Marie goes job hunting

Marie and I are in the same boat: we’re both job hunting.* But for her, the competition is a hundred million strong. Naively, I ask if the job market is tough for soon-to-graduate Chinese students like her. “It’s easy to find a job,” she tells me, “but a good job…”

So why not stay in school, and apply for further study? I’ve observed – anecdotally – that this is what most PKU students I talk to plan to do. It’s what eight out of Marie’s fifteen classmates are doing. And Tony estimates only 20% of his classmates are looking for work after they graduate (Leonidas flips that figure to 80% … but his field – applied linguistics – is more vocational than Tony’s, who studies international relations).

For Marie, the answer is simple: she’s always hated her subject, A.I., which her parents chose for her. Her interests have always lied outside the curriculum: in her street dancing and English-language literature classes (this month’s reading: Milan Kundera). After our last chat, she went off to attend a lecture on flower arrangement by a famous (allegedly) Japanese master of the art from New York. So she wants out of campus; to broaden her horizon. “I want try something new, and choose the right path for me.”

One such path beckoned last Saturday, when Marie interviewed for the Japanese interior decoration company Epco. She was terrified that the interview might be held in English, and asked me for a phrase or two about teamwork to use if so. Put on the spot, I included the cringeworthy ‘there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ on my list – this confused Marie, who isn’t so confident in her English spelling. But she’s feeling confident in herself, spectacle-less after her eye-correction surgery over the summer (her parents footed the bill).

We can breathe a sigh of relief: the interview was in Chinese, and the questions simple (“why do you want to come to Japan?”). But I myself was interested in the answer to that one. Marie told me she loved Japanese culture, which I got the impression she regarded as romantic – hardly something her grandparents would say. Plus, she’d heard the wages in Japan were high. So it’s a clear front-runner against existing work offers in Beijing, Kunming – capital of her home province, Yunnan – and far-flung Xinjiang.

So does she still see herself under the cherry blossom in five years? Tellingly, her plan is to work for two or three years, then go back to school. True to form, her dream has changed yet again: now it’s economics at Harvard. And on a broader level, it’s a dream which is in line with what I’ve seen across campus at the elite universities of Beida and Tsinghua: that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t work, it’s study abroad.


* I have to ask: does anyone reading this want to hire me?


Comments are now closed.