Career Advice from Successful Expats in China: How to Achieve a Work/Life Balance.


On Tuesday, March 3rd, Alyssa and I were invited to attend an event in the Beijing American Center to listen to a panel of distinguished expat women (held in honor of International Women’s Day) who have built strong international careers while also maintaining thriving personal lives. This topic of discussion strikes a chord with many would-be American superwomen, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a room packed with young Chinese women as well, eager to hear the advice of the distinguished panel.

The speakers from left to right: Melodee Hanes, Roberta Lipson, Catherine Feig, and Kristen Lum

These women are all pioneers in their own right, and each had a fascinating story to tell.

Ambassador Baucus’ wife, Melodee Hanes, spoke of juggling motherhood with a brand new career as a prosecuting attorney. Roberta Lipson, co-founder of Chindex International and the creative mastermind behind the well-known hospital United Family Healthcare, first came to Beijing in 1979 at only 23 years old and has been involved in healthcare in China for 30 years. Catherine Feig, a Commercial Officer at the US Embassy in Beijing, spoke of her choice to adopt a Chinese daughter and how it has affected her career. Finally, Kristen Lum, an entrepreneur with extensive PR, events, and communications experience in China, spoke about the struggle of getting her career started and a passionate curiosity that led her to a multi-faceted career.

Although the four women had a variety of career and relationship experiences, they touched on several themes that provide excellent advice for Pengyous who are thinking about taking a leap into an international career:

Be Brave

Catherine had this piece of advice to offer the audience on work/life balance and being brave:

My father told me “I want to give you roots and wings”.

Life is full of challenges. Many Pengyous are familiar with the challenge of studying Mandarin, or going abroad for a semester or a year. Some have even made the decision to live and work abroad for a few years, or perhaps longer. These decisions are difficult, and similarly, the decisions these women faced when deciding whether to prioritize their careers or their personal lives were not made lightly.

However, all of the women emphasized that these difficult decisions and obstacles that we face in life can be overcome with tenacity and bravery. They urged the audience to pursue a path that brings individual satisfaction, whether that is career or family driven, and not to fear the scale of those passions.

Be Confident

The panelists all insisted that self-confidence plays a major factor in your success. Although she came into confidence later in her career, Melodee expressed that if she had been as confident at 23 as she was at 35, she might have pushed the boundaries of her career more and achieved greater impact. Similarly, Kristen’s confidence is what helped her get a foothold:

I knew I was passionate and had a lot to offer. I just wanted to work. I just wanted someone to give me a chance to do something.

Although her grit and entrepreneurial spirit led to her eventual success, Kristen realizes she was undervaluing herself in terms of asking for fair compensation, and wishes she had the confidence in her earlier days to ask for what she deserved.

Be Passionate

Roberta Lipson offered this piece of advice:

Find something that gives you personal satisfaction and that at the end of your life, you feel you are leaving things better than you found them.

Whatever you do, whether it’s learning Chinese, raising a healthy and loving family, or even running for President, make sure it is something that you feel passionate about.

With bravery, confidence and passion, we can face life’s challenges, and the mistakes we make promote self-discovery. Pengyous, whatever you do in the future, we hope you will take these pieces of advice to heart. We hope you will all be fearless leaders, maintaining courage even though cultural gaps are not always easy to bridge. Jiayou!

Thank you to the Beijing American Center for hosting this wonderful event and for inviting so many Pengyous to come and participate in constructive, intercultural exchange.

Photos courtesy of the Beijing American Center.

About the Beijing American Center:

An extension of the U.S. Embassy Beijing, The Beijing American Center (BAC) is the place for cultural activities, educational resources, and offices which coordinate and support cultural and educational exchanges between China and the United States.

Visit them here: