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A false step, then on to success with Mandarin Chinese

Andrew Zagarri, Middleton Andrew Zagarri, Middleton
By Maggie Roth
Globe Correspondent / May 13, 2010

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Andrew Zagarri never knew that studying Mandarin Chinese in seventh grade would dictate his career path.

“I fell in love with Mandarin because it was challenging and unique,’’ said Zagarri, 21, a resident of Middleton and a graduating honors student at North Shore Community College. “So many people learn Spanish or French in high school, I wanted to stand out and try something new.’’

Zagarri said as he moved through college, he more fully realized the importance of his language skills and the impact China has on the global economy. Speaking the language is a skill that is highly sought after in the business world, one he hopes to use in a career that involves working closely with China and its industries.

First, he will complete his studies in the business administration transfer program at the community college in Danvers, receiving his associate’s degree on Aug. 4.

But Zagarri’s degree has not come easily. In 2007, the third-generation Sicilian graduated from the rigorous private Belmont Hill School before continuing his education as a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Even with such academic success, Zagarri said he wasn’t sure he was ready to further his education.

“I was studying international affairs, but my heart was never in it,’’ said Zagarri, who attributes this to his immaturity and lack of understanding. “It seemed daunting to start another four years of challenging academic work when I knew studying was the last thing I wanted to do.’’

Instead of withdrawing, which he said he wishes he had done, he continued to push himself to try to do well. Ultimately, his grades suffered and he earned only nine of the 32 credits he had enrolled for that year. He is still paying back the loans for that single year of tuition.

When he came home from college that summer, he said his life was at a low: He had no job, no money, and no car, and he thought he’d ruined any chance of a college degree.

“I spent the next year working odd jobs and the graveyard shift, unloading trucks for minimum wage and working close to 60 hours a week,’’ said Zagarri. “I quickly realized it wasn’t the kind of lifestyle I wanted and I didn’t want to have to scrape by, knowing I could have done something more.’’

So Zagarri started saving his money, and the following summer he began taking classes at North Shore. He earned high marks, enrolled in the honors program, and was elected to the Chinese National Honors Society. He even found time to play baseball in an amateur league.

“After high school I was confused about what I wanted to accomplish and what dreams I wanted to pursue,’’ Zagarri said. “When I finally came to North Shore, I fell in love with my courses and professors and I slowly started to develop new academic goals.’’

English professor and honors program coordinator Marcey Marold, Zagarri’s adviser, said he is one of the school’s best honors program students.

“I know Drew to be a highly motivated and self-disciplined student who is admired and respected by his peers for his intellect, initiative, and conscientious approach to his studies,’’ said Marold. “Because of his interest in international business, he has taken the initiative to study Chinese using Rosetta Stone. This kind of focus and resourcefulness is typical of Drew and will serve him well in his educational and business pursuits.’’

After graduation, Zagarri plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue his interest in business, as well as his love for Chinese, hoping to combine the two into a career.

“A lot of the business that takes place between the US and China is cutting edge and revolutionary,’’ Zagarri said. “Instead of just reading about US and Chinese economic relations in the newspaper, I want to be a part of it and become involved in something so critically important to our economy.’’

Zagarri looks back on his decisions and academic challenges as a learning experience, saying that once he started enjoying what he was doing, things started falling into place.

“During the year I took off from school I felt like I failed and thought the future was bleak,’’ said Zagarri. “It was certainly humbling, but I also found out that just because I made a mistake, I didn’t have to give up on my dreams.’’

Maggie Roth is a writer with the Gordon College News Service.

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