-by Ernie Diaz
So you want to go ‘somewhere different’ for college, somewhere that’s not a 2.0 version of your high school. Try a Chinese university. Actually, never mind – you don’t have any money. Mom, Dad, your kid wants to go ‘somewhere different’ for college. You could do a lot worse than packing him off to a Chinese university.
Actually, unless your kid has the brains to be a doctor or engineer, or the sustained malevolence to be an attorney, he will be wasting your money. Of course, you can’t tell Marge and Harry at the club that junior has opted out of higher education, even though all of you know the only thing higher about it involves alcohol and scheduled substances.
Now what if you could send him to a school where nerds are the respected rule, rather than the embarrassed exception? Where he’d be too busy learning a new language and new society to fulfill any of the college stereotypes National Lampoon long ago rendered cliché? Chinese university will make a man out of him, with army amenities but gentle Han scholars, rather than crude grunts, for company. And all at prices that will have you praising rather than cursing the WTO, for a change.
Most of China’s top schools – Tsignhua, Fudan, Renmin – are in Beijing and Shanghai, therefore we advise you to throw out their application forms. No school exists in a vacuum; the surrounding environment is crucial. Harvard would be Boston University if it were on the wrong side of the Charles, surrounded by midgrade commercial space rather than sedate brownstones. Beijing and Shanghai are both far too chaotic, bustling and distracting by far to ensure your child avoids turning from scholar to jaded cosmopolite.
Instead, consider Tianjin University, a half-hour super train ride from China’s capital. Yes, this is a city of 14 million, but a world away from all the fleshpots that take Junior’s attention away from the books. Tianjin U. has a large international student population, but his room mates are far more likely to be sober medical students from Sri Lanka than some hard-partying trust fund kid from Palo Alto. A spacious, graceful campus adds to the peaceful vibe, so you won’t mind paying the 16,600 a year. RMB, of course.
On the other hand, Zhejiang University is in Hangzhou, next to West Lake, a more powerful blend of ancient intellectual tradition and cultivated scenery you’ll not find. It’s ranked the number seven school in China, and has been described as “the Cambridge of the East”, not by pretentious trustees and their media flacks, but by British scientist/historian Joseph Needham, who sojourned there in 1944. Zhejiang U. regularly sees its alumni joining China’s brain trust: its Academy of Science and Engineering. An undergrad degree is only RMB 20,000 a year, roughly what you’d spend on extra junk food if Junior were at home living in the basement.
Xiamen University is only ranked number 15 in China, but that’s just because everybody’s jealous. Sheltered by green mountains and overlooking Xiamen Bay, Xiamen U. is the Pepperdine of China, a lush, breezy, modern campus missing only self-involved, self-entitled first-worlders to make it complete. Your child can help address that lack, and get a computer science degree, in English, for just 26,000 RMB per year.
Besides the professions, computer-related degrees are pretty much the only kind with any appreciable ROI. The world’s moving on, much faster than institutes of higher learning can position themselves as experts in the field. Meanwhile, people East and West bemoan the lack of jobs, when in fact there are many positions with no one to fill them. The following are the ten jobs in China highest in demand and shortest on supply. Not all require a degree, but all say quite a bit about how rapidly China is coming to resemble any other country where the consumer is king.
10. Financial Manager
Just as in the West, the Chinese bean-counter is quickly rising to preeminence on the org-chart. However, just knowing the ins-and-outs of the almighty fapiao (official receipt) is a discipline in itself. Furthermore, in a land where rule of law is a pleasant ideal at best, a native grasp of guanxi is required for this gig.
9. Store Manager
Thanks to Carrefour and Walmart spreading their megashop tentacles across China, western-style convenience shopping is becoming a requisite for the monied classes in not just first, but also second and third tier cities. As such, a hard-working youngster with a good command of Chinese and some retail experience may be able to land a store manager job, where he will quickly find the subject of Chinese employee politics a career-long study.
8. Internet Marketer
The old rules of marketing are out the window here in China, too, as all and sundry take to online shopping at a pace which will make the industry bigger than America’s by 2015, at the latest. Western brands are in a tizzy to make inroads into such a massive new market, and those who can bandy about lingo such as “mobile integration” and “layered social contexts” with some facility should find themselves on the paying end of surfing China’s internet.
7. Investment Consultant
China’s stock market is for two groups: gamblers without the means to fly to Macau, and inside traders. Other than that, there are shady commercial real estate ventures to invest in, and then the vast, diverse world of Chinese loan sharking. Recommended only for foreigners yearning to write a tragi-comic memoir in ten years’ time.
6. Purchasing Manager
The salaries for this position in China are beyond all reasonable expectations, considering the lack of school/experience necessary, in desperate hopes that one well-paid will dial it down on the kickbacks. Who knows? There may be a Chinese boss willing to hire a foreigner precisely for his ignorance of the local rules for under-the-table footsie. An honest face and dumb smile will help land this post.
Especially English teacher. For all the low-status and sneers attendant to the job from amongst fellow expats, this is still a foreigner’s ticket to living anywhere in China. And your qualifications are limited only by your Photoshop skills.
4. Sales Director
Any foreigner good enough at sales to make director should either have his own company, or be back home. Blame the opium wars, blame Mao Zedong, but there is that in a Chinese boss’ heart which would rather fork over money to his worst enemy than see some over-privileged foreigner strike it rich on his watch.
3. Mechanical Engineer
If you’re bringing foreign skills and experience, and can train, you can write your own ticket. Bonus checks for technology transfer; no legal clearance necessary.
In China, as elsewhere, most products have little to differentiate themselves from the competition save brand awareness. Packaging is everything, and therefore she with aesthetic talents which can be applied to commercial ends is worth her weight in gold. Until China’s school system is revamped from the ground up, creativity will continue to be the country’s scarcest commodity.
- Software Engineer
All hands needed in constructing the Matrix, the endless, ever-converging hypercube of apps, platforms, and api’s without which tomorrow’s generation will find the physical world intolerable. As a programmer, you will be like the Latin-speaking priest of the Middle Ages, an incomprehensible semi-deity, heaven’s gatekeeper. Therefore, as in the case of the sales director, unless you can’t live without convenience stores which deliver a pack of cigarettes at 3 a.m., you belong back home, cultivating your gardens.