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Never Wait Until You’re Ready: An Interview with Alumni Ian McMath

Ian is a film director and producer from New York who first came to China for a year-long exchange program at TBC in 2014. After graduating from university, he returned to China and founded his own media production company. During his time in China, he filmed a documentary about No Dogs Left Behind, an animal rescue organization. In this interview, Ian shares his initial intentions of coming to China and his rich experiences in the country. 

After I graduated from high school, I backpacked in China for a month and a half with my high school friend. That trip was life-changing and left me with great impressions. I’ve always been interested in politics and culture, and as China is one of the world’s greatest civilizations, I decided to come to China again to understand its great history and modern politics. 

In 2014, I came to TBC for a year-long exchange study, which made me fall in love with Beijing, especially its culture, politics, and even the Hutongs and rock music. As a musician, I joined a local band to play the guitar and made many friends through music. When I returned to Beijing after university graduation, I had more performance opportunities, my guitar skills significantly improved, and I became even more passionate about the local rock culture. This helped me better integrate into this modern city. 

I have great memories of my study at TBC, where the professors were excellent. I still remember Russell Moses, who taught ‘Economic Political Change in China’, Frank Hawke who taught ‘China in the World Economy’, and Professor Sun Hong from Renmin University of China. I still keep in touch with Professor Sun Hong and sometimes send him emails and talk with him several times a year. I was glad I have met great professors at TBC that made my study-abroad experience even more fulfilling. 

When I was at TBC, I also interned for a semester at The Blue Ocean Network. This gave me a glimpse into the operation of a small commercial television network and allowed me to experience China’s international work environment, which prepared for my later return to work in China.  

In my free time, I played rugby with my friends from the UIBE Rugby Club. I went to both excursion trips, the “The Silk Road” trip and Yunnan trip, both of which left me with fond memories. 

After graduating from university, I returned to Beijing and set up a media production company called North Capitol Productions. We took various projects, such as organizing activities for embassies and foreign companies, assisting them with third-party collaborations, and other kinds of activities. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time in China was my encoounter with No Dogs Left Behind, an animal organization that rescues stray dogs that are about to be served at the dining table. I was invited to film their daily volunteer work and every day was like an action movie scene. The volunteers would stop large trucks, “steal” dogs from vehicles full of strays, and hide them in various places to provide treatment and care. Once these dogs recovered, they were sent to the US for adoption. 

Over four years, I accompanied the organization to many cities, witnessing them rescuing tens of thousands of stray dogs and also saw far too many dogs’ deaths. Their rescue work was as intense as going to war. We had to constantly keep an eye on the dogs, feeding them, medicating them, and ensuring they didn’t fight. It was like being a soldier 24/7, always dealing with trivial matters without any rest. 

You can watch No Dogs Left Behind by clicking here

I was impressed with the organization leader Jeffrey, and he was the reason that I wanted to film this documentary for four years. He showed great leadership skills during each rescue and worked as my role model. Many Chinese volunteers, including myself, were inspired by Jeffrey, and some even quit their jobs to be the volunteer and save the dogs.  

Fortunately, many of the dogs we helped during filming survived and escaped their fate of being killed. Some have even started new lives in adoptive homes. I don’t know if my documentary would be influential enough to change anyone, but I know that whoever we met during the journey will not eat dog meat again. It is impossible to completely change someone’s mind, but I hope my work can make some people realize the importance of animal protection. If possible, I hope to film this documentary forever.  

In the five years of living in China, I learned an important lesson: “Never wait until you’re fully ready.” Many people always say, “I must learn Chinese before I go to China,” or “I must master certain skills before I start doing something.” But these are just excuses, and they never take action. Just like at TBC, maybe I got an A in some courses, but only a D in Chinese course. However, I still spoke better Chinese than other students, because I never waited until I was “ready.” I constantly stepped out of my comfort zone and made efforts to communicate with many Chinese friends, so I could speak Chinese fluently and even have my own business in China. 

To the incoming TBC exchange students, my advice would be to “start before you’re ready.” There’s never a moment in life when you’re 100% prepared, the most important thing is to “start first”. Take full advantage of the resources TBC provides, come here and see one of the world’s greatest civilizations with your own eyes.