EVENT RECAP: Building China into Your Career: Expert Perspectives from the Classroom to the Workplace (BEIJING SERIES)

Project Pengyou intern, Alexander Mitu, shares his main takeaways from our special panel event co-organized with the Johns Hopkins University – School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), “Building China into Your Career: Expert Perspectives from the Classroom to the Workplace.”


On Monday, November 6th, Project Pengyou co-hosted a special panel event at the Hotel Jen Beijing with the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) on how to build China into your career. This marked the third event in an annual series with SAIS (see our 2015 and 2016 recaps here). The panel was moderated by Robbie Shields, Career Counselor at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and included discussions on getting started in your career, the importance of language skills, and what specific skills are needed to forge a meaningful China-related career.

Distinguished panelists included:

  • Kim Fassler  Liaison Officer, U.S. Department of Defense (HNC/SAIS 2010)
  • Jonathan Garrison  Vice President, Wanda Cultural Industries Group (HNC 2000)
  • Sophie Lu  Head of China Research, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (SAIS MA 2011)
  • Oliver Theobald Operations Specialist, Alibaba (HNC 2013)

Each of the speakers, all of whom were HNC or SAIS alumni, shared their unique perspectives from the worlds of business, government, and finance. However, many of the key takeaways can be applied across sectors. Read on for some candid career insights and highlights of the event:


Flexibility Drives Us Forward.

The panelists from left to right: Sophie Lu, Kim Fassler, Oliver Theobald and Jonathan Garrison (also pictured is panel moderator, Robbie Shields).


As much as we try to plan our futures in the right direction, sometimes life swerves a hard left. This is especially true in China, where the job market is constantly changing and new opportunities are always emerging.

Kim noted that in order to be successful in your China-related career, you have to “be flexible” in your outlook. In college, she had studied English and political science, pursuing a career in journalism upon graduation. Yet, almost a decade later, she’s working on behalf of the United States Department of Defense at the US Embassy in Beijing, China, which she admits her college-aged self would certainly have deemed as “crazy.”

Sophie also chimed in that while she really loves her current position at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, she believes most people will have multiple careers throughout their lives. In fact, she confidently asserted that she will probably move on to “two or three different careers” throughout her professional life.


Skills Open Doors, Language Keeps Them Open.

In his welcoming remarks as moderator, Robbie brought up a panelist event that he attended at the U.S. Embassy in Nanjing with a group of HNC students: one of the panelists had exclaimed that the Chinese market was once lucrative for foreign nationals proficient in the language. However, as Chinese enterprises are increasingly raising their standards for foreign hires, language skills alone are no longer sufficient.

Yet, as Jonathan noted, language skills can be an important (and even necessary) component of your CV. Chinese companies are often obligated to hire an entourage of interpreters and support staff to accompany non-Mandarin speaking hires. Being able to speak Mandarin not only frees up company resources (thereby making you even more of an asset), but it can also go a long way in establishing and maintaining relationships with your coworkers and superiors.


Use Your Time Efficiently.

Whether you’re in the office or at home, all of the panelists emphasized maintaining a consistent work ethic. Jonathan and Oliver both encouraged audience members to “volunteer for various projects” at work and to “help out as much [around the office] as you can” (for example, offering to review English outputs of Chinese coworkers). Doing these things will not only help you quickly gain the respect of your office but will also help in building balanced relationships with coworkers (they will be more willing to help you when you inevitably run into difficulties).

On the note of productivity, Oliver stressed the importance of diversifying your free time through a wide range of extracurricular activities or hobbies. He explained that his current job with Alibaba Cloud is quite far away from his academic background in international relations, but because he enjoyed doing IT work in his spare time, he was able to showcase his competence and nailed the interview.


Work Your Network. 

Martina Leinz, Director of Executive Education Recruitment and Outreach at SAIS

It’s not what you know, but who you know. While a platitude to some, this adage rings true for many professions internationally and China is no exception. Each panelist alluded to the necessity of building a strong support network to be successful in China. Kim suggested that a great way to break into any field is to connect with people who have already forged those paths and learn from the steps they took to get to where they are right now.

But these relationships do not have to seem one-sided. Jonathan recommended setting aside time during the day to catch up with old friends or new acquaintances over coffee, a habit that he has regularly stuck do.

Thank You!

We’d like to extend a huge thank you to all of the guests who came and contributed to a vibrant discussion, the distinguished panelists who were so generous in sharing both their time and their wisdom, and of course, the wonderful staff at SAIS and HNC who are always a pleasure to work with.

We’d also like to extend a huge thank-you to the Hotel Jen staff who generously sponsored the beautiful event space and were very helpful in the planning and execution of the event. See below for more information on Hotel Jen and how to find out about their future events!

We hope to hold more similar events in the future, so stay tuned! For more photos, check out our photo gallery: Building China into Your Career (BEIJING SERIES)

To watch the whole event, we’ve uploaded it here!


The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) – 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 features a superb faculty with considerable experience both within and outside academia, from work in government and multilateral organizations to NGOs and foundations. Learn more.


The Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies (HNC) – SAIS China also encompasses HNC, the preeminent and longest-running 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 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 offers unparalleled training for future leaders and thinkers who will address the changing role of China and its place in the world. Learn more.


Venue Sponsor:

The Hotel Jen Beijing

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Catering to urban adventurers, the Hotel Jen brand delivers quality, comfort, and value with a playful twist and friendly service. Hotel Jen embraces the love of life and travel, helping curious travelers to leave boring behind through spontaneous experiences, unpublished insights, and unconventional perspectives. Launched in 2014, Hotel Jen offers 10 vibrant hotels in some of the best locations across Asia Pacific, including Singapore; Hong Kong; Beijing and Shenyang, China; Manila; Penang and Johor in Malaysia; Brisbane, Australia; and Malé, Maldives. Hotel Jen is slated to open in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia in 2018.

If you’re in Beijing, get away from the hustle of the city and retreat to Prototype co-working lounge, a modern 320-square-meter co-working space where creative minds go to plug in, grab a bite and get down to business! The open space has plenty of comfortable seating, individual pods, power sockets and USB ports. Adjacent to the co-working space is Kitchen-To-Go, a mini café that will keep guests fuelled on food and drinks well into the night. For more information, please call +86 10 6505 2277-6631 or mail prototype.hjb@hoteljen.com or visit www.hoteljen.com.