For Patrick Gittard ’08, life is like a river.
“Sometimes you can decide if you want to go down the rapids or if you want to go along the side, but it’s got a course,” says the Honors College grad. “You may think you want to go this way, but if the river makes a bend you sometimes just have to follow the river.”
It was that mindset that allowed Gittard to be open to life’s unexpected opportunities and led to his working in Shanghai, China, as the marketing manager for Jensen Group, an industrial laundry equipment company.
Gittard’s journey to Asia took a winding path. When he got to the College of Charleston, Gittard first planned to study marine biology. A friend’s sister convinced him to take an anthropology course, and after a class with anthropology professor John Rashford, he changed direction.
“Professor Rashford is one of those teachers who makes you change the way you think about the world,” Gittard recalls. “I know that I view the world differently because of the things Professor Rashford taught me.”
And as an anthropology major, Gittard wanted to learn about the world outside his own. Although Gittard’s father is French and he speaks French at home, he wanted to master another language and culture.
He settled on studying Chinese after he overheard someone who had returned from a business trip to the Middle Kingdom say, “China is the future.”
In lieu of studying abroad, Gittard decided to graduate in three years and teach English in China. Before going, he took part in the College’s Anthropology Delegation to China, where historians and site curators offered students in-depth perspectives as they toured some of the country’s historically and culturally significant places.
“It was my first trip to China,” he recalls. “I…thought this was a nice litmus test of what I would be getting myself into. I’m glad I did it because I’m not sure I would have had the audacity to make such a big move to a country I had never visited before.”
Life in Beijing proved to be a cultural wonderland.
“I was so fascinated by it as well as by the language of it and the way you talk about things like problem solving,” says Gittard. “When you live somewhere and you have friends in the local culture and you really get immersed in that local culture, you really begin to understand what the language means when you say certain things and the connotations beyond the dictionary meanings. The nuance is what you begin to see when you are truly immersed in and experiencing culture.”
Cultural nuance is what turned Gittard on to linguistics. He found the perfect pairing at the University of Chicago with a Master of Arts Program in Humanities: Linguistic Anthropology.
After graduating in 2010, he found a job at the Community Center in Shanghai where he handled marketing and communications for expatriate relocation services – which encompassed everything from cooking classes to marriage counseling.
Gittard quickly evolved through the organization, before moving on to the marketing team for Yew Chung International School of Shanghai. Then he made the leap to Epermarket, an online supermarket, where he worked as director of marketing.
At Epermarket, Gittard experienced the unique challenges of working in the food industry.
“I love food. All day the only thing you are talking about is food,” he says with a laugh. “Everyone who starts there gains so much weight. It’s like your freshman 15.”
He also faced the trials and tribulations that are unique to a startup like Epermarket.
“Startups can be like not-for-profits,” says Gittard. “There is so little structure, but it’s really rewarding and there are a lot of opportunities. No matter what you’re working on, you can see the difference immediately.”
One day Gittard’s dad called to say that his company was looking for someone in China for a new marketing role, and that he wanted his son to speak with them. Gittard was ambivalent, but he followed his life theory of letting the river take its course. He found the new role really targeted his strengths and interests, so he followed the current to a new job.
As the marketing manager for the Europe-based Jensen Group, Gittard feels empowered.
“It’s the company I was looking for,” he says. “It has support from Switzerland but I’m growing and developing everything in this market. I’m building something that’s all my own.”
Having a liberal arts education at the start of his journey, Gittard says, has played a key role in his success.
“Your field gives you a world view and a method to solve a problem,” he explains. “Anthropology is a really interesting discipline because…it is so multifaceted. It makes you a very well-rounded person…because you learn so many different things. You have the language elements. You have the science elements. You have the philosophy elements. You have so many different elements that are built in. That set me up for being effective in Shanghai.”