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Should I start my career or study Chinese?


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To be honest guys, I really don't know what I want. I'm graduating from university next year and right now my plan is to go back to Beijing to study some Chinese. The thing is that I'm not sure whether it'll pay off or not. I have been studying Mandarin for almost three years now, but I'm still no where close to being fluent. I guess it's hard to learn Mandarin in the West and I think if I stay in China for about 2 years, my language skills should progress significantly. However, I really want to work for a foreign firm operating in China. The problem would be to find one and convince them to send me here. Right now I'm starting to have second thoughts and maybe move to NYC where my relatives are and start a new life there. I'm not really sure what to do guys. I'm just afraid that spending two years in China won't really pay off. The cool thing would be able to travel around China while studying in Beijing. I have always wanted to take some time off to travel and studying part-time would allow me to do that. Still I'm afraid that this would end up being a waste of time. What do you guys think?

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Have you really travelled before? Europe perhaps? Any other country with a culture significantly different from the United States?

I would recommend it...as long as you have an open-mind ready to accept the differences and learn as much as you can. I personally think it would be an important and unforgettable experience for any young graduate before taking on the world of work.

I graduated and immediately started working, burned myself out after two years, nearly killed myself, and only then decided to seize the remainder of my youth, get out there, and just see more of the world. I haven't regretted that decision whatsoever. In fact, my first year in China is probably one of the best years of my life, if not the best. Sure, it wasn't smooth sailing, but I learned a whole lot about everything, including myself, and the experiences I had will be indelible.

That said, maybe I felt that way simply because I did burn myself out and in many ways, coming to China to study Chinese for a year was like returning to college. Maybe I personally needed the reboot. This may not be your case, only you can decide.

If you have the means and haven't had a similar experience before, go for it. Come to China, be sure you study your Chinese, meet as many people as you can, do as much as you can, and keep your eyes open. China is a land of opportunity (though by no means easy) and there may be something here you haven't thought of before. Make contacts, network, make friends. Have fun, but keep your goals in mind so you don't get lost or end up goofing off.

It is not easy getting an expat job here in China nor will it be easy for you to get transferred to China as a rookie or young employee in any company unless they have a particularly needy situation. I wouldn't count on that route. If you desperately need cash and want to start climbing a corporate ladder now, then go to NYC and go for it. Do a good job, contribute to your 401(k) and Roth IRA (or Traditional if you're making a lot), meet some girls, make some babies, save into their 529s, buy a house, buy life insurance, bitchslap your daughter's boyfriend, send them to college, etc. etc. etc.

...Choose life. :wink:

Seriously, both can be fun and productive pursuits. Just make the most of your decision. Cheers.

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/ What he said /

If you have the money, go for it, just because it's a great experience. I don't think it'll hurt to postpone your career a bit, surely future employers would mind hiring someone who speaks Chinese and has proven he can handle himself in a strange environment and all. I don't think you need to worry that it won't pay off.

Getting a company to send you to China would be hard, I believe. They generally send people who have proven themselves already and can be adapted to the country with an interpreter and an ayi rather than someone who knows the country but is just getting started in the company. But if you are in China, you might be able to land yourself a job as a local hire and work your way up from there.

Really, go for it. You can always go back if you change your mind after a while. New York isn't going away. On the other hand, once you've started a career it will be harder to just take the time off and go. Now is the time.

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Figure out what you want and then go try to do it in whatever capacity you can.

Hi Strider,

My advice depends on what you view as your life goals and things that you want to do in your life.

You said

"However, I really want to work for a foreign firm operating in China. The problem would be to find one and convince them to send me here. Right now I'm starting to have second thoughts and maybe move to NYC where my relatives are and start a new life there. "

This was the first part of your post. If you want to get the Expat job in China (in general) you have to do your time back in the States. That can be in New York City or west coast both do lots of trading, and have large companies doing business with China. I would look at the companies that have growth industries in CHina, insurance, banking, high tech, architecture and many others. Some jobs even mention that you should be flexible about placement in East Asia a.k.a. China. Also getting job experience and skills will help later.

You can keep up your language studies with classes, language exchange partners, online tools, etc..

The other flip side, I think is if you love the chinese language and want to get to interpreter level with another 2 years of studying in the PRC this is possible as well. You will likely have to teach English as a part time job here to cover expenses and not go out much but this is very possible. At the end of the 2 years though you may still be going for the entry level positions that you can get now in the States. (The difference being you can get these in China and can be promoted faster because of your language skills.) This route is very possible though you have to keep Chinese studying as the main part of life as there will be many distractions in the Crazy, fun PRC. Your parttime jobs will be enough to pay for short trips around China and Thailand, but not much to the US or Europe.

Figure out what is important to you and then make the choice. (The personality tests at careers centers can help by suggesting careers as well. Check them out, also good movies that felt like China somewhat, Groundhog Day and The Beach (yes the one with Di Caprio).

Whatever you choose embrace it 100% and don't look back.

Good luck,

have fun,


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Go to China! A career awaits you there. There is nothing more mindnumbing than feeling you have to work. Plus Chinese will really benefit you in the future. There is no way you cannot justify this economically since it will help you in the future, plus your youth is for living. Worry about a career and retirement for another decade. I spent some great time in Asia when I was younger and hope to return. You will discover that life is full of adventures. Learn about the world now and you will always have that to think of in your old age.

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While I have no experience with Corporate America, wouldn't first coming to China, improving one's Chinese, and working here for a while be the best way to land a gig with an American company who has an office here? I've always heard that international companies prefer people with experience abroad. Everything you do here could go on your resume.

As for study, if you have a background in Chinese, and make use of the time when you're here, your Chinese would skyrocket. But be clear about what you're coming here to do. If you're coming to study, then study. In your vacation time you can travel, but studying a month or two, and then travelling around, and then studying for another month, then travelling again probably wouldn't help you much. And, as always, avoid having a large group of English speaking friends. Two years of concerted study would make a huge difference in your level of Chinese, but two years of half-ass study mixed with frequent partying and travel with English speaking foreigners would be a waste of time.

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I have also burned myself out working for nearly 3 years now... now I am at the peak of my career and making some serious money. But I have decided to stop working for 1 year and learn chinese full time(from Feb 2008). I am giving up a lot.... but I know that I will gain a lot more from this experience and it will be unforgetable. The possibility of becoming fluent in chinese is much more exciting than any money I am making now.... I don't think it will ever pay off economically but... who cares?

In your case you're just coming out of university. My advice is, if you think you can afford it make the more now and learn chinese for 1 year. You never know what is going to happen after that. The worst it can happen is you starting your career one year later.... but you will have gained a lot more... hopefully you will be fluent in mandarin. How many people get to do that?

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Although common wisdom is to delay starting work as long as possible and do all the "experince" stuff straight after university, I'm going to be a rare contrary voice.

Like the person above, I also stopped work for a few months, in my mid 30s, (I assume the "working for 3 years, burnt out and peak of career" is a typo. 3 years? Wow) and went to Beijing to study. Not for financial gain, but just as a career break.

It's great to take breaks in your career, and to spend some time having fun experiences. Not only does it break the monotony of work work work, but you also have some cash to spend and to enjoy yourself.

I went Inter-Railing (dunno if people still do this - buy a train pass and travel all around Europe for a few months) when I left University. I had a great time, but couldn't really enjoy the restaurants, bars and clubs as I didn't have much money to spend. It was more of a "let's save money and be poor students" thing. Could have travelled around the UK and had similar experiences in Youth Hostels here. But I digress...

Start work, get some money, get some stability, then smash it all apart by quitting and going to China for a year. People need change.

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There is always a big cost, which I think you recognize. Going to China means giving up a couple of years of your professional career. You are not only giving up a couple of years salary, but you also giving up a couple of years of moving up the corporate ladder, which means you are delaying any big salary increases.

The other thing is that trying to get posted overseas is in general very hard. Knowing Chinese, for example, is usually not enough. You usually have to have a skill besides language proficiency. In fact, many, many professionals work overseas never knowing a foreign language and do quite well. Having a marketable skill and experience is more important than foreign language fluency in many jobs.

Anyway, I don't mean to throw a wet blanket on everyone. I just wanted to play devil's advocate. In the end, if spending a couple of years in China will make you happy enough to forget the lost wages, I say go for it. Otherwise, don't. (so easy, huh?) You are the only one who can really make this decision.

Good luck!


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There's arguments both ways.

Fantastic experience at such a young age and if you get fluent in Chinese it'll be an advantage when looking for a china related job. I don't think many employers are going to be bothered if you're 22 or 24. If you're in a competition for a job with someone straight out of college and no life experience, you'll be at an advantage having demonstrated that you are independent of character etc.

The downside is that if you do go ahead and spend some time in China you'll probably never adjust to a life back home which involves a regular office job.

I worked in London for near on 15 years after graduating and then got sent to Hong Kong. After the HK stint I decided to take a break and spent a year studying Chinese in Beijing. Best year of my life. I then went home for 6 months and worked back in finance in London. Worst 6 months of my life. A swift decision was made to return to China to set up business.

Although not in the slightest bit religious, every day I wake up and thank the lord my life in China has worked out and I'm not back in the UK slogging away at some crappy job commuting in to London with a thousand other miserable b*st*rds on the train and nothing to look forward to but a trip home to the minging wife with a butt the size of heathrow and a night on the sofa in front of the TV picking away at a tesco ready meal and then a passionateless evening in bed with the minger trying to explain about erectile dysfunction and it's a medical problem and nothing to do with the fact that she's put on 15 stone in 3 months and youd rather do the cat than her . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . actually, what was your original question again ????

Hoorah for China!

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to the minging wife with a butt the size of heathrow and a night on the sofa in front of the TV picking away at a tesco ready meal and then a passionateless evening in bed with the minger trying to explain about erectile dysfunction and it's a medical problem and nothing to do with the fact that she's put on 15 stone in 3 months and youd rather do the cat than her . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So I take it you got a divorce before coming back, and no more need for Viagra? :mrgreen:

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There's excellent advice posted here and it'd be great to know if you've made any decision. Seems what you really want to do is travel/learn Mandarin (i.e. delay the career track) but you want to make sure it isn't a waste of time (i.e. no guilt, loss or sacrifice). Make a plan with a budget, and a thorough pros and cons list. Not everyone gets to move to NYC to start up their careers either! Every moment is worth it if you're putting your heart into it. :)

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Everyone is different. Go and try things, especially if you're not happy at the moment.

slogging away at some crappy job commuting in to London

It's possible to change your life in smaller ways so that you can enjoy the time spent working. Especially worthwhile in London as you can earn a much higher salary here, allowing you to, for example, work for a year in London then spend a year in China travelling, studying and relaxing. You can alternate this until you're too old to fly ;) And you can, of course, pick places other than China every now and again.

I work in the city, but as a freelancer, and close enough so I can walk (although I usually cycle as walking takes nearly 30 minutes and I'm very lazy). Getting up for 8am classes at BNU was a killer. I felt better if I stayed up all night and then went.

minging wife with a butt the size of heathrow

Luckily, I'm not likely to have that problem. And with heathrow being expanded ...

a night on the sofa in front of the TV picking away at a tesco ready meal

I can cook! My partner cooks better. Or go to chinatown. I do watch TV though; I pretend I can understand what's on PCNE. And I'm hooked on Heroes. The TV in Beijing was awful, although the 50p DVDs compensated big time ;)

I've just got off the 8:45 prozac express to Moorgate!!!

Rush to work so you can ... surf the net and post here. Like me. No wonder the economy is slowing.

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To be honest guys, I really don't know what I want. I'm graduating from university next year and right now my plan is to go back to Beijing to study some Chinese.

Sgt_Strider: It really depends on what your goals are and what type of work you want to do? Contract linguist, fed jobs, teaching, or graduate studies? The type of work determines if you should or shouldn't be spending those extra 2 years in Beijing. You did not mention if you did any study abroad in China during your undergrad studies.

I used to work in the international affairs field in DC. If this is the line of work you forsee yourself doing, my suggestion to you would be: Absolutely do not go to China for two years after graduation just for language studies. I guarantee you will come back to the states all bittered and disillusioned because you won't be able to find employment in the field back home. You should have done your study abroad during your sophomore or junior year, not after you've graduated and before landing your first serious job.

I would suggest you to first find a job - program assistant/admin assistant of a policy think tank or non-profit organization (if this is the kind of work you're interestd in) - there are many in the NY/DC area. You can still study Chinese on the side. Work for two years and then you can decide if you want to go for Masters or language studies or both. You can always go abroad again during your Masters, in fact, it's recommended.

If you just have "stand-alone" language capability but without formal work or research experiences, you will not be hired by the feds and non-profits. Plus, you most likely won't become fluent in Chinese in merely two years. By the time you come back to the states after 2 years, you'll be 23 or 24 - an embarrassing age to find first-time employment in the field, worst if you are male. Starting your serious first job young is extremely crucial in American work culture and the age factor dictates what you'll do or where you'll be in the next 10 years. A lot of people in America become "drifters" (moving from temp jobs to temp jobs) because they made wrong choices right out of college. I'm sorry if I'm not being too supportive - but I'm trying to give you some on the ground info. Every American has *some* type of abroad experiences during their university education, so two more years in Beijing are unlikely to help you in terms of job advancement.

Remember, there are enough unemployed linguists in the NY/DC area as it is. If you find learning Chinese difficult, I suggest you to focus on reading comprehension first. In international affairs terms, the ability to read and understand primary materials outweights speaking and listening. The ability to understand written Chinese is especially important if you want an analyst type position. It doesn't matter how fluent your spoken Chinese is, if you can't read, it almost amounts to nothing. Unless the job you're applying is a Linguist, most fed jobs would only test your reading comprehension skills.

And of course, like adrianlondon mentioned - you should take the economic factor into consideration too. For me, I prefer to have some financial backup and stability when going abroad. Because when you're abroad, you want to enjoy and learn about foreign cultures, not how much money you still have in the bank.

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