EVENT RECAP: Building Your China Career: Opportunities in the US-China Space

A group photo of the speaker event on day two
On June 13th, 2016 Project Pengyou, returned to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies – China (SAIS – China) bringing together Project Pengyou Chapter leaders, students, and professionals in Washington D.C. for a speaker panel to give advice on building a US-China Career.

Holly Chang, President of the Golden Bridges Foundation, and Executive Director of the Committee of 100 (C-100), along with Mei Yan, the Vice-Chair of the Golden Bridges Foundation, introduced the event as its moderators, speaking of the need for more young leaders in the US and China to participate in professional exchange and understand each other.

The speakers spanned a range of experiences and sectors relating to US-China relations from media to public relations to finance. All three were relatively young and accomplished and had a lot of practical and timely advice for the audience about getting started in an international company, as well as a few of the ups and downs presented in the field.

Challenges in Multicultural Environments

Panel Speaker, Serena Lin
Panel Speaker, Serena Lin shares her experiences in a multi-cultural work environment.

Panelist Gabriel Morris, who worked for 8 years at the Chinese state-owned enterprise, CITIC, started the discussion by addressing different types of challenges that come with working in a foreign country or company. He mentioned that the biggest and perhaps the most obvious hurdle is cultural communication barriers not limited strictly to a knowledge (or lack thereof) of Mandarin. Travis Thompson, the panelist from Brunswick, echoed Gabriel’s sentiment, pointing out: “you have to consider how the words you are saying might be taken.” Greeting a Chinese colleague by saying “what’s up?” might not have the desired effect; instead, try asking “吃了吗?” (chi le ma, or have you eaten).

Another potential challenge is the cultural environment or context that you may be working in. Panelist Serena Lin, who was part of the founding team for CCTV America in Washington DC addressed this, stating that she is in a very multi-national work environment (99% of her colleagues are not Chinese), and she often leverages her Chinese background and American education to be a bridge builder.

Lessons Learned

The panelists also shared some of the valuable lessons they have learned through their experiences with multinational companies. Gabriel noted that although cultural differences can be challenging, it’s best to focus on the issues at hand and try to be a problem solver: “When you’re working in a multi-cultural environment, focus on the issues. Don’t let the cultural layer get in the way of those issues…be a problem solver!”

Panel Speaker, Travis Thompson
Panel Speaker, Travis Thompson

The skills that Travis said served him best during his time in China were flexibility and resilience. As a history major who traveled to China for the first time in 2010, he remembers China during it’s ascendance to world leadership and before the reign of wechat and e-commerce. He marveled at having been witness to China’s search for a modern identity and how it’s given depth to his experiences there:

“This rich history and story that is unfolding becomes so much more personal because you have friends that have parents and grandparents who have experienced that history…it’s not just something in a book” – Travis Thompson

Serena commented as well that her colleague’s and her own perceptions of China and the US and the bilateral relationship have become more open minded since working at CCTV America. She urged the audience to “…be a sponge, give the benefit of the doubt and have an open mind” when dealing with other cultures. She noted that even her colleague’s recent return from their first trip to China opened their eyes: “Serena, China is so much more developed than I thought!”

Above all, Patience and Friendship

When searching for jobs, the moderators and panelists all agreed that reaching out through your networks: personal, alumni, and even linkedin, all are the most effective ways to search for jobs in the US-China field. It takes patience, bravery and persistence and you might not know exactly what to pursue at first, but things will become clearer if you make friends, keep learning, and trust your instincts.

“Make a friend first; that is the start of everything. You are all in Project Pengyou, in the business of making friends. If you can really make people trust you and bring you into their circle, things will go a lot more smoothly.” – Mei Yan

After a day of Chapter building strategies and learning a bit more about the complicated history of Chinese in America and implications it has today, hearing from the panelists was a great way to end the weekend. Project Pengyou Leadership Fellow and Chapter Leader at the University of Maryland, Emily Oursler who just graduated this May said that “this was just what I needed to hear”. We hope Pengyous who are beginning to look for jobs in the US-China space, or even those who are already in it will benefit from the advice.

We would like to extend thanks for all the hard work and support of our co-organizers, our staff at Golden Bridges, and all of the Project Pengyou Chapter leaders and guests who made this event so insightful and special. Special thanks all of our panelists, and shout-out to Gabriel, who flew to Washington DC for Beijing just to join us for this event!

Team Pengyou with Vice Chair of the Board, Mei Yan
Team Pengyou with Vice Chair of the Board, Mei Yan

See more photo highlights in our photo gallery.

See the full list of speakers and more information about the organizers below:


Mei Yan, China Senior Partner, Brunswick Group; Former Managing Director, MTV Networks Greater China and Chief Representative, Viacom Asia

Mei Yan is currently a Senior Partner at Brunswick Group, an international corporate communications partnership that helps organizations address critical communications challenges.  She previously served for a half decade as the Managing Director of MTV Networks Greater China and Chief Representative of Viacom Asia.

Prior to that, Mei Yan was one of the most decorated international journalists and TV producers from China. For 14 years, Mei was a reporter and manager at CNN Atlanta HQ, where she and her team won three Emmy Awards and two Awards for Cable Excellence for her coverage in war zones.  She also served as VP of Marketing and Distribution for Turner International Asia Pacific Ltd., and as the Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Representative, and Chief Public Affairs Officers at News Corp. and STAR TV (China). Mei Yan was named one of five most powerful women in China by the Daily Beast.

Mei Yan holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Political Science and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Columbia University, U.S.A., a Master of Arts degree in Advanced Russian Area Studies from Hunter College, City University of New York, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian Language and Literature from Beijing Normal University.

Mei Yan currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board for the Golden Bridges Foundation, which houses the ProjectPengyou.org program.

Screen-Shot-2015-10-05-at-12.12.13-PMHolly Chang, President and Founder, Project Pengyou | Golden Bridges Foundation; Executive Director, Committee of 100

Holly Chang is concurrently serving as the Executive Director of the Committee of 100 and President of the Golden Bridges Foundation, which houses the Project Pengyou initiative. As a Chinese-American social entrepreneur, she has served hundreds of nonprofits in China as an international bridge-builder supporting diverse projects in climate change, education, health and philanthropy. Ms. Chang began her career as a civil engineer at the United Parcel Service working on cutting-edge and fast-tracked engineering projects budgeted over $1 billion.

The Committee of 100 is an international non-partisan leadership organization of prominent Chinese Americans in business, government, academia, and the arts. For over 25 years, the Committee has been committed to a dual mission of promoting the full participation of Chinese Americans in all fields of American life, and encouraging constructive relations between the peoples of the United States and Greater China.


Serena (Shiyun) Lin, Television producer, CCTV America; Miss Chinese American DC 2010

Serena (Shiyun) Lin is a current affairs talk show producer for CCTV America. She is also the first China-born winner of Washington Metropolitan Miss Chinese American Beauty Pageant (2010). She was born and raised in China, and later adopted US permanent residency. She was educated in China, the United Kingdom and the United States. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Xiamen University, China, and obtained her master’s degree in Public Communication from the American University in Washington DC. She later received her post-graduate certificate in Business Journalism from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Serena frequently contributes to Chinese American television, magazines and blogs including the Washington Chinese Media, and Asian Fortune Magazine on the matters related to Asian American community and US-China relations. She directs her passion and unique background to promoting China-US relations through producing high profile interviews at CCTV America. She has produced interviews with former US President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former US Ambassador to China Gary Locke among many others.

Travis Thompson, Executive, Brunswick Group

Travis has experience across a range of sectors including M&A, public affairs, consumer goods, agriculture, TMT, energy, real estate, cross-border trademark litigation, cybersecurity and e-commerce. His focus at Brunswick is on public affairs, crisis (including pre-crisis planning) and US-China issues as well as broader business critical areas such as capital markets advisory, investor relations and profile-raising. He is currently working on the China National Chemical Corporation’s $43 billion acquisition of Syngenta, the largest ever Chinese acquisition of a foreign company, helping the firms to navigate the regulatory environment in the U.S. He has had clients on both sides of the Pacific including Syngenta, Whirlpool, JD.com, iQIYI, Chevron, Trina Solar, Century 21 China and Noah Wealth Management among others.

Prior to joining Brunswick in 2014, Travis worked at Cubic Applications Incorporated, where he provided in-depth research for client projects and logistics implementation. Before Cubic, Travis worked for IES Abroad at Beijing Foreign Studies University, a Chicago-based study abroad consortium with centers at universities in 22 countries, where he provided cross-cultural communications and crisis management for Chinese, American and European staff and students. He has been published in his university’s undergraduate history journal the James Blair Historical Review and the American Chamber of Commerce in China’s monthly magazine Business Now. 

Travis earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from The College of William and Mary, concentrating in modern East Asia, with a minor in French. He graduated from the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies (IUP) full year intensive language program at Tsinghua University in 2014 and is fluent in Mandarin.

Gabriel S. Morris, Executive Director, Investment Banking Division, Mergers and Acquisitions Group, Goldman Sachs Gao Hua Securities Co, Ltd.

Prior to Goldman Sachs, Gabriel (莫浩波) was a Vice President at CITIC Securities Co, Ltd, in the Investment Banking Division. Gabriel holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics-Philosophy from Columbia University in the City of New York.


Project Pengyou

The Project Pengyou initiative is a program of the Golden Bridges Foundation. In 2011, Golden Bridges was invited by the U.S. Department of State to build a global network of Americans with firsthand China experience. Conceived as the alumni network for the President’s 100,000 Strong Initiative, Project Pengyou is seeded by funds from the Ford Foundation and provides transformative leadership training to mobilize next-generation leaders to launch campus chapters of U.S.-China bridges-builders across the country. The initiative also maintains a dynamic online network and resource hub curating China-related jobs, events and exchange programs.


A division of The Johns Hopkins University, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, is a global institution offering students a truly international perspective on today’s critical issues. SAIS China, the umbrella for all of SAIS activities involving China, is anchored by the China Studies Program in DC. The program features a superb faculty with considerable experience both within and outside academe, from work in government and multilateral organizations to NGOs and foundations. Courses range from Chinese leadership and foreign policy, economic and political reform, and human rights and law, to China’s environment, military, and growing involvement in Africa and beyond. SAIS China also encompasses The HopkinsNanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, the preeminent and longestrunning educational collaboration between the US and the PRC. In partnership with Nanjing University, the Center’s graduate programs offer students the opportunity to learn from top Chinese and international scholars in a bilingual and bicultural environment in China. SAIS students also have the opportunity to spend a year at Tsinghua University taking courses in English toward a dual MA degree from SAIS and Tsinghua. SAIS China offers unparalleled training for future leaders and thinkers who will address China’s evolving role in the world. Learn more: https://www.sais-jhu.edu/content/china-studies#overview