The Market for Entry-level Expats in China

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Article in the Times yesterday will no doubt get a lot of play in the expat community. The premise (my comments after the jump):

Shanghai and Beijing are becoming new lands of opportunity for recent American college graduates who face unemployment nearing double digits at home.

Even those with limited or no knowledge of Chinese are heeding the call. They are lured by China’s surging economy, the lower cost of living and a chance to bypass some of the dues-paying that is common to first jobs in the United States.  (New York Times)

Right. Well, it may be true that lots of kids are coming over here looking for work, but I think the Times piece was a bit too optimistic. You may notice that all the kids interviewed came here with relatively no skills, language or otherwise, and within two years, they are all speaking fluent Chinese and working in management positions.

Sorry, that is some real skewed bullshit writing there. Sure, you can always find a few success stories. I think, though, that it would have been responsible to interview one of the failure stories. You know, something like:

Billy Bob Ruppert came to Beijing after graduating from the Tulsa School of Performing Math and, even though he spoke no Chinese, he jumped into the job market with a great deal of enthusiasm.

After a stint as an English teacher and an editor with China Daily, Billy Bob is down on his luck, got kicked out of his apartment, and now spends his days picking the pockets of the tourists at the Oriental Plaza and turning tricks outside the South Gate of Ritan Park.

My point: this is a very tough market. One of the first things that companies do when the economy gets nasty is to get rid of the (expensive) foreigners. If you are a kid looking for an internship or entry-level position that pays practically nothing, maybe there are still opportunities, but certainly a lot fewer than the Times article suggests.

6 responses on “The Market for Entry-level Expats in China

  1. Adam Daniel Mezei

    Hi Stan,

    I’m glad someone had the brass ones to actually write that it was seeming bullshit, because it kind of shocked me that these young tykes were actually speaking “fluent Putonhgua” after just a mere 2 years. Golly, Rachel DeWoskin of FOREIGN BABES IN BEIJING was having trouble with Mandarin even after around 5+ years (3 of which were spent on the soap opera acting entirely in Chinese and dealing with a Chinese crew and director).

    Great going. Good to read your entries here — which I’d heard about at Dan Harris’ blog…

    From Prague,

    1. Stan Post author

      Thanks. Looks like several folks have debunked that article already. I suspected as much.

      You wave that kind of fluff in front of a hardened expat who has been in his (hard) time, he is going to be pissed off. Moreover, the article was misleading, to say the least.

  2. Michael Jacobson

    Hey Stan, how’s it going?

    It doesn’t surprise me that people are giving this a blistering response for being the sort of starry-eyed piece one would expect from the China Daily, but at the same time, I think there really is a significant market for semi-skilled, inexperienced foreigners, particularly young people who are willing to not get paid much or even not at all. Many expats here toil thanklessly (but gloriously!) in jobs that would be considered prestigious, as long as you didn’t ask about the salary. One of the positions mentioned in the article is one I almost applied for, I know what it pays and it’s not much unless they’ve converted that guy to a ‘real’ employee. That they’re after experience is fine. Are they really getting it? I guess so. It’s a case by case basis, which is what the article glosses over. Like you said, there’s always a few really good stories – I think the one about the dancer is the best. And I HATE that photo – glorifying a twenty year old kid in CBD? The two guards riding behind him on the bike have it exactly right with their WTF? expressions.

    1. Stan Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Michael. I bet you are closer to this issue than 99% of my readers, so your comments are valuable.

      I hope you are using that TCM knowledge these days . . .

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis

    THere’s no such thing as fluency in Putonghua. China’s many regional dialects betray the truth about that erroneous concept. Try understanding Sichuanhua anyone?