in China

Foreign Young Professionals in China Mini Series #3: “Why China? Because I could.”

I wrote this guest post for GeekMBA360, a blog I discovered when it featured Wokai about two years ago.   I like this blog because it gives practical career advice from the perspective of a techie family man.  I find that men and women give very different advice when it comes to careers, with men tending to say “where’s the money and power?” and women tending to say “what is your passion?” (My apologies for the gross generalization…)  I appreciate the advice that Mr. GeekMBA360 gives to his many, many readers, and I enjoyed the opportunity to share my China story here.  Below is the whole post, as it appears here.

Today I have a treat for everyone. Leslie Forman is a fellow graduate of University of California at Berkeley. She is a regular reader and occasional commenter on this blog. Leslie was a Latin American Study major at Cal, but ended up working in Beijing, China. Not only her journey is fascinating, she also writes an excellent blog called Beyond China’s Single Story.

I invited Leslie to write a guest post about her experience in China. Without further ado, it’s my pleasure to present Leslie’s guest post.

Written by Leslie Forman (

Originally from San Francisco, I have spent most of the past four years working in China.  The other night Frank Chen from Vastsea Executive Search came to my Chinese school to give a presentation about the job search in China.  He said that jobs for foreigners in China fall into four categories:

(1) English (teaching, writing, editing, speaking)
(2) Business Development (negotiating new projects, partnerships, and sales)
(3) Multinational Companies (in which the nature of the business is inherently global, and therefore needs a global staff)
(4) Entrepreneurship (my friend Joey, a creative and successful sculptor, often says, “China makes everyone an entrepreneur.”  Just about every foreigner who has spent 5 or more years in China has launched a project of come sort!)

Most jobs involve more than one of these categories.  For example, my most recent full-time job, with a British company now known as Yaxley China, included all four.  I taught specialized, high-level English classes to Chinese lawyers, reporters, and engineers.  I met with potential clients, and drafted proposals to describe opportunities for collaboration.  My clients all worked for multinational organizations, in which they needed to communicate with clients and colleagues overseas.  And a British entrepreneur started the company.

One of my best friends, an Aussie who has studied Chinese since high school, is a personal assistant to an entrepreneur who connects Australian investors with Chinese projects.  Her job also involves all four of these categories, and she channels her obsession with Beijing’s music scene into  I mentioned Frank’s framework to her, and she suggested that most foreigners who live in China for a while have careers that progress from one category to another.  Many people start out teaching English, and then work for multinational companies, who utilize them for English editing and business development efforts, and then they eventually want to apply their skills and contacts to start something new.

My own experience has pretty much followed this progression.  (Though I have not jumped into formal entrepreneurship.  Yet.)  I first moved to China in 2006, shortly after graduating from Berkeley, with an oh-so-appropriate degree in Latin American Studies.  Why China? people always ask me.  My short answer is, “because I could.”

A few days after my graduation, I thumbed through my well-worn copy of Delaying the Real World – an inspiring and practical book that should be on every adventurous twenty-something’s desk – and looked up just about every international opportunity listed.

Three months later, having spent the summer volunteering in English classes for recent immigrants, I started as an English Instructor at Jiaxing University, in a small-by-Chinese-standards city about two hours south of Shanghai, thanks to CIEE Teach in China.  Next, I interned in the corporate social responsibility division of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, and helped a multinational ports company with its corporate social responsibility report.   After a year and a half in China, I found myself homesick and returned to my hometown, San Francisco.

During my stint with socially entrepreneurial software startup there, I got very involved with a China-focused microfinance non-profit called Wokai.  I then decided to move to Beijing.  (I wrote more about my China story and China careers in general, in this post: How I Have Untemplated My Career in China.

This summer, studying Chinese has been my focus.  I take classes at a private language school, and have worked closely with my wonderful tutor.  My goal is to be able to collect information in Chinese in the workplace.  I have been able to do this in my part-time job with a Chinese marketing company.  We interviewed Chinese employees of a multinational retailer about their job satisfaction levels, and I was able to analyze their responses and write about them for the American client.  I have also been volunteering for the Jane Goodall Institute and tutoring an 8-year-old Chinese-American girl in English.  I am also looking for a new full-time job.  I am very optimistic about opportunities in this emerging economy.

Overall, China has been good to me.  My original decision to move here, definitely the most random of my life, has exposed me to so many adventures and opportunities, and I’m glad to have taken this plunge.

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*Added October 3, 2010.  I found a job!  I have not started quite yet, so I am not ready to tell the Internets about it in detail, but I can say that it is with a large company, in a new industry for me.

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