June 18, 2018
The US-China Strong Foundation, in coordination with the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, hosted its inaugural “China Careers Summit” (CCS) May 31-June 1, 2018. The CCS convened 98 American college juniors, seniors, and graduate students for a program of talks, site visits, and workshops designed to expose them to a wide array of careers in which they might apply their China skills. The two and half day Summit took place at the George Washington University’s Foggy Bottom campus, in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Programming commenced with a keynote speech about “Why China Matters,” by David Shambaugh, Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science, and International Affairs, and Director of the China Policy Program at The George Washington University. Shambaugh offered historical context for China’s standing in the world. He describes China as, “Simultaneously an interlocutor, a partner, a competitor, and an adversary of the United States” and encourages students to consider the range of opportunities implied by these descriptions as they strive to build their China careers.
Shambaugh mentioned key facts about China such as the size of its economy, military budget and armed forces; and, its status as the highest producer of patents and second largest producer of Ph.Ds, among other things.
“The real point,” he said, however, “Is not so much the impressive statistics and measures of China as a global power—but that China is now embedded everywhere, in literally every continent, and in most functional spheres, institutions, and professions. China is no longer an isolated state or a partially integrated one. China is in the international system and it is embedded within the United States in many spheres that have real opportunities for your employment.”
He underscored this point by listing jobs in fields including business and industry, federal and local government, law, cultural exchange and tourism, academic research, journalism, NGOs, international organizations and more. Shambaugh’s speech offered a comprehensive framework for inquiry students that set the stage for the subsequent sessions of the China Careers Summit.
Thursday evening students attended a reception at the PRC Embassy hosted by Ambassador Cui Tiankai and Minister Counsellor for Education Cen Jianjun. Students heard from Ambassador Cui whose remarks emphasized the importance of education and cultural exchange for strengthening understanding and cooperation between the United States and China. Minister Counsellor Cen offered his thoughts on the same subject. Two CCS delegates spoke about their experiences studying in China.
Jessy Diamba, a recent graduate from the University of North Texas, credits his upbringing in a multicultural household for his ability to appreciate language learning and cultural exchange.
He said, “As an immigrant to the US, I know from experience that learning a new language opens many opportunities…for understanding.”
Alexandra Gray, a recent graduate of the Yenching Academy of Peking University recalled her time in Beijing and explained how it helped her appreciate the challenges facing the country.
She said, “During my time there, not only was I greeted with hospitality,… I was [also] fortunate enough to meet many interesting, young people from all over the world who…shared an interest in China, which makes me hopeful for the future of international relations.”
The reception closed with musical performances from Chinese students currently enrolled in universities in D.C. The performances featured traditional Chinese instruments—pipa (琵琶), er hu (二胡), and dizi（笛子). A string quartet of Chinese students serenaded attendees with Mendelssohn during the subsequent dinner portion of the reception, which also had distinguished guests representing organizations in both the private and public sector, including former Ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy.
The bulk of CCS programming on both days consisted of “workshops”: smaller, sector-focused, panel discussions. Over 60 experts shared their expertise and career stories in such fields as management consulting, finance, industry, and technology, education, not-for-profit organizations, and various departments in government. Experts shared their “China story” in a series of interactive panels during which they replied to the following questions:
- What can students do today to prepare themselves to enter the workforce and be competitive? What are companies/organisations looking for in new recruits in terms of skills and experience?
- What China specific skills – and other skills – are important to be competitive in the job market? Study abroad experience, language skills, research skills, analytical skills, etc?
- What do trends in your sector look like for graduating students? What are the best ways to pursue job opportunities?
- Looking ahead, what role China will play in the coming 5, 10, 20 years?
- Share either the best and worst career advice you’ve ever received or given?
- Describe someone you’ve observed develop their career successfully – what were the key ingredients to their success story? What is the formula for success in developing a rewarding career?
The diversity among speakers—of title, field, and length of experience—created a richness and dynamism in the discussions, ensuring that not a single one of the 20 workshops and plenary sessions mirrored the next. During one of the plenary sessions, for example, a panelist expressed that it wasn’t enough to study China because of its strategic importance for one’s career. He argued, instead, that one studies China because one believes there is intrinsic value in studying China, and as a result of dedicating focused time and effort to the study of China, one becomes a China specialist. Others argued that there is indeed room for China generalists — those for whom China and China studies do not occupy the greater share of their experience and education. Others still contended that it is not sufficient to speak, read, or even write Chinese—that it is mandatory to have at least a second skill set in order for one’s Chinese ability to have lasting career value. Their counterparts, however, asserted that there is stand-alone commercial value in high-level Chinese language proficiency. This variety and refinement of grounded feedback from seasoned experts was as a salient feature of the Summit.
Friday morning’s programming began with site visits. Students were divided into five groups and visited either the Pentagon, the Capitol, The Asia Group, Kroll Inc., or Caterpillar Inc. The site visits were designed to give students a glimpse into what it would be like to work in a particular sector or job function. Hosts provided career guidance and responded in highly interactive discussions with the students. Students who visited Kroll (a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm) in their Reston, VA offices, for example, learned that they were in need of people with high Chinese language proficiency and received detailed information about how to go about the application process for current job openings. Students returned to campus for the remainder of Friday’s programming.
Programming on Friday concluded with a final dinner event, with remarks from US-China Strong Foundation CEO, John L. Holden. Mr. Holden offered heartfelt advice to a warm reception from students, who listened attentively and with earnestness. He began with an excerpt of poetry from the illustrious Chinese poet, Li Bai and closed with a piece of departing wisdom to students:
“Don’t collect people, build authentic friendships”.
Participants of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ annual Foreign Policy Colloquium (FPC) joined CCS delegates briefly. The FPC is a program designed to help Chinese graduate students studying in the U.S. better understand the factors that shape U.S. foreign policy. This component of the concluding dinner allowed CCS delegates to interact with their Chinese counterparts, during which time representatives from each group shared about what they learned over the course of their respective programs.
Some testimonials from both speakers and students:
It was a pleasure to participate in such a vibrant, well-conceived, and well-executed program. Kudos to you all. What a great group of students.
I was glad to impart some information/knowledge to help these intelligent and motivated students in their process.
I found the energy of the delegates invigorating, and look forward to continuing to support them moving forward.
It was a pleasure hosting such bright minds with such amazing aspirations; we would love to have you guys again.
Thank you for the opportunity to meet a group of amazing youth. I feel optimistic knowing that the future of the U.S.-China relationship will be in their hands.
It was a tremendous opportunity. And the conference was extremely well-organized with very relevant speakers, visits and discussion topics.
Fantastic program, I went into it not knowing much about China-related careers and afterwards came out very knowledgeable of the types of careers involving China and how to get there! Great opportunity to network with fellow China students! … I was grateful to be able to make friends with others interested in China. I feel these friendships will mutually benefit us later in our careers.
You guys were very kind, and I learned so much from this experience. Some of the best advice came from Mr. Holden on the last day — “don’t collect people; develop friendships and sincere, genuine relations with people.”
I really enjoyed CCS because it gave me access to a broad perspective of industries that are currently growing and thriving in China.
For me the networking with my peers was one of the most valuable parts of the Summit. I connected with people who are just as interested in China as me and that was very exciting for me!
It surpassed my expectations … and provided a wealth of information, connections, and perspective on careers in China. My understanding of careers relating to China deepened exponentially and I feel much more informed, confident, humble, knowledgeable, prepared, and excited to start my career.
The US-China Strong Foundation would like to thank sponsors and supporters of the China Careers Summit.