Q & A with Billy Meyers '03
Alumnus: Billy Meyers ’03
College: Bachelor of Science in physics, minor in Chinese, Duke University, 2007
Family: Jingyi Wang Meyers, a high school geography teacher at Chinese school, and son, Caleb, born October 7, 2012
Current home: Beijing, China
Are you fluent in Mandarin? Yes
Were you fluent prior to moving there? I had taken six semesters of Chinese, but my fluency has improved immensely since moving here.
How long have you been in China, and how long do you plan to live there? I've been here for five years, but am planning to move back to the U.S. next month!
How he came to be in Beijing: I moved to China three months after graduating from Duke in 2007. I was a physics major with a Chinese minor and had no work experience at the time. I had studied abroad in Beijing in summer 2006 and really wanted to come back to China. My plan at the time was to come here for one year and improve my Chinese language skills in a business setting, all while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
At the time, the only options for going to China were to teach English or go as a manager. Many people told me that I should first find a job at a multinational company in the U.S. and then request to relocate to China after five years. But I was determined to go to China right away, and I didn’t give up.
I finally came across an internship program at the University of Minnesota that connected Chinese-speaking Minnesotans with small- to medium-sized businesses in China. I applied for the program, was accepted and got placed with a marketing internship at a small Chinese company in Beijing. So I packed my bags in 2007 and moved to Beijing.
This was my first work experience, and it was quite a learning experience! At the end of the first year, I decided I wanted to stay in China, so I submitted my resume online to a Chinese headhunting company. I got a job offer from a luxurious real estate development company, so I left my marketing internship and joined the new company. Things didn’t go so great at the new company, so I went back to the same headhunting company and got another job working the night shift (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) selling online software to U.S. newspapers. I left that job after a month and went back to the headhunting company. I got offered a job as a financial analyst at a small Chinese investment bank. After a year at the investment bank, a friend of mine at the international church in Beijing told me about an opening for a project manager at her friend’s book publishing company. I have now been at this job for the past three years and truly love what I’m doing.
After all my experiences working in China, I have observed the following:
1. As a Caucasian male who speaks Mandarin fluently, I have had no problem finding jobs at Chinese companies. I definitely feel like people look up to me in China (literally and figuratively) simply because of my ethnicity and gender.
2. Although jobs have been fairly easy for me to come by, QUALITY jobs have been next to impossible to find. For the most part, while working at Chinese companies, I was expected to just be the token white guy who gave the company “face” at meetings with officials or was mainly there to give English lessons to the Chinese staff over the lunch break. I was trusted with very little actual responsibility. Quality entry-level opportunities with clear career progressions are almost nonexistent for foreigners.
3. But this was not necessarily a bad thing for me. Because of this, I have had to truly find my own way in Beijing. There was no set path, no going through the motions, no easy way out. I have grown up and matured faster while living abroad than I think I would have while living in the U.S.
I would easily say that moving to China and living here for the past five years has been the best decision of my life. I have made lifelong friends, found my life passion and learned so many life lessons that I can't even begin to count them. Living in China is not for everyone, but it has been an incredible experience for me.
Regarding what role Blake played in getting me here, while it’s sort of indirect, I am very thankful to Blake for teaching me to love to learn and be a lifelong learner. I don't think I would have stuck with Mandarin, which is a very difficult language to learn, if I didn't have the foundation that was established at Blake.
Why were you interested in living abroad? I studied abroad in college and fell in love with Beijing and China.
Had you done much international travel prior to this? Traveled to China each of the summers before my junior and senior year in college.
What is your home like? I currently live with my Chinese wife and mother-in-law in the south of Beijing. My wife’s mother is helping us take care of our new baby boy, who was born in October. We live in a 105-square-meter apartment with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, a computer room and a kitchen. The current market value of this apartment is around USD $400,000.
What are some things you do during your free time? My wife loves to travel, and one of the greatest things about living in China is the close proximity to Southeast Asia. We have traveled to Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and Hong Kong together and been to some of the best beaches in the world.
What’s a typical day like in Beijing? Wake up at 6 a.m. and eat breakfast of egg, meat, 饼 (round flat cake) and 点心 (pastries). Take the subway for one hour to the office. Work in the morning answering emails, meeting with clients, writing proposals and reviewing the status of current projects. Lunch with colleagues at the nearby 盖饭 restaurant (rice with meat and vegetables). Leave the office by 5:30 p.m. and take the subway back home. Stop by the local 超市 (supermarket) and pick up some yogurt and apple juice. Arrive home to some delicious home-cooked Chinese food. Spend time with my wife and son before going to bed. On the weekends we meet up with friends from the international church, visit the sites in Beijing (parks, Tian'anmen, Temple of Heaven, etc.) or go to the mall for shopping, dinner and a movie.
What are some of your favorite things about living there? The people here are very warm, kind and friendly. Many Chinese are still not used to seeing foreigners, so I get a lot of stares and whispers when I walk down the street or get on the bus. And I love seeing the surprise on people's faces when they say something that they think I don't understand and then I start speaking back to them in fluent Chinese. Alternatively, I love that I can usually get out of uncomfortable situations by just pretending that I don't understand what they are saying (telemarketers, policemen, etc.).
What are some of the challenges you face in Beijing that you may have taken for granted back in the U.S.? Finding a taxi. The biggest challenge about living in China is getting used to the sheer number of people here. China is roughly the same size as the U.S., but has five times the population. Everywhere you go you have to get used to dense crowds of people. You quickly find out that personal space is no longer something you can take for granted.
Do you have a network of friends in Beijing who are also from the U.S., or is your primary circle of friends native to Beijing or from elsewhere in the world? My closest network of friends is from the international church. I love it that I have close friendships with people from Mexico, Philippines, Rwanda, United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesia, Burundi, Russia, etc. We had guests from 12 different nations at our wedding in Beijing!
This Q & A is part of the "Alumni At Home Abroad" series featuring Blake alumni living as expats across the globe. Their stories will be published in future issues of the Bulletin as well as posted on the school's website.