Guanxi is more important than a foreign degree (to a certain point)

The Christian Science Monitor has a lengthy article about how more Chinese study abroad students are enrolled at American universities than ever before, but US degrees that do not come from an elite school like Harvard aren’t widely valued back in China as often connections (or so-called guanxi) is what still matters most.

The article began by profiling one Chinese study abroad student named Wei who lamented:

“I don’t think I can find a job in the United States easily because of my visa status and the competitive job market. But back in China, I have nowhere to go either. No one has ever heard of my college – it doesn’t even sound like a university. How can I even get an interview?”

Since Wei comes from a middle class family lacking the guanxi that someone close to the Communist Party or graduating from a well known Chinese university would have, he will probably have a tough time if he returns to China without having first gained at least a few years of work experience abroad – preferably with a well known company, MNC or brand.

Another student identified only as Xue is more lucky because she managed to land a job with a company in the States willing to sponsor her. She pointed out:

“You are expected to fare well after your family has made this huge sacrifice. At the same time, I have few connections that can land me a good job in a well-respected company in China. The fear of going home and not being able to achieve great things is overwhelming.”

However, Xue also added:

“When I go back to China, I find it hard to have much in common with my high school friends. In the United States, I try my best to blend into the more open social culture. I go to happy hour and watch football. Yet deep down, I know that I am Chinese… I can’t bear to live away from my parents. I call them at night all the time. I have missed Chinese New Year the past four years. I feel like I am missing out a lot.”

Nevertheless, some Chinese employers recognize the value of an American university education as Adil Husain, the Pakistani-born CEO and founder of the Emerging Asia Group, a consulting firm in Shanghai, who is also a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, was quoted as saying:

“I think a four-year liberal arts undergraduate education in the United States is superior to other options, such as studying in the UK or Australia. The critical thinking skills, writing skills, and reading skills that you gain from a well-rounded education are the kind of skills that employers like us are looking for.”

That’s potentially good news for Chinese study abroad students who return to China albeit the numbers of Chinese students now studying abroad and no doubt being forced to return home have skyrocketed. In fact and in just 11 years, the number of Chinese undergrads studying an universities in the United States has risen more than 10-fold, from 7,500 to 80,000, according to the Institute of International Education.

In other words and like it or not, guanxi will continue to play a big role when it comes to finding a job in China – especially for Chinese study abroad students who return home without much overseas work experience.

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