In the past 15 years, moving to China has been a tempting alternative for many young professionals who sought to gain work experience in a foreign culture. With the MIddle Kingdom offering interesting opportunities to even the average foreigner, the grass never seemed greener. But is it really that peachy? Lior Paritzky, the Editor in Chief of Laowaiblog, examines whether China is still a viable option for young educated professionals
When I first moved to China, back in 2009, everything seemed rosy. I rented a beautiful 60 square-foot meter apartment in a central location in Beijing for merely 4000 yuan (roughly $500 U.S). The rest of my expenses were inexistent – food was cheap, clothes were a bargain, and transportation was practically free (less than $0.5 U.S for a subway ride across town). Since then, however, inflation has reared its ugly head, and prices have risen. I began paying more for rent, more for food and more for everything else. According to the recent Mercer global cost of living rankings 2010/2011, Beijing is now ranked 16th in the most expensive cities survey, before cities such as London, Paris, Tel Aviv, or Sydney, while Shanghai is ranked 25th. China is getting expensive.
But that is not the only thing that has changed. Back in 2009, the supply of jobs (especially for foreigners) was significantly greater than it is today. Asia seemed to be a great escape for the beaten Western economies, and many Westerners found demand for employees in China and elsewhere in Asia. Since then, however, the conditions have changed. More Chinese are graduating from local universities than ever before, and local companies (and, at times, foreign companies) prefer to hire locals. According to Manpower, an employment consultancy, companies in India, China and Taiwan are hiring more than firms in other countries this year. Nevertheless, their focus of attention is not on Westerners but rather on the influx of Asian graduates coming from local universities or from universities abroad. According to David Zweig of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, since 2003 roughly 325,000 Chinese have returned home after studying overseas—more than three times as many as in the entire two decades before. This is a drastic change which means less opportunities for the average American/European.
Another issue many foreigners are forced to deal with in China is pollution. There has been a recent, ongoing debate in Beijing about the air quality in the city and what can be done to improve it. According to an article published in The Wall Street Journal, China’s total energy consumption was just half that of the U.S. ten years ago, but in many of the years since, China saw annual double-digit growth rates. Given the fact that China is today the world’s largest energy consumer, with 24% of global energy consumption, it is not unreasonable to asses that the pollution is here to stay for a few more years. This deters many foreigners from working or moving to China.
The Good Stuff
Despite distinct disadvantages in certain areas, China can still be a viable and an attractive location for foreigners not only to work but also to grow and develop their professional skills. Moving to China provides a unique opportunity to experience and immerse in a different cultural setting. For those who are brave enough to stay away from the foreign crowd, living in any city other than Beijing or Shanghai will undoubtably serve as a great experience, cultural and personal. Furthermore, China is still relatively inexpensive compared with many countries in the West. Even when one examines Beijing or Shanghai and despite the rising rent prices, it is affordable to live and work here, and the experience one gets from diving into the Chinese culture is unquantifiable.
Lastly, I believe that China can best serve young professionals in a specific point of their career: the beginning. In a recent survey by Careercast.com and the employment information provider Going Global, it was found that China is ranked 2nd as a top employment destination for recent American and international college graduates. One of the reasons that China is ranked so high is that In the West, it is often difficult for graduates to find work without prior experience, and internships have become commonplace and at times necessary for progress. Making the trip to China, immersing oneself in the local (and fascinating) culture, learning a new language and trying to maximize the job opportunities here (especially in 2nd/3rd tier cities) can provide an excellent boost to one’s career.