China, Taiwan beckon UI grads

BY LINI GE | MARCH 30, 2009 7:40 AM

With graduation fewer than two months away and a student loan to pay off, 26-year-old UI senior Cala White may have found a way to beat the gloomy U.S. job market — leave it.

White, a double major in Asian languages and literature and international studies, said she is trying to land a stable job by teaching English in Taiwan.

“My sister was recently laid off, and my father very nearly was laid off as well,” the Omaha native said. “That makes me a little less than confident about finding a stable job here.”

Similar concerns are driving more UI students to seek employment in Taiwan and China, whose economies have not been hit as hard by the global economic slowdown as has the U.S. economy.

Shu Zhu, a teaching assistant in the UI Chinese language-program, said several of her students have expressed interest in leaving the United States to find work in China. The program’s coordinator, Helen Shen, said she has seen a steady increase in enrollment in the UI Chinese language-program in recent years — 205 students were enrolled in 2008, more than tripling the 60 people in 2001.

“When [students] talked about their future plans to me, they seemed very confident of finding an ideal job in China,” Zhu said. “I believe the confidence is not only based on their own ability but also on Chinese economic conditions and potential development.”

Although China’s economic growth rate dropped to 9 percent in 2008 — the lowest since 2002 — the nation demonstrated the strongest development among all major world economies in the past year, according to a recent press release from the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

UI junior Daniel Wong, a UI finance major studying at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, arrived in Shanghai nearly two months ago without much consideration of staying in the country to work. But with China’s economic outlook, he said, it is now a possibility.

“With the current trend of people being laid off [in the United States], I feel if I am able to work in China as well as the U.S., I have more opportunities to find a job,” the 21-year-old said.

And businesses from China are opening their doors to welcome foreign students. Out of 58 active internships provided by employers abroad, 15 come from mainland China and Taiwan, said Garry Klein, assistant director of the academic programs and assessment at the Pomerantz Career Center.

Working abroad poses certain challenges for the students, especially in today’s rapidly changing market, said Maureen Beran, an assistant director of student professional development in the Tippie College of Business’s undergraduate program.

“The jobs may not be their ideal first-time jobs when they started their studies at the university,” she said. “They may have to compromise the locations of jobs and maybe different job functions and responsibilities, too.”

White said she may have to adjust her original career plan, given the fierce competition she is facing with her job search in Taiwan.

“I originally only wanted to teach in Taipei, but now I have agreed to teach anywhere in Taiwan,” she said. “A year or two ago, I would have landed this position easily; now, I have to keep my fingers crossed.”

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