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Chasing the American Dream in China

College graduate Irving Steel took a chance and booked a one-way plane ticket to Shanghai to launch his career in the new land of opportunity.

As told to Varun Saxena

Why did you move to China? During college I did a summer internship there with the International Center for Democratic Governance. I was so impressed I would have done anything to go back. So I booked a one-way ticket to Shanghai in December 2008 with the goal of finding a job in China's booming green industry.

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Where did you live? I lived at first with a Chinese family that I met through www.couchsurfing.com. But I could stay only two months before I had to move to an apartment. To afford my own place, I took a job as an English tutor because I still hadn't found a green job.

How did you start your green career? Through a networking event, I met an American who runs a small sustainable-design firm called Arc8X. Then through volunteer work I met a woman who told me her company, a U.S. corporation that makes environmentally friendly materials for office buildings, was hiring. The next day, she arranged for me to meet her boss, and I was eventually hired.

What do you do now? I am a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional. I teach clients about the benefits of sustainable design -- basically design that doesn't harm the environment. To earn the certification, I had to take a test sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council.

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Are there many opportunities for young American professionals in China? Yes. Before joining my current company, I received other job offers. And since joining my current firm, other firms have offered me positions, such as business development manager.

What if you don't speak Chinese? It's not as much of a problem as you might think. For example, networking with Shanghai's large population of ambitious expatriates allowed me to work around the language barrier. At first, I spoke only English at work, and I was able to get by.

You speak Chinese now? Yes, I've learned Mandarin. There are many advantages to speaking the language. For example, it gives you an edge to bargain for a lower rent on an apartment.

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