As the school year concludes in China, many students are ecstatic for the summer break and excited for the bigger and better things they will see in September when they enter the next grade. Their foreign teachers from the West however, will most likely not enjoy the same sense of achievement felt from moving into a higher position. Lately, expatriates holding entry-level positions in China, such as English teachers and interns as well as recent graduates, are finding it increasingly difficult to find fulfilling work.
Amid massive youth unemployment in the West, China once seemed like a land of opportunity for young Westerners to succeed and achieve their dreams faster than they would have back home.
The startling success of the Chinese Chinese economy does not translate however to immediate opportunities for every foreigner considering a move to China. At least, not any more. Increasingly, simply being from a rich, English speaking country is not viewed as a qualification in and of itself.
Even those with engineering degrees, which are known to grab high paying positions in the West, are still facing difficulties securing similar work in China. Take these two examples, who spoke of their difficulties finding work to the New York Times:
Brett Edman, who moved to Beijing in February after studying Chinese and engineering in Australia, said he approached Himin and had no luck. “I can understand if they are looking for specific things, but they didn’t seem interested in talking to me anyway,” Mr. Edman, 25, said. “Even my major is directly related to their business, so that was a bit surprising.”
Max Scholl, 23, who studied environmental engineering at the University of Vermont, has been in China for 10 months teaching English at a kindergarten. His salary is 10,000 renminbi, or $1,600, a month. Most of that is sent home to pay off student loans, and he is concerned that he cannot find employment in his chosen field. “It is a little frightening, the situation I am in,” he said.
The competitiveness of the Chinese job market is governed not by amount of education but rather something else. The reason for the woes of foreigners is simple: their foreignness. They must not only compete with the other 600,000 expatriates in China, but of course also with the young and educated Chinese population. Obviously locals hold a significant advantage, in terms of language, familiarity and experience in China. According to the New York Times Chinese students who have gone abroad to study are the greatest competition for foreigners in China, they are the “more qualified applicants on the market” in part due to their “overseas university degrees, multiple languages and an international outlook.”
This return of students who studied abroad to China is an exponentially growing trend that will continue to exacerbate competition for expatriates. According to The Guardian:
(Foreginers) now have to contend with around 285,000 Chinese students who have been sent overseas to study, up from 24,000 in 1995, according to EIC Group China, an educational services provider. Locals have high expectations when returning to their home country after a stint abroad – and debts to pay off. Most come back with English which is far better than any foreigner’s Mandarin.”
Exacerbating this trend, how Chinese society views foreigners is also experiencing great change. Their presence is no longer thought of as a new and exciting concept and the special status that foreigners once received simply by dint of being foreign is diminishing (as it should do). Tea Leaf Nation explains:
First off, they are less and less a novelty. Once upon a time, they were asked to pose for photos wherever they went. While this is still true in most areas, they are now hardly given a second glance in the trendier areas of big cities. With more of them around, expats have been demystified – and more opportunities for interaction have perhaps led local Chinese to a startling revelation: that many foreigners are poor students, or are struggling to make ends meet, while China’s middle class is only growing more and more wealthy.
With all of this, perhaps many young and educated expatriates will leave the country disillusioned with their personal “Chinese Dream”, disappointed that it wasn’t easy to jump right into a high paying job. This sort of entitlement and indignation is a trait pervasive among graduates in my home country of Canada, and it certainly isn’t doing anyone any favours in China. Being a successful expatriate in China has become more difficult, but it is by no means impossible. China and the West only become more interlinked every year, and qualified individuals will always be needed to help maintain and grow this bond. China has done its part by improving rapidly over the past 30 years, now it just wants its foreign guests to keep up the pace.
[Image credit: Kristina Alexanderson]