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Educated and anxious


Early (left) and Echo trade experiences job hunting in Chengdu.

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April 28, 2011
-Philip Bender

Winnipeg, MAN.  Spring is the anxiety season for Chinese university seniors. Many leave school during the second semester to search for that coveted but elusive job. And if they do find one, it can be a long way from their dreams.

As Mennonite Church Canada workers teaching English at Sichuan University of Arts and Science, Julie and I witness their frustration first-hand.  China’s booming economy does not generate nearly enough semi-professional or white-collar jobs to absorb its six million annual college graduates – a number which has grown six-fold over the past ten years. Thousands who emerge from four years of study with degrees in everything from science to English migrate to large cities like Beijing and Shanghai to seek their fortune, only to live in cramped tenements known as “ant colonies,” and—if they are lucky—to find poorly-paid menial work that bears little resemblance to what they have studied.

Blue-collar jobs are abundant and increasingly better-paid in China’s southern export manufacturing regions. But doing manual labour after getting a bachelor’s degree arouses little interest among grads, and can involve serious “loss of face” among family and friends.

My own students, Echo and Early, illustrate the graduates’ dilemma. Both English majors able to use English well, they have spent time this semester seeking work in Chengdu, the large, thriving capital of Sichuan province. Echo has had interviews for a translator position with both a Chinese and a Dutch company. But when the Chinese company offered her a job at only 1,500 renminbi ($225.00 CDN) a month, she turned it down, citing the high cost of big-city living and the obligation to help support her family. Not having had a further reply from the Dutch company, she continues her search.

Early’s foray to Chengdu was more frustrating. Though trained to be a teacher, she decided to “try something else.” But in Chengdu she found few jobs that interested her. She also discovered that most employers don’t care about what she has studied, only in what experience she has had. Early finally had a job offer to sell medical equipment. But she feels that sales doesn’t suit her personality, and her father also objected to this kind of work.

As a result, Early has decided to return to her home town of Dazhou and take the teacher certification exam this July.

 “I find it’s better for me to have a job in Dazhou” she said. “I don’t like the big city.”

Some of our students also report feeling discriminated against because they come from a low-tier university.

With all of these challenges facing our students, offering them encouragement and hope through the light of Christ is an important part of what we do as Mennonite Church Canada workers in China.