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19 June 2020

Why are we still in America?

by 李丁

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I haven’t figured out the theme for my newsletter. Since my trip to Vancouver earlier this year, I have been thinking about this question. So here we go!


In this post the cohort, “we”, describes those who grew up in China in the 90s, witnessed and likely enjoyed the economic reform.

A few years ago when I was job hunting, a senior director-level interviewer asked me, “Why do you want to stay here? China seems to have good prospect.” My answer was along the line, “All my professional training is done here and my friends are mostly here.” That was an okay response, not great.

As immigrant workers, we are experiencing an extremely uncertain time. To help with my own inner peace, I want to figure out the reason why I am still here.

Momentum

The first reason is plain simple. It’s what most of our friends and colleagues are doing.

We applied for the most competitive grad school after excelling in our undergrad class. With several years of grad school and possibly prolific publication record, we have deeply planted our academic and professional root in this country.

It’s natural and easy for us to look for jobs in the country that can maintain the same work and life paradigm.

As a personal example, academically speaking, I was trained completely in English (first in Hong Kong and later in New York). Forget about the reverse culture shock for a second. Just the academic language shock alone will take me quite a while to get used to. All my peers who were trained in China has their whole system built in Chinese.

People-centric Career Path

If you follow the engineering story on the overtime controversy in Chinese IT giants like Alibaba, Tencent, or Baidu, you would know the long work hours, especially for junior employees. The long work hours is commonly referred as 996 — one work from 9am to 9pm for 6 days a week, Sunday being the only day off. In fact, 996 is only one aspect of how the career path in China is not people centric. There are other ones like inflexible vacation as well as short-term betting rather than long term infra investment. I won’t go into the reasons why the non people-centric career has become a norm.

I think, in the current time (2020, staying here in America provides me a better chance to grow in the career direction I want. Meanwhile I also don’t have to burn out myself. I discuss with colleagues and managers ways to grow my research and engineering career.

I should clarify again that I haven’t actually work in Chinese tech giants — it’s mostly from my friends who work there. My point is here I feel like I am more respected by my peers, my managers, and even the “big evil” corporate.

Money (and cost of living)

Bay Area ain’t cheap. Seattle is also catching up soon. That’s still nowhere near the big cities in China.

To relocate to China, I’d probably take a big pay cut. Again, I don’t have any actual numbers. Based on my conversations and some online data, a reasonable range is probably 20% to 40% of my current salary.

One might say, China must have lower cost of living so a pay cut is not too bad. Well I thought the same way… until I check out some numbers. Restaurant and other daily errands are indeed cheaper.

Housing, on the other hand, is a different story. Rent/mortgage is usually one of biggest expense. Yet, the housing rental and buying market is on par, if not more expensive, than Seattle/Bay area.


Are you returning to China?

It was until very recently that I have formed a strong opinion. In the past, I usually don’t have good arguments or well-formulated .

If I don’t have to, I would probably want to stay. Why stay? Because the reasons above. Those reasons will only get stronger as time passes. Momentum will keep building. More friends and life is happening. As I become more senior, I would value even more on my career growth rather than piling up overtime. I don’t think I would reject higher pays any time soon.

After maybe 10 years, I might have to go back. The only reason is to take care of our parents at some point, I guess? My parents don’t want to move here, since their whole life is rooted back home.

So, to summarize, I want to stay for at least 10 years. After that, maybe, if my family requires so.

tags: work | career |

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