"Most universities, especially those in the UK and Australia, hold graduation ceremonies three or four months after we finish all the exams and thesis," says Yang Qiyu, who graduated from the University of Sydney. "For us who are looking for a career in China, many return early and miss the ceremony to find a job."

Unable to bear missing such a significant occasion, Liu Jingjing travelled all the way back to London and rented a cap and gown for £50 to attend her graduation ceremony at the University of Manchester. The experience was worth the trouble. "It was very different to what we have in China. It was very traditional and grand," she said.
Liu recalled that the ceremony was held in an auditorium and began with the entrance of the academic procession, in which university dignitaries marched together wearing academic robes. There was music playing. A ceremonial mace was carried and placed at the front. After the opening speech by the chancellor, graduates were presented, one-by-one, to the chancellor and each took to the stage for their moment of glory.

"Going on stage to collect your award is the most daunting part of graduation. I remember the dread of not wanting to trip over in front of my classmates and almost forgetting how to walk naturally at the thought of being filmed for the official graduation video." Liu said. She added that it was definitely the most precious memory for her.

Ma Xiaoshuai is in a dilemma. With 2 months to go before graduation from University of Edinburgh in Scotland, he is torn between going back to his motherland and staying to seek a future in the foreign country. He consults forums and discussion groups of overseas students on and other popular Chinese websites. Many of his peers have posted the same question but the answers they received were mostly frustrating. Staying abroad is difficult, but going back home is not easier either.

Higher payment, agreeable living conditions and generous welfare in foreign countries are tempting. But as a result of sluggish economic growth and stricter visa regulations, job opportunities for overseas students have become tight. The UK, for example, used to offer overseas graduates a 2-year extended work visa, but this is no longer available, with the result that few international students stay in the UK.

Many overseas students also cited language weakness and poor adaptability to foreign environments as obstacles to finding employment overseas. Miss Hu is about to graduate from Michigan State University, which has seen the number of undergraduates from China jump from 43 in 2005 to 2,845 in 2013. She noted the influx from China has allowed many to self-segregate and speak Chinese most of the time, isolating themselves from the American college experience. "Many of my schoolmates ran into the issue of limited English and lack of social skills, which makes it even harder to land a job here." She said.
Sun Chi finally surrendered to loneliness and homesickness after 5-years of study and living in South Korea. He grabbed his baggage and left for Beijing as soon as he got his master's degree in Seoul. "I did not make myself clear enough about the reason I choose overseas study, resulting in the loss of direction of my life and study, and a passive legacy on my career development", Sun said.

Chen Rong, who has been studying in Italy for nearly 3 years, found it necessary to return home despite the fact that she enjoys the good weather, the environment and occasional trips around the Europe when time and money permit. Family is one reason behind her choice. "I'm the only daughter in my family, and I'll take care of my parents when they are old. It's not realistic to take them to Italy."

For various reasons, an increasing number of Chinese overseas students choose to return home after graduation. The number shot up to 354,000 in 2013, up 29.5% year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. These returnees, known as "haigui", or sea turtles, believe that China would have more opportunities for career development. But contrary to many students' expectations, having an overseas diploma isn't a ticket to employment in China.
Miss Wu, who graduated from one of the world's top 20 universities, has experienced embarrassment during interviews. She said some domestic employers don't know her university, and some think students go abroad to study because they failed the Chinese university entrance examination. "The value of our degrees is depreciated by the fact that the quality of returnees is unreliable." She said.

Zhilian Zhaopin's recent survey also found that more than 60% of employers at home won't give preferential treatment to "haigui" candidates, and more than 7% say they prefer not to hire "haigui." Reasons for that include a mismatch in salary expectation as well as a disconnection with China's current situation. Statistics show the starting salary for 36.5% of returned overseas Chinese students is less than RMB40,000 per year and 67.2% get less than RMB60,000 per year.

Song Dongyue, who graduated from a Canadian university, complemented classroom learning with a part-time role at tax consultancy H&R Block. She thought it was a good way to earn extra money but later realized the experience gave her an edge when seeking other employment. "My classmates and I all looked for local jobs after graduation and my experience made things easier than my friends' because H&R Block is pretty well known," Song said. She has secured a job with the Bank of Montreal in Canada.

Xu Ruiwan landed a job in the New York office of the UK-based marketing and promotion agency TRCo Marketing after completing a one-month internship with the company - one of 4 internships she undertook to boost her career prospects. "Many (human resource recruiters) told me they value US internship experience at a small company more than an internship with a Fortune 500 company in China because they are not sure if overseas experience is transferable," Xu said.
Like Song and Xu, many Chinese students in Europe and North America are finding experience outside the classroom can provide a critical edge when it comes to looking for work if they wish to stay overseas beyond graduation. Internships not only gave them practical professional experience but also improved their English and taught them social skills they could never have learned in a classroom.

"An aspiring man could have a great career anywhere around the world," Shi Fei believes. He is now working an internship in a Chinese newspaper in London after a year's graduate study in the UK. Thanks to the experience, he has broadened his mind and is no longer troubled by the choice of location to start a career. He attaches more importance to honing himself. "Everyone comes from different background and makes different choices," he says. "What matters is we make the effort to equip ourselves with knowledge and skills learned overseas. A well-prepared man will succeed anywhere."

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