Christy Rupert Shibata
From a small town in Pennsylvania to Beijing in 1993, then with a population of nearly 12 million, Christy Rupert Shibata studied abroad to learn Mandarin Chinese, high adventure, and something about her family heritage. After graduating from Bucknell University with a degree in Computer Science, Christy went on to work for General Electric where she spent five years in Tokyo as CFO of GE Healthcare. Now, as CFO of Cable Entertainment at NBCUniversal, her career aspirations have remained razor focused, and the skills she took away from study abroad have impacted her personal and professional life all along the way.
IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study abroad in Beijing?
Christy Rupert Shibata: I was born in Hong Kong and my family moved to the United States when I was a toddler. I wanted to learn more about my Chinese heritage and decided originally to study in Hong Kong. But at the urging of my East Asian Studies professor at Bucknell University, I decided to study in Beijing so that I could learn language skills that would reach a broader audience. My mother, who had never been to mainland China, was horrified that I decided to study in Beijing and told me I would have to wash my own clothes on a riverbank! That did not turn out to be true, but I was shocked when I came face to face with the biggest cockroach I’d ever seen in my life while making my first phone call home from the shared phone booth in the foreign student dorm.
IES Abroad: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
CRS: I had never studied Chinese and my mother had spoken very little to me, so I arrived six weeks early to take an intensive Chinese language class. Beijing was a quaint and somewhat primitive city back then, and the university campus resembled nothing of my cozy liberal arts university in Pennsylvania. I was homesick and miserable for the first month, and then I came down with food poisoning and was in the hospital for a week. It was later on when I visited students in the Chinese dormitories (separate and apart from where the foreign students lived) that was my wake up call to how good we had it! Chinese students were packed six to a dorm room in half space I shared with one roommate.
IES Abroad: What are some of your most influential memories from your time in Beijing?
CRS: My most influential memories were from times spent with other foreign students in Beijing. Not only did I befriend American and Chinese students, but Beijing was filled at that time with students from Japan, Korea, Europe, and even Africa. I learned about all of these cultures and made friendships that will last a lifetime. In fact, I met my husband, who was a Japanese student, in Beijing, and that’s the most influential relationship from my study abroad experience!
IES Abroad: In what ways did study abroad impact your career path?
CRS: Beijing showed me how to become adaptable and find ways to fit in. It taught me to persevere through adversity, play to my strengths, and come out stronger on the other side. In order to advance, I’ve moved a lot in my career, living all around the world and moving across companies and industries. In addition to my career, I’ve helped my entrepreneurial husband create and grow a number of new businesses. The skills I gained in Beijing have helped me to successfully adapt to change in my career and my marriage.
IES Abroad: How did you get started in your career and what led you to join General Electric at the outset?
CRS: I was lucky to graduate college at a time when the job market was really hot, and I was recruited into one of General Electric’s entry-level training programs. GE attracted me because of its global presence, and I knew that one day I wanted to work abroad. I was given that opportunity on multiple occasions, working with GE in locations throughout Asia and Europe.
IES Abroad: After 10 years at GE, you joined NBCUniversal where you now serve as CFO of Cable Entertainment. What motivated you to change industries and what you love most about your job?
CRS: When I joined NBCUniversal over 10 years ago, the company was actually owned by GE at the time. While the media industry is vastly different from most of GE’s other businesses, I was still part of the same company, and the transition was seamless. Five years ago, GE sold NBCUniversal to its current owner, Comcast. Despite that ownership change, the heart of the business remains the same, and I’ve continued to love being part of an industry that is so dynamic and engaging. It’s fulfilling when I hear a friend or family member talk about one of our TV networks or shows and to know that I had some part in bringing it to life.
IES Abroad: What advice do you have for students seeking to study or intern abroad today?
CRS: Just go for it! I remember ruminating for so long about my decision to study abroad – wondering if I could afford it, wondering if it would detract from my studies. In retrospect, my study abroad experience was a very short period of time in my life, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I did have to manage my savings account more closely, and I did have to study a little harder when I returned home, but I’ve never regretted it.