Interview: Beijing Local Stella Chen

Nov 17, 2014 8:10:27 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Stella Chen (Chen Xiaohua) has been studying in Beijing for the past two years in the Graduate School of China University of Political Science and Law, one of the top two in this field in China. She understands some of the feelings of international students coming to this huge mega city as an outsider and has herself undertaken an internship abroad. In an effort to share the stories of locals in CAPA cities, CAPA's Director of China Programs Colin Speakman went to interview Stella on her campus. She shares her insights with CAPA World on the challenges of Chinese post-graduates preparing for the world of work and how an international internship was valuable for her career.

Photo: Beijing by Bobo Holmer

CAPA WORLD: Thank you for this interview on this impressive campus. Please tell us where you grew up and did your undergraduate study.
STELLA CHEN: I grew up in a village area, in a family of modest means, in Hunan Province - famous as Chairman Mao's home province. I was admitted to Hunan Normal University (HNU), a ranked university under Project 211, in the Provincial Capital, Changsha, to study Political Education. A "normal" university is one that developed from a teacher training institution and in theory I was studying Chinese Government in order to teach it in a middle school.

Photo: Stella outside the new university teaching building

CW: Did you take forward your plan to be a teacher after graduation?
SC: No, my ideas had changed by the time I graduated from HNU. My advisers felt I was better suited to management and administration than teaching. During my time in Changsha, I met an Australian businessman (from an Indian background) at the university's English Corner. This led to an opportunity to work part-time in business for him. It also led to me doing an internship for 35 days abroad in India through an organisation on campus.

Photo: Wangfujing Pedestrian Street in Beijing by Angie

CW: So you went to India partly through that Indian business contact?
SC: I got advice and confidence from him, but really India was the most affordable opportunity where I could communicate abroad in English (which I had a good command of) - I needed 12,000 rmb (a bit less than $2,000) and I got help from my mother for half of it and my sister and friends provided the rest.

Photo: Beijing by Natalie

CW: How valuable do you think that internship was in your career path?
SC: Hugely as I had to make all travel arrangements myself and that included going far into India after arriving there. It helped me develop independence and new skills and have to confidence to come to Beijing for a Masters degree.

Photo: Stella outside the main university building (Historic Building)

CW: What area are you studying in Beijing?
SC: International Relations, which is an area that can follow on from Politics study and I was recommended to the famous China University of Political Science and Law by my university. This meant that I did not have to take the Graduate Entrance Examination.

Photo: Beijing in Autumn by Xianyi Shen

CW: Are you aiming for a career in the field of International Relations after you graduate?
SC: Actually no, not directly. That field involves either government work or more study for an academic career. I have done two government jobs in my time in Beijing during break periods in my graduate program and I feel I want to work in business sector. I think that the government jobs are too routine and not well-paid, though they provide welfare benefits.

Photo: Beihai Park, Beijing by Nagarjun Kandukuru

CW: How does a post-graduate switch into a business career with limited business courses in your degrees?
SC: That is a challenge, Right now I am in my third and final year of my Masters. Courses have finished but I have to write the long essay paper, Like other students, I am applying for jobs now. We attend many job fairs and we apply online to lots of vacancies. It is very competitive, but if all goes well I will have an offer by end of the year. Then I can combine working part-time for the company with my remaining academic work. I have achieved a 4.0 GPA in my courses, but I have to make my study relevant to the jobs - perhaps through companies in private sector needing to interface with the government departments.

Photo: Students at an on-campus job fair

CW: Does your university help you in your job search?
SC: The university puts on training sessions on interview techniques and invites employers to the campus to hold job fairs. However, students need to search more widely. There are many applicants for each job and most jobs in the business world specify graduate or higher. There are not many that require a Masters' degree only and the starting salaries may not be any higher than for undergraduates - that is on average 5,000 rmb a month in Beijing.

Photo: Old Peking by larique

CW: Does your university have international students and, if so, how do you think that they adjust to Beijing?
SC: Yes, there are quite a lot of students from abroad, but they need to be able to take a program taught in Mandarin. They tend to explore Beijing more than Chinese students and they do not like the 11 pm curfew for getting back to the dormitory. For me, the adjustment to Beijing was slow and I spent most of my time staying on the campus studying so the curfew is not a problem for me. There are parts of Beijing that I still have not been to. It takes a long time to really know Beijing. I can explore more if I get a job here.

Photo: Stella outside the student dormitory for Chinese and International Students

CW: Finally, is Beijing a city that you would be happy to settle in?
SC: That depends. A Chinese university student gets a Beijing Hukou (Residence Permit) while studying here. That permit can continue if they get a local employer authorised to sponsor a Hukou. If not, they can stay working here as a migrant worker with fewer government benefits. Housing is expensive in Beijing. I could return to Changsha to work as my Hukou would go back to there as a migrant worker in Beijing. The next six months may be some of the most important in my life.

Thanks Stella!

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Topics: Interviews, Beijing, China