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February 24, 2011

Braving New Worlds: Why Career Women Are Moving Abroad

braving new worlds march 2011 article

Photo Credit: Chien-min Chung

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Sheila Zhao 27, photographer
Hometown: Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

Why I wanted to live in China: After college, I got an internship in public affairs at General Motors — I thought it would be a great opportunity, especially since my parents had taught me to speak Chinese. Five years later, I'm still in Beijing, but on a different career path. After traveling the country and snapping photos along the way, I've become a freelance photographer, handling photo assignments for various companies, as well as exhibiting my work.

Biggest surprise: How fast things change in Beijing. Every time I return from traveling, something is different on my street. The last time I came back from a monthlong trip, a whole new building had appeared out of nowhere.

Greatest challenge: Massive gridlock. The other day, I took a cab to meet some friends for dinner in Beijing. The ride should have taken about five minutes. It took 40.

Major mishap: Once, when I was at a bar with some expat friends, a waiter mistook me for a local. He said he wanted to charge my "foreign" friends a higher price for drinks. If I went along with it, he told me, he would split the profits with me. I passed on the arrangement, but maybe this can be a contingency plan if my photography career goes south!

What I love about living here: Riding around on "ice chairs." They're tiny stools that you can sit on to slide across frozen lakes, thanks to blades on the bottom.

Biggest disappointment: I have not found a single restaurant that makes General Tso's chicken.

What I miss about home: Clean air and big blue skies. While the pollution in Beijing can make for some fantastically eerie photos, it's not cool when you step outside and can see all the microparticles you're breathing in.

How the experience has changed me: I've learned to be more patient. For instance, I don't lose it anymore if someone hawks a loogie right next to me on a crowded sidewalk.

How you can get here: Look for job listings and networking events on thebeijinger.com and cityweekend.com.

This Is A Developing Story
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