It's hard to figure out all the reasons one ends up doing what one does. But for somebody from a small town in the US who ended up in an international career, I suppose living abroad at a formative period whetted my appetite for foreign travel and broadened my horizons. When I was 11 my family moved to England for a year, so I went to Overdale Junior School in Leicester. That really opened my eyes to see different things in a different way. The early 1960s was an interesting time to be in England; there was the emergence of The Beatles and the beginning of the whole 'cool London' period. Just the experience of being exposed to another culture was interesting - having to wear the British school uniform of shorts and a jacket. I had to get special dispensation from the headmaster to wear long trousers when it snowed. The public secondary school system back in my hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, was a mess. There was an inadequate budget and lousy facilities. So I tried a private school called Williston Academy, where I was utterly miserable. I found it very stiff and conservative. I was a budding radical and got interested in the Vietnam war. In one debate I took the position of criticising the war and afterwards several of the students threw me in the pond. I learnt that sometimes there is a price to be paid for voicing opinions that are out of the mainstream. I switched back and spent my secondary school years in the public system, which was so overcrowded that [the school] had morning and afternoon sessions in a big, cruddy old building. But I had one wonderful teacher in Grade Nine who encouraged my interest in Vietnam, which began my interest in Asia. He was very open-minded and encouraged rather than stifled me. I was helped by the fact both my parents were college professors who 'held my feet to the fire' when I was going to slack off. The only other teacher I remember vividly was Roseanne Sofer, an English teacher. She was a sort of dragon lady who people were terrified of - she worked you to death. She was very tough but it was far and away the most stimulating class, and all her students did uniformly well on getting into college. Because I lived in a college town I was curious about China. Vietnam was the all-consuming issue of that time. The more I participated in the anti-war movement, the more it led to [an understanding about] the cold war and fighting communism to contain China. I wrote for the college newspaper and was able to arrange in the afternoons to attend the beginners' Chinese class. It was the beginning of a window of opportunity to look into the world of China nobody seemed to know anything about - it might as well have been the moon. Trying to find a college with a good Chinese programme was high on my list. I went to Berkeley College, Yale, and did a degree in Chinese studies. It was very much at the epicentre of the protest movement at that time and even before I got there, I remember police tear-gassing the crowd during a rally on the green, myself included, while poet Allen Ginsberg was on a stage with a microphone chanting. My college career was simultaneously trying to get a handle on China and Chinese, and being very politically active. My two most influential professors were Howard Chao, who had been a journalist close to the Kuomintang, and the famous historian Jonathan Spence, and it became clear that journalism offered one of the few ways to get into China. I shared a flat with Alfred McCoy, who wrote a brilliant piece of investigative journalism unravelling the web of links between the CIA and various criminal groups in Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere. That further whetted my appetite for the region. I also got curious about Northern Ireland. Visiting my parents, who were on a sabbatical in the UK, I went to Dublin to do some research and visited the offices of Sinn Fein. I was directed to the back room, and who should be there but Joe Cahill - chief of staff of the IRA, on the run from the north. I wrote a piece about it for the Yale Daily News and I am proud to say that at that time [the newspaper's] claim to fame was that they had a wonderful cartoonist student: Gary Trudeau, creator of [cartoon strip] Doonesbury. I did Yale in three years. I took a year off and made my first [one-month] visit to China that made real the stuff I had been studying. I also spent a rough winter in Northern Ireland trying my hand as a journalist, including a weekend with the IRA, who smuggled me into Long Kesh [prison] as the American relative of a prisoner. I decided I was serious about [journalism] and was admitted to the one-year intensive programme at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. It was brutally tough and demanding. But I had some wonderful professors. One programme there was the East Asia Journalism Fellowship. By the time I got there it was running out of money, but they offered to pay half my tuition and gave me a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. Mike Chinoy is an ex-CNN journalist and now Edgerton Senior Fellow on Asia at the Pacific Council on International Policy. He has written a book, Meltdown, about the North Korean nuclear crisis. He was talking to Paul McGuire.