of different ancient Chinese works.

I also got the Wilmers Language Grant, the Linen Asian studies research grant and the outstanding senior in East Asian Studies prize. The first two I used to study abroad in Beijing.

What led you to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program?

Geopolitical tensions have been very strong between the U.S. and China, and I think it’s a real shame because there’s a lot that both societies can learn from each other.

China’s done an incredible job at prioritizing growth. There’s a lot I disagree with in the Chinese Communist Party, but if you were to measure general wellness, material wellness of any set of citizens in the world, I would argue that the CCP has done, far and away, the best job at improving the lives of their citizens. People in the ’60s and ’70s got a handful of rice and a golf ball’s worth of meat every month as their rations; now, modern Chinese people have infrastructure that is better than any city in the U.S. They’ve done an incredible job at running a country and producing outcomes for their citizens.

So, I think there’s a lot that we can learn from them, and I think there’s a lot that they can learn from us in terms of having a robust civil society, free speech and releasing some of the tight grip that they have on certain portions of their society. I saw all this misalignment and misunderstanding between people, and I want to be a part of a solution.

What do you hope to get out of the program?

It’s very focused on experiential learning, which spoke to me more than some of the programs that are more tailored toward people who want to pursue academia afterwards. I also like how multidisciplinary it is. I come from a tech and finance background, but I want to speak with people who are focused on climate policy, and public health, and who have worked in government or who plan to work in government.

There are a lot of different paths and I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I think this is a good stepping stone to figure out what that is—and to be among people who have a solid understanding of this problem from a bunch of different facets.

Published December 6, 2021