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Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Matthew Schauer, '11, is employed by a nonprofit providing microfinance loans to China's rural poor. Photo: Sam Hodgson Matthew Schauer, '11, is employed by a nonprofit providing microfinance loans to China's rural poor. Photo: Sam Hodgson
 


Found in Translation

In an impoverished corner of China, Matthew Schauer is putting his SDSU education to the test.
By Coleen L. Geraghty
 

This story is featured in the spring 2014 issue of 360:The Magazine of San Diego State University.

Matthew Schauer, ’11, is accustomed to standing out from the crowd. In the eastern Chinese city of Suqian, where Schauer has lived since June 2012, his 5’10” frame and copper hair earmark him as one of the few Americans for miles around.

Notwithstanding his physical presence, there’s another reason for Schauer’s celebrity among the people of Suqian; he is the man with the deep pockets.

Schauer is marketing manager in Jiangsu province for Opportunity International China (OIC), a nonprofit providing microfinance and financial services to create jobs for the rural poor.

“The people I work with have never left their villages,” Schauer said. “Some can’t write their own names.”

Last July, the Sydney Morning Herald singled out Jiangsu as the most indebted local government among China’s 31 provinces. With growth slowing in some of Jiangsu’s largest industries — notably shipbuilding and solar panel manufacture—local officials are eager to prime the pump of small business, especially in the rural areas.

OIC clients in Suqian are small farmers and factory owners, but their presence has a huge impact on the local economy. One manufacturer financed by OIC makes the tiny springs that enable keyboard letters to snap back after each depression; his factory turns out 70,000 per day. Another man, who raises geese, hires people with disabilities in defiance of China's stigma.

One of Schauer’s most resourceful borrowers is a single mother from western China. Unhappy and restless in a forced marriage, she left her husband with two children in tow. To survive, she biked for miles each day, delivering yogurt to Suqian villagers. Now she owns several thriving shack shops in the city, financed by loans from OIC.

To drum up business in Jiangsu province, the 24-year-old Schauer frequently meets with local government and Communist Party officials. He speaks the language fluently and has succeeded in learning to read and write thousands of Chinese characters.

Yet, he remains an anomaly in a country of 1.35 billion, many of whom know little of the world outside their provincial villages. While having his blood drawn at a local hospital recently, Schauer heard a Chinese man in the room exclaim in surprise, “His blood is actually red like ours!”

From a young age, Schauer knew he wanted to explore the world. He planned to study international relations at an East Coast school until he learned about San Diego State University’s unique program in International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR).

“When I talked to the faculty at SDSU, I realized that their approach to the subject was real-world and practical,” Schauer said. “By comparison, the other programs seemed too theoretical.”

Through his studies, Schauer became convinced that China would have a tremendous impact on future world politics. He enrolled in Chinese language classes with Zhengsheng Zhang, an associate professor and advisor for SDSU’s Chinese language program.

“Matt was a hardworking student, and a very open and resilient person,” Zhang said. “It has not always been easy for him in China, but he has toughed it out.”

Schauer is not quite ready to leave China, but he is thinking about his next step. While still at SDSU, he was awarded a semester-long internship with the U.S. State Department in the office of Maria Otero, then-undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights. The experience gave him a taste of life as a public servant.

“I want to find new and innovative ways to help struggling economies,” Schauer said. “I think I’m good at figuring out how all the pieces fit together for long-term solutions. It’s the kind of analysis that I learned at SDSU, and it has helped me get to where I am in my career.”