When you move to a new country as an immigrant, it is possible for you to succeed, but you have to look at things from a different perspective. Immigrants are the most resilient group. It takes a lot of courage to uproot yourself and move to a new environment.”
Li Lin, A Founder of Successful Immigrants Online Coaching program. She is an immigrant from Shanghai, China.
A story of a young femigrant who launched her own business to coach immigrants to find a job. Li graduated from the University of Berkeley and later landed a job as a business analyst. Her ambition was to continue working at her job, however, things didn’t turn out as she planned as she was fired after 6 months.
Li moved to the USA in 2000 to reunite with her immigrant parents when she was 10 years old. Her experience as a new immigrant many years ago is like many female immigrants coming to the US for the first time. “We came here because my parents had economic issues. They had to leave me in Shanghai with my grandparents at first, as a lot of East Asians do, and I was reunited with them when they settled here”. Shanghai is the largest city in China, so when Li came to Palm springs, a resort town, she felt the difference instantly. “I went from being an A student in China to struggling with the language and losing my identity. I felt completely lost and like I was a completely different person. I didn’t get any support to help me get through this tough time so I really feel for immigrants”. That is part of the reason why she started the business to help immigrants. “If you’re reading this then you’re probably an ambitious woman who was the crème de la crème in your home town and you were doing well, but you wanted to do more. Inevitably you find yourself in a situation where you’re not very comfortable, but its pressure that forms us into diamonds”.
Li went from memorizing the birthdays of Communist leaders in China, to coming to the US and attending a Catholic school where she was the only immigrant with no ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. Her identity as a student who could earn great grades without studying was completely shattered as she became a student who was held back and spoke no English, and she had to start from the beginning and build a new sense of self. “I had to learn English and communicate with my peers, I didn’t know what was cool or what was relevant and I just felt very much left out. It made me want to do better and succeed academically”. This tough time motivated her to perform well academically. Socially though, she always felt that she wasn’t enough, a feeling many female immigrants experience. “I’m just different from other people and there’s no way it can be helped. Li graduated from the University of Berkeley and soon after she began her job search. “I was comfortable with academia where I could always get good grades, but for the job market grades aren’t what get you the job in the US, unlike many other countries. So, I needed to learn how to do interviews and position myself and basically sell myself”. She studied urban planning and later landed a job as a business analyst. Her ambition was to continue working at her job as a big city girl in San Francisco, however, things didn’t turn out as she planned.
“It turns out that I’m not a great employee, I was fired after 6 months. But from that experience I realized that I always wanted to start my own business. So instead of taking it as a horrible thing that happened (loosing her job), I thought to myself about what my dreams were and it always involved starting a business, but I never gave it a 100% commitment. I thought to myself, ‘Since I’m already fired, why not just take a year to start a business. If I fail, it’s only a year out of my otherwise young life, and if I succeed, then I was on track to make my business dreams come true”. Li took a sushi waitress job to pay the bills, but she wasn’t satisfied. “It was the lowest of my lows. In 2013 I started teaching English, Chinese and TOEFL. One of my students was an immigrant from Iran and had a job but was fired because he gifted one of his coworkers a bottle of perfume. In Persian culture its ok, but not here in the US. I realized that when I felt out of place and doing the wrong things, I wasn’t alone. There are many immigrants like me. He was very frustrated with his job search so I offered to help him with his resume and cover letter. We met once a week to learn TOEL, and learning a language once a week is never enough because you need to practice. Two weeks later, he got a job at a pharmaceutical company after one year of unemployment!”. Li was blown away by that experience and felt that she was on to something. She realized then that if she can impact his life in that manner, she can do the same for others. In the end, most immigrants come to the US to build a life and improve their careers.
Li started searching on LinkedIn for Chinese international groups and found the exact same issues. These were intelligent people who had great grades in school and great degrees but they kept getting rejected. Some of them had problems with their visas, but the major issue was that most of them didn’t feel confident presenting themselves since in Chinese culture it is considered bragging, which is frowned upon. “I started with one official client who got rejected for having an H1B1 visa, so I checked the company’s profile and found out that they do sponsor her visa type, but they just wanted to let her down easy and made it an excuse for not giving her the job. We worked on her resume and how she could present herself. Now she became a financial analyst and is currently working in Silicon Valley and Shanghai and she is bi-continental in her dream job”.
From that experience, Li decided to promote her business so she started thesuccessfulimmigrant.com website. “I’ve been doing this for about 3 years now. The original motivation was that I wanted to help people like me. People who are smart but because of this move (to the US) they lost everything”. However, Li urges immigrants to understand that they didn’t lose everything. She encourages us to realize that we only need to learn a different way of presenting our values. “Over the last 3 years I’ve helped around 200 international students with their job plan and it’s been very rewarding to help other immigrants realize their American dream. Once they can stay here and work here they can do anything. You can see on the Femigrants platform how many female immigrants are doing so well”.
When it comes to the cultural limitations that hinder female immigrants from getting the job, especially East Asian immigrants, it is that they are uncomfortable talking to strangers. “They socialize and intermingle with people from their own culture who are most likely struggling to find jobs too. I teach them how to reach out to their boss and the like. They are very resistant to it because it’s very uncomfortable to them. Women in those cultures are not expected to be forward, even those who want to break out of the mold, it is still difficult since its ingrained in them. Once they get passed that they get results, because getting a job is dependent on whether they can talk to strangers and whether they can promote themselves”.
Li’s advice to Femigrants is to understand and believe that they are enough. She noted that its human for people to doubt themselves when they make drastic changes in their lives and must start building a new life. “When you come to a new country, it is possible for you to succeed, but you have to look at things from a different perspective. Immigrants are the most resilient group. It takes a lot of courage to uproot yourself and move to a new environment. That been said, immigrants really empower American. They are the most entrepreneurial people. You see them in Silicon Valley. Some of the immigrants that became very successful are Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, and Do and Jin Sook Chang (the South Korean couple who founded Forever 21), they are all immigrants”. Li believes it is a great time for femigrants to be in the USA, however, they need to be reminded that they are already enough.
Editor: Dana Haj Hamad