One of the things I love most about public relations is that it is a limitless job and thrives for people that are curious, open-minded and eager. Public relations although primarily conducted in the United States, requires people to think globally, wether in regards to campaigns, event planning or media relations. We most often see Senior-level practitioners have the chance to work abroad, but I always love re-telling stories of young pr practitioners who took their chances and began their careers…abroad.
I interviewed Beth Evans, a former classmate of mine at the University of Oregon, who upon graduation, decided to move to Beijing, China. She has been there for about six months and has already fully immersed herself in the culture and has been a valuable tool to many companies she’s worked for.
Q: What influenced you to work abroad?
A: I can’t remember a specific time when I decided I wanted to work abroad. I studied abroad in Beijing in the fall of 2005 and didn’t want to leave, which is when working abroad became a definite possibility. Since then, which country I worked at became a low priority as the industry, city size, and job duties were all more important.
Q: How much did networking come into play when finding a job? What was more influential, your network or your skill set?
A: Networking was definitely more important, especially because in Chinese culture, relationships are everything. The way I got the job was through my college roommate that asked a friend who worked at a famous gallery in Beijing if he knew of any openings. The friend knew my boss, and my roommate guided me through the interview and application process. Most recent Chinese graduates have no work or internship experience, and I was a native English speaker.
Q: What was expected of you upon being hired?
A: It’s a bit difficult to say what was expected of me because I was trying to interpret this through the language barrier. Probably the most important expectation was that my English proofreading skills would be excellent as that was my biggest advantage over a Chinese employee.
Q: What qualities do you think employers look for that Americans have that would be an asset to their organization?
A: By far the most attractive quality Americans have to employers abroad is a native English speaking ability. I know this is not true in all countries, but Chinese people think American English, especially the West Coast accent, is the best kind of English. At both my jobs I’ve held in China, I’ve been the only employee who only speaks one language fluently, but I’ve also been the only native English speaker. This skill, combined with my journalism degree, has allowed me to write or be the last reviewer in all important English-language materials.
Q: What have you learned from working abroad that you couldn’t have learned in the US?
When I was in the U.S., I heard many professionals and academics talk a lot about the importance of learning how to work in a global economy, but I only got to hear the American perspective. Here, I get to find out what people from other countries – and not just China, because I’ve worked with people from South Korea, Canada, and France, as well – think it means to be a global candidate. For most people I’ve met here, this means being able to speak at least two languages fluently.
Q: What do you suggest someone do when wanting to work abroad?
A: My biggest piece of advice for people who want to work abroad is to meet and stay in contact with people who have lived abroad. Some of my mentors didn’t understand why I wanted to move to another country immediately after graduation, and working abroad has been challenging, both before I got here and now. However, spending time with friends who moved away from their home countries at age 18, or going to UO International Career Networking Committee (ICNC) events where I’d meet alumni who worked abroad.
In a close second is that I strongly suggest that people improve their language skills as much as possible before they begin work abroad. I only took two years of Chinese before working here, and while my Chinese has improved a little by living and working here, it improved much more efficiently when I studied it in the classroom, even in the U.S.
Q: Any fun characteristics about working in China you can provide?
A: I think it’s fun how international the workforce in Beijing is. Most office workers here speak at least two languages fluently, and many companies have employees from at least three countries. Chinese companies also find a lot of excuses for employees to eat, drink and be merry together. After major gallery exhibition openings, the president would pay for all the artists and staff to go out to a nice dinner and karaoke to celebrate. The president also took me out to Pizza Hut – a really nice, expensive restaurant chain in China – to celebrate my joining the company.
Q: How was it working in Beijing during the Olympics?
A: The Olympics actually affected my daily life and entertainment a lot more than my job duties. People in Beijing think that it’s not cool to be interested in both art and politics or both art and sports, so my coworkers were extremely apathetic about the Olympics, and our gallery was even closed to change exhibitions during the Olympics. I wrote a post
on the Olympics’ relationship to the art district I worked in. My current job is at a small agency that did a ton of events during the Olympics and even had the International Olympic Committee has a client, and I’ve heard all these great stories. I’ve been meaning to interview my boss for a blog post on it.