American Graduates Finding Employment In China

By Staff
August 21, 2009

A number of recent American college graduates are starting their careers in China, where the economy is stronger than in the United States and the cost of living is lower.

"I've seen a surge of young people coming to work in China over the last few years," said Jack Perkowski, founder of a Chinese automotive parts company called Asimco Technologies, who was quoted in The New York Times. "When I came over to China in 1994, that was the first wave of Americans coming to China. These young people are part of this big second wave."

Part of the appeal of working in China, say many, is that young employees receive far more responsibility than they would at home.

"There is no doubt that China is an awesome place to jump-start your career," said Sarabeth Berman, whose first job in Beijing at age 23 was program director at BeijingDance/LDTX--the first modern dance company in China to be founded without government help. "Back in the U.S., I would be intern No. 3 at some company or selling tickets at the Lincoln Center."

Berman, who majored in urban studies at Barnard College, said she was hired because of her familiarity with Western modern dance. "Despite my lack of language skills and the fact that I had no experience working in China," she said, "I was given the opportunity to manage the touring, international projects, and produce and program our annual Beijing Dance Festival."

Willy Tsao, the artistic director of BeijingDance/LDTX, noted that Americans often bring great initiative, which is harder to find among Chinese. He explained that "the more standard Chinese approach is to take orders. . . . In Chinese schools students are encouraged to be quiet and less outspoken; it fosters a culture of listening more than initiating."

Yet a recent article in Forbes by Shauna Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, warned new graduates not to be so hasty: First, salaries are low. "If you'd expected to make $60,000 a year on Wall Street," writes Rein, "aim for $21,000 a year in Shanghai to be able to maintain the same quality of life and have the same amount of money to keep or pay back student loans with."

Another challenge is that Chinese government regulations make it difficult to secure work visas without at least two years of work experience. And American graduates have to compete with thousands of Chinese who have studied in the West and understand China as well as Western practices and values. These graduates, notes Rein, are generally more desirable hires.

Yet despite the difficulties, China "is a wonderful place to launch a career," she writes. "The opportunities are limitless. Jobs aren't easy to find, but once you've got one you'll be rewarded by being part of a special time in China's social and business evolution."

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