Talk to any group of assorted foreigners in China and you’re bound to hear a different “China story” from every single one. We’ve looked at some of the reasons foreigners choose to come and work in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
1) The Ease of Saving Money
People have always gone to where their skills are most in demand, and from the California gold rush to the Chinese market boom, people will also go wherever the economy is thriving. Despite China’s recent economic slowdown, there are still plenty of money making opportunities. “There’s definitely the feeling that this is where the money is now,” says expat Maribel, whose friends back home in Spain, also in their mid-twenties, are “struggling on a thousand Euros a month, if that.” She sees China as an investment: though the “unsociable hours” of her ESL job can occasionally be frustrating, her unconventional schedule also leaves her plenty of time to work on her Mandarin, a skill that coupled with the high salaries earned by many ESL teachers makes China “the best option for now.” It’s a feeling that is shared by Loubna, 24, from Morocco, who is also balancing Chinese study with ESL work.
2) Fast-Track Careers
But China isn’t just a way to save money – for many, it represents a wealth of career opportunities that would be closed to all but the luckiest few in the West. While corruption is an issue, more opportunities are open to more people. You don’t need an unpaid internship before being considered for a job, and faster career development is a fact for most people. Part of this is couched in questionable ideas: a foreign face is seen as a plus in many companies, which is illegitimate at best, and racist at worst – since this privilege tends to apply to white faces only. That aside, many people in their twenties are given more responsibility than they would be in similar businesses back home. Business developer Olivia, 26, was made a manager six months into her job in Shanghai after being headhunted by a rival company (an offer she rejected) – with the corresponding raise. “It was scary accepting all that responsibility, but the payoff is the experience I can apply to other jobs in future.” Much like Maribel, she’s hoping that her proficiency in Mandarin and experience dealing with big international clients will boost her resume when she returns home to Chicago. Unlike Maribel, however, Olivia’s new higher salary is a perk, but not the main reason she is working in Shanghai: “Management positions back home pay much higher than my job here, but the experience is the more valuable part of what I do.”
3) Low Stress Jobs and Travel Opportunities
Conversely, some people come to China as a way to escape the stress of high-profile jobs back home. “Life here is comfortable,” says Terry. “Traveling in Asia is cheap and fun and teaching is an easy way to experience China and do something different. It’s definitely more exciting than life at home in Canada.”
4) An Attractive Market for Entrepreneurs
China is of course also currently one of the best places to set up a business. While setting up a wholly foreign-owned enterprise is a lengthy and expensive process, the Chinese market is much less saturated than other more developed countries – making it an attractive prospect for budding entrepreneurs.
5) Mandarin, Overseas Experience as Boosts Back Home
A recurring theme when discussing working in China is proficiency in Mandarin. While companies in China may be looking toward hiring local graduates from overseas universities more and more, Chinese language skills represent an increasing advantage in the West. Candidates with job experience overseas also have the advantage of cultural competence, without which language skills are much less useful. Chinese language skills can be the tipping point for a candidate whose experience would otherwise be rather run-of-the-mill – a valuable consideration if job seekers are looking for their next job in a country where a visa is required and a local worker with a similar skill set would otherwise be given precedence.
Expat life is full of ups and downs, and living in a culture with very different values can be trying. It seems though that many are willing to accept the highs and lows of life in China in exchange for the international experience it brings and the possibilities of saving for a move back home or new opportunities in the future.