When Xiaochen Guo was growing up in China, he never dreamed he would go to college. Outgoing and sociable, Guo was too busy having a good time.
“Back then I was not a very good student,” said Guo, who did not know how to speak English at the time. “I was playing and clubbing.”
Today, Guo, 31, speaks English and French in addition to his native Chinese and graduated magna cum laude from Cal State Fullerton in May 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and concentration in finance. Guo, whose wife gave birth to their son Lucas on April 23, was honored as one of the Outstanding Students of the year.
Guo grew up in Beijing and became a bartender when he was 17 years old. The turning point came when he realized he would need to study to attain a better life. In order to work at a four or five star hotel in China, employees must know English.
“I worked at a restaurant on the street. It had no stars. I worked my way up to a five star hotel. So I understand that you can start your career from the beginning.”
When he saw his co-workers leave to study abroad and come back as managers, he decided to follow suit. He attended Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland, one of the most famous institutions in hotel management.
Guo was recruited by La Casa del Zorro Desert Resort in San Diego to be part of their management training program. His job was to oversee the food and beverage department but he also worked closely with the hotel controller and learned a lot about accounting.
“I felt that I am really a numbers guy,” Guo said. “I like numbers. I was at the hotel for two years and then I felt I needed a bachelor’s degree in accounting.”
Guo applied to community college but was rejected. He didn’t pass the English placement test because his reading and written English was so poor. Finally, he was accepted, by the third one he applied to.
“I was placed in the second lowest ESL class. I needed to complete four levels just to take English 100. But I said, ‘OK. Let’s start from the beginning.’”
At the age of 27, Guo enrolled at Santiago Canyon College and majored in economics. After two years, he graduated with honors and a 3.95 grade point average. He enrolled at Cal State Fullerton in 2010 and took five classes every semester. Although he intended to study accounting, he ended up switching his major to finance.
“Accounting has more of the same tasks that repeat than finance. I want new and stimulating challenges,” said Guo, whose goal is to become a portfolio manager. His dream is to one day go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for an MBA or MA in finance.
“Some people say that the difference between success and failure can be very small,” Guo said. “For example, the difference between a gold and silver medalist can be one second. I feel that way about life. I don’t expect everything the first time. If you don’t succeed the first time, keep trying and eventually you will.”