October 17, 2017 / 11:28 AM / 9 months ago

Young Chinese woman chases dream abroad, but looks wistfully home

BEIJING (Reuters) - Zuo Aining has always been a striver, always making plans.

Zuo Aining, a senior associate in credit risk advisory, poses for pictures at the campus of the University of International Business and Economics, where she used to study, in Beijing, China, September 6, 2017. Picture taken September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

After excelling in high school in the rustbelt city of Changchun, in northeast China, she was exempted from the country’s dreaded college entrance exam when a leading business university in Beijing offered her early acceptance.

After graduating from the school, University of International Business and Economics with a degree in business English, she got to work on her next plan.

Zuo dreamed of going abroad to study, an increasingly common path for the children of the affluent families that have proliferated in China after years of breakneck growth.

She applied to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., which her parents - her father is an accountant, her mother a technician for electronic instruments - were able to afford.

She was accepted, and earned a Master’s degree in accounting, which landed her a job as a tax consultant in Washington.

Her plans to stay on in the United States were threatened after she failed to get a coveted U.S. work visa for two straight years in the annual lottery.

That meant Zuo had to sign up for expensive MBA courses at a night school to keep her legal status as a student. At the same time, she worked full time for an accounting firm, until she finally got her visa last year in her third attempt.

But now, after achieving her dream, Zuo - the granddaughter of former soldiers in the People’s Liberation Army - has been looking wistfully at her homeland.

Zuo Aining waves to her parents at Beijing airport, China, before flying to Washington D.C. where she works as a senior associate in credit risk advisory at KPMG, September 7, 2017. Picture taken September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

She has always had clear career goals, but also a strong sense of pride in her country.

In college, she spent the summer of 2009 marching with schoolmates in preparation for a huge parade that October in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Zuo and her marching cohort only flashed on TV screens around the country for a few seconds, among the tens of thousands of others also participating.

But it was a proud moment for her and her parents.

Now, as she watches China’s rise with equal pride, she wonders if it’s time to go back.

“Many industries in China are developing rapidly, it is likely that China might surpass the U.S. in terms of technology and market one day,” she said.

Relaxing in a park in Beijing, where she returned this autumn to take care of some official paperwork, Zuo said she was stunned by the changes she saw in China.

The advances in financial technology, fast rendering Chinese cities cashless, were surprising. Things like app-linked bike sharing, which has become ubiquitous in Chinese cities, amazed her. Something new started gnawing at her.

“This time back in China the feeling that I have is one of worry that it would be very easy to be left behind if I return to the U.S.,” she said.

That might make her recalibrate her plans, she said.

Zuo Aining poses for pictures at Beijing airport, China, before flying home to Washington, D.C. where she works as an Senior associate in credit risk advisory at KPMG, September 7, 2017. Picture taken September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

“My life is going as I planned five years ago,” she said thoughtfully. But, “if there is a better platform and opportunity for me to do what I want to do, I will come back without any hesitation.”

Editing by Philip McClellan

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