Dordt College News

At home in China

May 13, 2010

Trixanna Nikkel (’01) is a product manager at Balama Prima Equipment in China, responsible for sales and marketing of equipment manufactured by Vermeer Corporation.

Nikkel canvasses the country, meeting with potential and current customers.

Tell us about where you live.

Trixanna Nikkel travels around China, visiting jobsites and offices, seeing the country, and building relationships that help pave the way for making future sales.

Beijing, China, is where I call home, but I live wherever I happen to open my suitcase every evening. I travel extensively and usually sleep in a different hotel each night. In fact, in the last seven days, I took six flights, traveled thousands of miles, and stayed in a new hotel every night. In the course of three days, I saw herds of wild camels in the deserts of northwestern China, dined on lobsters on the coast of northeastern China, and waded in mud up to my knees in the monsoons of southern China. My job takes me to new and exciting places every week. But when I’m not traveling, I try to enjoy the simpler things of life. I grew up in rural Iowa enjoying the green grass beneath my feet and the blue skies above my head, and now I find myself living in a city of concrete and smog. So I look for ways to escape and find reminders of home. Walks in the park, evenings in the English movie theater, and the occasional dinner at a steak house all help me stay in touch with my roots.

What drew you to business?

I never anticipated going into business. I always envisioned myself in a role with a nonprofit company. But after graduate school, a job in business opened up so I decided to give it a try. I never anticipated that I would love working in business as much as I do!

Did your education prepare you for this?

My education at Dordt provided an excellent foundation for the challenges I would face. I came from a small, Midwest town and couldn’t imagine life outside my small world. I realized soon after graduating that life isn’t always as easily understood as I had believed. But my education prepared me for that transition. At Dordt I gained confidence in who I was, and I learned to appreciate the values of my heritage. Once I ventured outside my small world and faced the challenges presented by the bigger world, my firm foundation in the worldview so solidly instilled in me while at Dordt helped keep me grounded.

My political studies background doesn’t directly apply to the day-to-day activities of my current job. But when I began working in business here in China, I certainly thought about how a job in business/sales could mesh with my values and worldview formed in part by my education at Dordt. It seems that many foreign corporations that come to China are here to get rich fast, with little thought of how their business will affect the country and the people over the long term, and this is a form of business that I wanted nothing to do with. But I was fortunate enough to find a company that has been committed to the development of China’s infrastructure for more than thirty years. I personally focus on two lines of equipment: one that is used for the installation of large diameter gas pipelines and another that is used in surface mining. The equipment I sell is primarily used for getting valuable minerals and resources from the uninhabitable areas of western China and making them available to the majority of the population concentrated in eastern China. China’s infrastructure and quality of life has improved dramatically over the last few decades because of companies like the one I work for.

What made you decide to go to China?

In college, I intended to go to law school, but in my senior year I realized I wanted to take time to make sure law school was a step I was ready to take. I had volunteered with ELIC (English Language Institute in China) one summer during high school, so volunteering with them after graduating was an easy way to achieve the one-year break I needed. I didn't expect it to alter my path so much!

Although I quickly discovered teaching English was not for me, I have no regrets about my year spent with ELIC. ELIC helps those with an adventurous spirit take their first steps outside the comforts of home. It provided a support network for me as I gained confidence and experience in overseas living. The survival skills learned while working with ELIC prepared me for more independent moves later on.

Did you intend to return to China when you began a master’s in East Asian Studies?

In China I quickly realized that law school was not the path I wanted to follow. However, I also realized that I was not yet finished learning. So I spent the next few years in China exploring my skills and talents and searching for that “perfect” career. I eventually realized that although I couldn’t identify a specific career to follow, I enjoyed my life in Asia. So I decided to pursue an education that would back up the life experiences I had gained since graduating from college. I entered the Asia/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke University, gaining a master’s in East Asian Studies. This program allowed me to create a course of studies suited to my interests. I learned as much as I could about East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) history, politics, economics, anthropology, and religion. I worried about what kind of job such a broad degree would lead to, but a mentor/professor at Dordt assured me that if I had a passion for what I studied, a career I enjoyed would naturally follow. He was right, and I’ve never regretted my decision to pursue my degree at Duke.

While in my graduate program, I knew that whatever line of work I got into after graduation would have something to do with China and/or East Asia.

What have you learned about yourself and your culture, living in another culture?

Living in another culture is both challenging and exciting. The adventures I’ve had have not come without a price, but I’m grateful for my experiences. I’ve had to make sacrifices: I can’t spend as much time with my family and friends as I’d like, and some of my favorite hobbies are simply not possible here. And as a six-foot-tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed American woman, I will never truly fit into the Chinese culture or be treated as one of their own. But these challenges have made me understand myself in ways I don’t think I could have if I had not left the comforts of home; I’ve discovered a hidden confidence. I’ve also gained a greater appreciation for my background and where I come from.

What keeps you doing what you do?

I am the only non Chinese employee on staff in a Chinese company. I work with a wonderful group of people, but the occasional language and cultural differences do create challenges once in awhile. When these differences arise, rather than letting myself become overwhelmed by the differences, I try to remind myself of the valuable life skills I am learning by working through the challenges. Another challenge is the large amount of travel I do. I am on the road a minimum of eighty percent of the time, and life on the road can be quite solitary. And even when I return home to Beijing, I’m still on the other side of the world from most of my family and friends. I know I can’t maintain this kind of lifestyle forever, but for now I try to enjoy all the wonderful sights, sounds, smells, and tastes my job allows me. I have experienced much in the last year that many people only dream about, and I will forever cherish the adventures I have had.

What lies ahead?

I’ve learned that I usually do best if I try not to look too far into the future.  So, for now, I’m content to focus on the here and now. I’m enjoying what I do, and the opportunities ahead are endless.

I initially came to China by “accident.”  I had no particular reason to choose China over any other country in the world.  I came simply because this is where the opportunity was. But after I arrived, I realized this is where I was meant to be. When I first moved to China, everything about my life here seemed captivating. The sights (architecture and landscape unlike anything I’d ever seen before), sounds (the baffling Chinese language), and smells (the rich aroma of the street vendor’s sizzling wok) that greeted me when I arrived inspired in me a desire to explore more, experience more, learn more until eventually the new and different became the secure and comfortable. I’ve now spent much of my adult life here. My career is here. My friends are here. My home is here. My life is here. Someday, when it is time to return to the United States, whether that be ten days or ten years from now, I trust the calling will be clear. And when that time comes, I look forward to the next adventures that are in store for me.

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