Over the past three decades, hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese have emigrated to Western countries. In the United States, many enter using a graduate student or lab researcher visa, and after several years of hard (nearly unpaid work), most eventually stay on in their host country after graduation. Those who stay apply and receive the right to work locally, and many eventually formally emigrate and take on citizenship. In Canada, the path to emigration is even easier.
However as the standard of living in China has steadily improved in the last 5-10 years, this trend shows signs of changing and perhaps even reversing. Some of those who now come to the West show little interest in staying after their studies are over; even some of those with successful careers in the West believe their opportunities are even greater within China.
This is the story of one man who thinks he might be happier returning to China.
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I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been in Toronto for more than two years. Thinking back over these two years, I have had many different experiences and thoughts. The bottom line is… “emigrating was my biggest mistake!”
I’m a lucky guy. All the way from elementary school, to junior high, to university, I’ve never faced much frustration. Right before graduating from university, at 21 years of age, I found my first formal job, and I kept it until I left China. If I’m not remembering wrong, at 23 my monthly salary was already 5000 RMB. Two years later, I was in charge of software development and the product roadmap for my entire company. I was also able to take on numerous personal consulting jobs on the side. I thought I was doing pretty good in China, at least there was no financial pressure. But my parents and I weren’t satisfied, espcially since many of the relatives on my mother side had sent their children overseas. At the time, it seemed like regardless of how well you were doing in China, as long as you weren’t able to emigrate… you were a loser! So, I took a deep breath and did it. I was pretty fortunate, I was accepted.
After I came to Canada, I had two interviews. I’ll never forget that first one. After a week in Canada, I received that first interview invitation. I was living in North Yorkshire, and the interview was at Mississauga. I left home at 9 in the morning for a 2 PM interview; after taking the subway, bus, and walking for another two hours, I finally arrived right before the appointed time. The interviewer welcomed me warmly, and showed me their products. But my interview was over within 10 minutes; the interviewer told me “you have to improve your English”. Now that I think back, my English really was pretty bad. My emotions were really in the dumps at that point, and I forgot to change trains on the way home. I didn’t get home until 9 PM, 12 hours after I had first left; I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. I had left home filled with tension, and now returned empty with depression. My second interview was three months later, but this time very fortunately I made it through. And let me give everyone a small piece of advice here: if you feel your English isn’t good enough to fully reflect your abilities, there’s no harm in bringing a laptop with previous projects: give the foreigner a demo. That’s exactly what I did, and after the demo, he was clearly much more polite, and skipped past many technical topics. After I entered the company, I worked hard and earnestly, and quickly earned my coworker’s confidence. Starting from the end of last year, all of the new products launched by my division was implemented by me; I also assisted on the development of four other projects. For all of this, the VP of my division separately give me a check, and said it was “Annual Achievement of Last Year”; he also gave me a healthy raise.
I’m not writing here to brag about my achievements. Because even after all of this, my heart is still filled with only one thought: “I want to go home!”
Is Canada really universally recognized as the best place to live for mankind? Do people really only live for pollution-free air, vast green spaces, and free healthcare? Back in China, after hearing the sales pitch from the emigration company bragging about Canada’s virtues, in my heart I had decided only Canada could be my future home. But I think I had forgotten that people live for culture, spiritual exchange, and the comforts of being surrounded by friends and family. I am nostalgic of the time I spent chatting, laughing with friends, classmates, and family; I miss climbing mountains and playing in water, visiting famous sites with friends. At the time, I always felt we had an infinite selection of entertainment choices. But after coming to Canada, I finished all of the so-called must-visit sites (if we include casinos) in 2-3 weeks. During all of these sites, scenic views represented 90% while cultural sites represented 10%… and the sites quickly forgotten represents 50%. All of the pictures I took in Canada are stored in separate named folders in my computer, because you know, all trees look pretty much alike. Occasionally I get together with a group of friends, and we’re always struggling to find our next activity. Whenever I see someone pull out a deck of cards, my wrists get limp. The key is that this just isn’t our country; the education that I received and the 20 years of culture that I absorbed just doesn’t fit in here. Besides, foreigners (laowai) are always laowai. They will be very polite and friendly towards you, but without 10-20 years of time, it’s just very difficult to merge into their lives.
Will my work experience in Canada make me more competitive if I return to China? Based on what I’ve seen, Canada is a country that’s extremely backwards in terms of technology, with little passion for science and technology. After my years in Canada, other than improving my English I really haven’t achieved anything else at all. The leader of my division, his brain is still stuck in the late ’90s, and refuses to accept new things. When I first entered the company, he basically refused to accept any of my thoughts; he always felt new things aren’t reliable. It was only after numerous successful projects that he slowly began to change his perspective. I don’t know, if this continues for another two years what will I become? I’ve tried to pickup a few projects on the side from within China in order to stay current with progress in China.. but that’s really tiring!
My friends have asked me “well, why don’t you go back to China”? Actually, that’s a question I’m constantly asking myself. But, if I go back now, I really have to start from the beginning. To get back to the senior position I held previously, it’ll take another few years! I’m not someone who succeeds quickly in a new environment. Besides, once a Chinese person leaves the country, everyone expects you to return filled with accomplishments and wealth. But if I go back now I won’t be much different from what I had before, and am perhaps even worse… and face is really important to me. Ah, it’s just so tiring!
So, I really wish I had a time machine that could let me return in time by 3 years. If I had another chance to choose A) “live 80 boring years in fresh air”, or B) “live 60 happy years in polluted air”, I wouldn’t hesistate in selecting option B.