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'Nobody But You' Interview: Tony Diao

'Nobody But You' Interview: Tony Diao

Tony Diao currently runs the Zhengzhou Branch of the Beijing Space Service Agency. Here he talks about his time spent in Australia, the experience of returning to China and adjusting to the work environment here, and gives advice to other young Chinese people looking to study and work abroad.  

They are called hai gui, meaning "sea turtle" in Chinese and also an abbreviated phrase for "returned from overseas". They are a young, well-educated, and very ambitious generation of young financiers, business administrators, lawyers and IT specialists. After studying and working abroad for several years they are returning to their Hua Xia (华夏) to chase their Chinese dreams here in their motherland. It is not a new phenomena, China is developing so fast that nowadays it serves as a locomotive of the world economy, providing better jobs, higher salary and more advanced living conditions than ever before. Even as an experienced laowai I can't help but be impressed with the incredible changes in the new "face" of Zhengzhou city: stylish skyscrapers, the modern and advanced new district, the express BRT bus system, and next year we will experience our newly constructed subway. What’s more, all of these have been achieved within just 5 - 6 years!  

But let's come back to our hai gui.  Finding that the grass overseas is not always greener than in China, they are changing their course and swimming back to their native land. The stories I have heard about their overseas adventures are each different: they vary from extremely successful to just so-so; it always depends on the individual. What is common among them, and quickly apparent to me, is that hai gui gain invaluable experience, and they are more flexible and independent than before going abroad.

Tony, Chinese name Diao Hui, is a handsome 29-year-old man with an attractive hairstyle and an irresistible Australian accent. Tony is a typical example of an 'overseas turtle'. After receiving his college degree in accounting at the age of 23, like thousands of other young Chinese people, he went to fabulous Melbourne, Australia to continue his education. He successfully finished his studies, earned a masters degree in Finance, and went to work for a foreign trade company. However, one year ago he returned China. What are the main factors that influenced him to make such a decision? Let's ask him directly!

OLENA: Tony, You've spent 6 years abroad, what are the opportunities and challenges you faced in China when you returned? How have you had to adjust to the new China?
TONY: That’s a very good question. I do feel that there are many challenges when I came back after staying abroad for such a long time. For example, I had to develop my business contacts from scratch while my classmates in university have accumulated much more work experience and local resources. Another one is what we call "Table Culture”(饭桌文化) or"spirits culture”(酒文化). Most of the time, if you want to deal with some business contacts, you always have to bring topics up during the meal, and drink much alcohol; otherwise people think that you are not showing sufficient respect.  It’s a problem for people who can’t drink.

OLENA: The biggest challenge for many university graduates in China is to find a well-paid, secure job. You've chosen another way: to start your own business and even create working places for your peers. Did your overseas experience help you to start your own company and then run it successfully? What, besides its unusual name, is unique about your 'Space Service Agency'?
TONY: My overseas experience was invaluable in terms of helping me to start my business in Zhengzhou, China. I had the opportunity to develop my network in the Australian market and I understand the strength of the Western education system. My mixed education background enables me to communicate with both sides, and makes it easier to build a trust relationship between my business and customers. As for the name of my business, I’m currently running a franchise, and the name is inherited from the parent firm. 

OLENA: Studying abroad is quite expensive. Some Chinese parents put all of their savings or even take out loans to send their children overseas to get an education. According to your experience is it a worthwhile investment? Is it worth all that money? 
TONY: It really depends on each individual’s circumstances. Some parents do push their children to study abroad even when the students don’t have the intention to do so, and I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do. The most important thing is the student’s own opinion. All parents need to do is support them.
In terms of the financial cost and return on the parent’s investment, you can’t get an easy answer like calculating the return on a deposit from the bank. I think families that have financial burdens should think twice before making such a big commitment. There are more and more young people who return from overseas, which means the competition for jobs is getting tougher, so parents shouldn’t expect their children to make big money straight away after obtaining an overseas education. 

OLENA: How can Chinese students gain the most benefit from studying abroad and find fulfilling employment in the future? What professions are in high demand in modern China in your opinion? 
TONY: My advice is to try to get some overseas work experience before coming back if you can. The challenge for most local graduates is getting the first professional job in their career, so it will be a huge bonus if you already have some work experience in your chosen profession. 
Many professions are in high demand in China at the moment, and we always suggest that students follow their true interests and not think only about job or income prospects, mainly because the job market is always changing and hard to predict. You’ll have a bright future in your own profession if you are the best, no matter what profession it is.

OLENA: Nowadays many young Chinese are learning English and passing IELTS before going overseas. From your experience is it enough to feel yourself as "a fish in the water" in the foreign country or are there still some barriers in communication between Chinese and foreigners? If so, how do you overcome them?
TONY: From my own experience, I can say that language is only a tool for communicating, and there is no secret for how to master a language; it just depends how often you use it in your daily life. Everyone can learn a foreign language if the environment forces you to use it every day.
If there is barrier, it comes from cultural background and it takes time to understand and get used to the culture of another country. After all, it’s not the same environment that you have grown up with for the past 20 years, for many young students.

OLENA: Personal question. You are a successful and attractive gentleman but still single, right? Are Chinese girls more demanding than Australian ones or do you have too many requests? Since Chinese society is not gender equal, with the male still dominate, is it hard for a hai gui to find a girlfriend in China? What do you think about cross-cultural marriage? Can it help solve the societal problems of modern Chinese society, such as the single child policy and the ever-growing sheng niu (unmarried woman) population? 
TONY: I’m still single, but it’s not because I’m different than other people in terms of my educational background or financial status. I had relationships in the past and unfortunately, they didn’t work out. 
People say love is blind and that’s the truth, you can find 1000 excuses to reject one person if you don’t like him or her, and you can also find 1000 reasons to accept them if you do like him or her. Nationality is also not a problem here.

OLENA: What is your advice to young ambitious Chinese people who go to study abroad and plan to return China? 
TONY: I have a couple pieces of advice:
1. Always hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and don’t give up on your dreams easily. You’ll get what you want even if the journey is a rough one.
2. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, and know how to use your strengths and avoid your shortcomings.
3. Have a good plan.
4. Be friendly to others and know how to build up your network.


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12 12, 13 21:32

posted by: Norman Symons

I would like to get in contact with Tony Diao. He is a friend of mine during his time in Australia. Please advise at

23 12, 13 22:29

posted by: Kallen Zhang

Hi there. Tony's mail address is

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