From North Virginia To China: Emma’s 24-Hour Decision To Start Working In China

For Emma Devine, a student ambassador at CEIBS-MBA, working in China didn’t cross her mind at first. Today, she shares that moving to the country is one of the best decisions she made in her life.

Emma thought everything was going for her in the United States, but a trip to Cambodia changed her perspective about life for the better. In Cambodia, she spent time helping in an orphanage and visiting the scenic and historical spots of the country.

When Emma returned to the U.S., she was a different person. She wanted to explore more and see what was happening in the world. After graduation, she was offered a job abroad working in China and the rest is history.

Keep reading and be inspired by Emma’s story of working in China and her life in the country!

Hi Emma! Please introduce yourself and tell us how you started working in China?
Emma grew up on the east coast in the United States.

Hi, I’m Emma and I’m from the east coast of the United States. I’m from Northern Virginia. It’s about 20 minutes outside of Washington D.C. I’m currently here in China studying at CEIBS-MBA.

I grew up there and went to university on the east coast as well. During my senior year, I wanted to travel abroad. I wasn’t sure where to go. But I had a friend that had done this program called Semester at Sea.

When I read about it, it resonated with me as my personality is kind of go big or go home. And so instead of just going to Spain for a semester—I’m half Danish—or go to Denmark or somewhere like that, I thought I might as well just circumnavigate the whole world and just hit everything in one shot.

Did this experience make you want to move overseas and start working in China?

For sure. I think about halfway through I started thinking I’m missing so much and like I’ve been sheltered for too long.

I’ve been living in the Alpha Phi sorority house on the east coast with 51 girls. I thought that was the life that I’d been bred to live and lead. I’m going to move to New York and work for a marketing firm, that’s what I thought.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.

Then I end up in Cambodia and seeing the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat and helping out in an orphanage. I remember having this epiphany of, “how have I missed this for 21 years, how did I not know all of this was happening?”

When I finally came back, my values and the way I looked at things had completely changed.

For that last semester, I was studious on finishing my thesis and graduating because I wanted to move forward. I wanted to find a job where I could move abroad, keep learning and be exposed to more things.

Was China your number one choice or did you consider other countries?

It wasn’t. When I was traveling, I spent a lot of time in Asia, but I was open to anywhere. The way I ended up in China is funny.

Working in China
Emma started working in China at Abercrombie & Fitch.

I started working in Florida with Abercrombie & Fitch. I had learned online that they had international expansion plans. I’ve worked with them before as a teenager as a fit model.

Going through the rounds of interviews, the final question they asked was, “Where in the world do you want to go?” My best friend Hunter was also interviewing and we thought the spotlight was on Europe.

Paris or Denmark, or somewhere around there would have been awesome. I’ve never been to Europe. My friend Hunter answered Paris and he got sent to Paris. “Well, I’m really adaptable, I’ll just go anywhere” was my reply – still assuming the focus was on Europe.

They got back to me in a few days and said, “Congratulations, you will be working in China. It’s a 24-hour decision. You’re relocating in two weeks. It’s a two-year contract and it will cost $20,000 if you cancel at any time and return home.”

I remember setting the phone down and sitting on my back porch in Florida. I was looking at the ocean for four hours and thinking through how do I make this decision?

Emma first started working in Abercrombie & Fitch’s flagship store in Shanghai.
What was your impression about working in China and did it change after you came here?

I was out here in 2008 with Semester at Sea and we only spent about five days here. I did a tour where we did a little bit of Shanghai, two days in Hong Kong and the Great Wall—it was very touristy.

China is very regulated. I didn’t understand anything, I just followed the tour guide. I didn’t form any strict feelings towards this country as compared to Cambodia, Vietnam or South Africa.

When the company said I would be working in China to open a flagship store in Hangzhou, I researched on the best cities in China and understanding the culture.

Emma with some friends.

For me, when I was making the decision to work in China, it was more about missing an opportunity. I thought about my grandmother who lived through World War II in Copenhagen, Denmark. She traveled all over the world.

I remember growing up listening to her stories like going to China in the 60s. I want to be able to share those stories with my family when I’m older.

If I give up working in China, I know that I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

Seven years later, I haven’t looked back. Coming to China has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Thanks, Emma for sharing your awesome story. If there’s one thing we learned from your experience, it’s never being afraid to take risks!

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