Must Speak Mandarin … Sort of.

Since studying abroad in Shanghai during the fall of 2006, I’ve had a keen interest in living and working in China. Ever since, I’ve been keeping up on the news in China.

I attended the Wharton China Business Forum this weekend in hope to learn more about the business environment in China. I also hoped to get a little insider information on the job market for foreigners looking to get into entry-level marketing positions. I came in with a good idea that there wouldn’t be much demand for me in the China market, but came out feeling hopeless.

In one of our seminars, a student asked, “Is it absolutely necessary to learn Mandarin in order to work in China?” Among the four panelists, answers fell into these categories:

  • Oh yes! Definitely! I am ONLY looking for candidates that fluently speak Mandarin and English. You really need to know both languages in order to work in China… however, I don’t know a lick of Mandarin! hahaha. Really what I mean is, if you’re entry-level, you have to know it. If you’re at the management level, you can get in, because you have much more valuable business knowledge and experience.
  • Well, “Wo shuo putonghua” (“I speak Mandarin” — mind you, he had a horrible accent and at first I couldn’t even tell what he was saying). I recommend that you take 3-4 months off and learn the language. Don’t do like me and pick it up over 10 years!
  • I’m Taiwanese, and I think it’s a definite advantage to know the language. For example, I went into a negotiation where the counter party had to rely on his competition’s intern for interpretation. In that case, he had a huge disadvantage.
  • We don’t want to discourage anyone, because there are many people in business in China that don’t speak much Mandarin, but learning any language when entering that country is important.

So, basically, I have no chance of working in China until I’m an MBA graduate with 3-4 years of experience and completely fluent in Mandarin Chinese. So depressing!

For those of you who don’t know me, let me fill you in on my involvement with China:

  • I’m one of the founders and presidents of an on-campus club called NYU China Care. We help disabled Chinese orphans receive life-saving surgeries.
  • I’ve studied Mandarin for 2 years.
  • I was one of the first 18 students to studying abroad with NYU in Shanghai.
  • I wrote a guide for students studying abroad in Shanghai, as well as a website.
  • I was just recently admitted as one of 40 delegates of FACES, Forum for American/Chinese Exchange at Stanford. (There were over 600 applicants this year!)
  • I chose to participate in a one-week learning experience with NYU Stern called Hong Kong International Study Program, sponsored by the Edward and Nancy Barr family. We learned about the 2nd largest paper producer in China, Lee & Man Paper.
  • I plan to study Mandarin in China this summer through the Critical Language Scholarship.

However, unlike one of the panelist’s recommendations, it doesn’t take only 3-4 months to learn Mandarin. I’ve been studying for 2 years, and I still don’t have a full grasp on the language.

For someone so interested in Chinese culture and business, it’s just depressing to know that recruiters have such stringent demands for entry-level positions, yet upper management is allowed to slack on the language.

No fair! Give me a chance!

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