Dan Ou Dan O’Hara came to Sēn Lín Hú with a Chinese name from living in Shanghai. “The character for ‘Ou’ is in a few common last names. It means ‘European.’ The ‘Dan’ part uses the same character as one of the Chinese philosopher’ Lao Tzu’s’ alternate names. I still use that as my Chinese name now in my work for the State Department.”
Ou Dan works as a consular officer for the U.S. State Department and is currently stationed in Chengdu, China, where he does visa interviews and provides American Citizen Services to ensure U.S. citizens’ well-being.
“My time at the Chinese Language Village was eight or nine years ago, so the memories are a bit faded with time, but I still have my name tag hanging at my computer,” he says. “One of the people there, either a staff or villager, was wonderful and upgraded my name tag to make it artistic.”
As a counselor for Sēn Lín Hú in the summer of 2003, Ou Dan really enjoyed the mealtime skits. “The skits were a way for the high school credit villagers to practice their Chinese. We had ongoing skits with superheroes. I dressed in costume for the skit, and by the third day I was getting letters to my other role as a hero. One of the girls’ cabins came up with a series of secret admirer letters and a skit of confessions of their undying love for my superhero character – all in Chinese.”
“It was definitely entertaining, one of the moments I remember most,” he says.
He had been fascinated by China for a few years, spending time there for three of the four summers he was in college. Ou Dan had to come back from China just after the SARS outbreak as a college sophomore, so he talked to the dean at the time about being a summer counselor and was hired that summer. The summer after his time at the Language Villages he was sponsored to study World War II history and retrace the Burma Road, starting in China and heading toward India.
After spending so much time in China, Ou Dan got burnt out. “It’s a big and rapidly growing place. As a result it can wear you down a little bit. I spent my first year after college as a Thomas J. Watson fellow and went to six different countries, none of which was China. Then I worked in construction until grad school, after which I joined the State Department as someone who speaks Chinese. I’ll have a minimum of two assignments in China.”
Ou Dan is also conversant in German and English and studied Spanish in high school. “I used Spanish in my Watson year, so it was pretty helpful.”
Note: Villagers interested in careers in the Foreign Service can visit careers.state.gov for more information.