Working in China (not teaching English)
August 23, 2007 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I want to work in China - yes, I speak Chinese, and no, I don't want to teach English. What should I do?

Background info: I'm an American of Chinese descent raised in an English speaking environment (my parents are also overseas Chinese and cannot speak Mandarin). A few years ago, I took an interest in learning Mandarin, and began a course of self-study that took me from the zero level to an advanced-intermediate level (got an 8 on this summer's intermediate HSK). I went to China last summer and this summer to study the language and travel. I really enjoyed being there, and could see myself working and living there in the long-term. But how?

My Chinese is at a pretty good level and continues to get better; most Chinese don't realize I'm a foreigner in casual conversation (though I may have occasional slip-ups in expressing myself). I can read most books written for a popular audience in Chinese; my reading speed is still a bit slow, but improving. The only area where I am lacking is writing; I've never written anything in Chinese longer than a couple paragraphs.

I'm in my last year of an undergraduate electrical engineering degree, with a supplementary major in math as well. I had that awful realization that I have to take GRE and apply to grad school in the next couple months, although I'm still not sure if I want to go to grad school and where. I don't find my major particularly interesting, although my grades are top-notch, and I'm considering studying something else in grad school. The question, of course, is what. What's in demand in China? Would I be able to get a job in China fresh out of school, or would I need to work in the US for a couple years? Do I even need a graduate degree or can I just jump on the plane as soon as I'm done here? I haven't done any internships and have no real work experience other than helping a Russian software developer sell stuff in the US (a highly informal, part-time internet job sort of thing).

I'd be willing to do EE work in China if I had to, although I'd prefer to do something else. My guess would be that power systems is the "hot" EE field in China, but I specialized in computer-related stuff and don't really like power. I've been thinking of studying CS in grad school, but I'm unsure if there's really any need for CS grads in China. Business and investment banking sound interesting, but I know virtually nothing about those fields.

I'm not exactly sure how people get jobs in China in the first place - if they just apply for positions in China right off the bat, or first work at multinational corporations in their home countries for a few years before getting sent to China. Salary is not too big of a deal for me as long as I could live comfortably over there.

Anyhow, I guess my question is what fields or companies I should be looking for China jobs in, how to find those jobs, and what kind of qualifications and experience I'd need to get them. Thanks, MeFi!
posted by pravit to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think I would look into international teaming arrangements.

For example, the Chevy Aveo is built in Korea by GM Daewoo Automotive Technologies which is partially owned by Shanghai Automotive Group which has automotive assembly operations in China, where they build the Buick Excelle which is really a rebadged Suzuki Forenza.

Confused? My point is that there are a lot of partnerships between Ameri-Euro companies and Chinese companies. I would try to get involved using that tack.
posted by Doohickie at 11:01 AM on August 23, 2007

Finance and manufacturing. I have investment banker friends who are over in china a lot. A lot of US companies partner with a local firm in order to quickly penetrate the market. Being analytical and mathematically inclined is a big plus for investment banking jobs for people with no experience. Your language skills are also a big plus.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:04 AM on August 23, 2007

You could peruse these blogs and see how others got there.

An American friend of mine recently moved to China but he did it through the multi-national route. He was working for an investment bank in NYC and then went to go work for their Hong Kong office. Once there it became easier to move around and look for other positions.
posted by vacapinta at 11:06 AM on August 23, 2007

I suggest you hook up with any of the several expatriate communities and listen to the advice of people who have actually (and are currently) going through the same thing. I'm mostly familiar with Shang-Hai Expat, but there are others (and more generic ones). Besides the solid advice about things you haven't even realized might be a problem, you'll develop a network of friends who will almost certainly come in handy.

Good luck.
posted by RavinDave at 11:09 AM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

NPR did a fascinating series of stories about China and its various markets/economies etc. a while back, which I can't find (it was within the last year, though - maybe last winter?), but poke around on their Web site and you'll probably turn it up.

I found this one though, about Beijing getting its signs for restaurants, shops, transportation, etc. translated into proper English. Could be a place to start...
posted by rtha at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2007

Import! I've met a couple of well-off people who sell stuff in the US using Chinese manufacturers. You can start with e-bay, then move to your own web storefront as your reputation grows.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2007

(I guess that's export, since you'll be in China.)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2007

The previous edition of The Economist magazine has an article about skills shortages in Asia generally and China specifically (hoping that link works). What was a surprise for me in this is that despite the country's huge population there is a severe shortage of just about any job that requires serious qualifications: doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, etc. For example the whole of China, with its heavy emphasis on manufacturing only has about the same number of engineers as does the comparatively tiny and service economy based UK. So I guess one approach would be to look at some of the careers mentioned there - you would at least always be in demand.
posted by rongorongo at 11:42 AM on August 23, 2007

posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:21 PM on August 23, 2007

Your school's placement service should be able to match you up with companies looking for someone with your expertise. Don't do all of the leg work yourself; there are whole professional networks in place for just this sort of thing. Living abroad is typically a hardship and your language expertise is certainly a bonus (mandarin is still uncommon). Companies should be falling all over themselves to hire you!

Oh, and don't pay to go to grad school if you're not sure it's what you want to do. Many employers will pay for you to get advanced training (if you decide that's what you want).
posted by B-squared at 4:53 PM on August 23, 2007

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