Monday, December 14, 2015

HNC and Project Pengyou host "Building China into Your Career" Alumni Event

On December 3, 2015, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center co-hosted an event with Project Pengyou called “Building China into your Career: Experts’ Perspectives from the Classroom to the Workplace” at the Project Pengyou courtyard in central Beijing. The four panelists – all of whom were HNC alumni – spoke to over 60 attendees about how they developed their careers in China. Keynote speaker, Anthony Kuhn and Jim Heller were actually HNC classmates, graduating in 1992, while Ashleigh Au and Abe Sorock graduated in the 2000s. This was a nice contrast as each speaker was in a different field and at a different point in his or her career. After the keynote address, HNC Career Services Counselor Robbie Shields moderated a discussion with the panelists and then facilitated a Q&A session with the audience, both of which were lively and interesting.

Panelists (From Left) Abraham Sorock, Anthony Kuhn, Ashleigh Au and Jim Heller with moderator and HNC Career Services Counselor Robbie Shields  

Anthony Kuhn, Beijing NPR Correspondent gave the keynote address, sharing his path from his youth to today, and how China played into that. He also shared some photos and recordings of pieces that he was working on that covered topics not only in China, but also in other parts of East and Southeast Asia. Mr. Kuhn said that in most of his work, 70% of it was professional skills, while the other 30% of it was his China skills. One notable thing that he attributed to being successful was his ability to simply pack up and go. Fluent in Chinese, he is able to conduct interviews on his own without the help of a translator.

Keynote speaker Anthony Kuhn

Jim Heller from the US Embassy spoke on the importance of China and its prominence going forward. One interesting point he brought up was that the US State Department has begun scheduling its Foreign Service Officers to become specialists on the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Foreign Service officers focus on bilateral relations between the other BRICS countries and China, and given China’s prominence, Chinese language skills and an understanding of China are important in US embassies and consulates in the other BRICS nations. When asked he said the single most effective skill that a person should have to be a Foreign Service Officer was strong communication: the ability to convey a message clearly and concisely.

Ashleigh Au from SOHO China brought interesting perspectives from the corporate sphere and was the only panelist working at a Chinese company. For attendees wanting to find employment in China, she emphasized the importance of being in China because conducting a job search from the US is not feasible. Even given her career success in China, she said that she is always looking career advice. From the perspective of this writer, this exemplifies the correct attitude one needs to take in their career approach. Always be curious, and always be eager to learn about what is out there.

Abe Sorock, CEO and Founder of ATLAS-China challenged attendees to be excellent at what they do, and spoke of the how the label of being a China person was no longer applicable. People view you now as a China-person who specializes in x and y and to not view specialization as something that can pigeon-hole you, but as something that adds value. Additionally, he said that successful candidates in today’s job market have to be able to teach themselves skills on the Internet using Google or YouTube, whether it is excel, or general analysis, etc. This really fit in nicely with Abe’s theme of specialization in something in addition to Chinese.

Interestingly, all of the panelists spoke of the circuitous route they took to get where they are today. Anthony Kuhn, for example, never had formal journalistic training, but said he was obsessed with making and tweaking sound and telling stories that interest him. Jim Heller chose a Foreign Service career because his wife was already a Foreign Service officer and it seemed to be one of the only careers that could realistically complement hers. Ashleigh Au originally wanted to become a lawyer, but when the opportunity at SOHO China came up, she went with it and realized she liked public relations, and has carved out a niche for herself at SOHO China. When Abe Sorock himself attended HNC, there were no career services available to students, so he started his own boutique head-hunting firm to fill this niche. It’s clear that each panelist got to where they were by being excellent, and also, by having specialized skills in addition to stellar Chinese linguistic and cultural skills. So, when thinking about your career, identify and cultivate skills and interests that will bring value!

If you are interested in learning more about the event, you can view the complete video footage of the event or visit the Project Pengyou blog for more photos and coverage.

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Written by John Urban,  HNC American Academic Coordinator