Australian Alumni in China: Word from the experts

There are rewarding careers ahead for alumni returning to China – but not without challenges, writes Sophie Loras.


Lawrence Lau
is the Asia Pacific Finance Director of Owens Corning Building Materials. He holds a Bachelor of Business from the University of Southern Queensland and an MBA from Deakin University.
lawrence_lau_portrait_webWhile Mr Lau says the Australian study experience was a positive one, returning to China wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“Australia is a country of diversity with an open-mind mentality in accepting different view points. I learnt a lot in terms of cross-cultural awareness especially on how to interact with people from different backgrounds,” says Mr Lau.
“This has proven to be extremely useful in my career especially in the early days
of my career as a regional manager. I am still benefiting from this exposure today as a leader of a regional team.”
However, Mr Lau says that despite learning how to balance work and life, he wasn’t adequately prepared for his posting to China.
“As a Chinese, I thought it was as easy as fitting a glove to my hand as I have the language advantage, however, China is a very diversified country with different sub-cultures,” he says.
Mr Lau says he underestimated the culture shock that he encountered upon his return but feels lucky that his cross-cultural background helped him to rectify it relatively quickly.
“In my opinion, universities can prepare students better by providing more exposure to students by means of exchange programmes in internships, group tours to meet
corporate offices, invite seasoned speakers to share their experiences and challenges…” he says.
“In short, I think it’s the readiness in the students’ mindset to manage diversity that universities should create especially in the last two years of the programme.”
“As China is becoming more internationalized with increasing interactions with the rest of the world, there is a general lack of talent who can manage cross-cultural situations effectively – returnees bring back to China a lot of knowledge and
experiences that will address this gap.”
Jenny Zhu is the Shanghai-based Academics Manager and Lead Host of ChinesePod – the world’s leading Chinese-language learning website and podcast – with over 300,000 registered users from around the world.jenny_zhu1_web
Ms Zhu holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney, and a Master of Policy Analysis from the UNSW.
She says rewarding aspects to her Australian study experience include the language, being able to work in a global context and learning to be a self-starter, “all of which have been tremendous assets and wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t had the experience,” she says.
Despite two degrees in Australia, Ms Zhu never had any doubts about where her future career path lay.
“I’ve always had the intention of returning [to China] after my studies, because I think I’d have more of an advantage in China. So I was prepared to seek employment and never quite bothered about a lower starting salary than Australia,” she says.
She experienced no big readjustment challenges when returning to China with her Australian qualifications or drawbacks to having an international qualification when seeking employment back in China.
Ms Zhu’s advice to returning Chinese graduates: be strategic and have a long-term perspective.
“Take full advantage of your Australia experience especially the language and cultural experiences. There are tremendous opportunities for bridge people in every sector.”
sean_chenSean Chen is the General Manager of Skaugen Marine Construction Co. Ltd. – a chemical & gas transportation, ship & fleet management and ship building business. Mr Chen’s advice to graduates: “Have an individual career plan – what is my target for the next three to five years, and what is my target for the following five to 10 years?”
He says graduates need to ask themselves what they really have in terms of qualifications, “do I have the relevant exposure and the practical experience,” and if not, look at ways to gain that.
“When signing a contract think about the tangible as well as the intangible benefits the job will bring – how can I improve my personal capability in this position and what can I contribute to shorten the learning curve and shorten the career path.”
Mr Chen, who holds a Marketing Degree of Applied Finance from the University of Newcastleand a Masters of Professional Accounting from the University of Western Sydney, returned to China 2005 after deciding China was the best place to make use of his Australian qualifications.
“I felt I needed a platform to show what I had learnt in Australia and China was going through an amazing economic boom.” 

*Pictured: Mr. Sean Chen (General Manager of Skaugen Marine Construction), Mr Ian Lialumni_in_china_careers_fair_web(CEO of 3R Group), Jenny Zhu (Academics Manager and Lesson Host of ChinesePod), Mr. Lawrence Lau (Finance Director of Owens Corning Building Materials), speaking to graduates at the Austrade Careers Fair in Shanghai in April. (Courtesy Austrade)
Click here to read more about Austrade’s recent career’s fair in Shanghai and how Australia can make itself a more alluring desitination for Chinese students by offering post graduate work placements in Australia and China.

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