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Thread: Overseas planner looking to return to the US...seeking advise

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    Overseas planner looking to return to the US...seeking advise

    Dear Cyburbia community,

    My name is David Hung, greetings from Hong Kong! So after working abroad for 4+ years, I am about to make a huge decision of moving back to the States. I would be most grateful to get some advise on my situation and my career. So bear with me as I dish out my case in a few words:

    I graduated with a unaccredited planning degree in Urban Studies and Planning from UC San Diego back in 2006. After a short internship stint in California, I moved back to my childhood home of Hong Kong, where I began working in a fantastic private consultancy firm, mostly on large scale infrastructure projects for the HK and mainland Chinese governments. I am now in my 5th year with the Hong Kong based firm and am after some serious thoughts about my family, lifestyle and career prospect, i am contemplating on moving back to California.

    This is a huge life changing decision for me and my family, so i really want some advice from my fellow planning community, especially regarding my future career prospect back in US after being away for 5 years. With my experience being almost exclusively from overseas, what are my chances of competing with the other US based planners and landing a planning position (preferably in N. California)? Knowing that the planning system in Hong Kong and US are quite different (although Hong Kong does based its planning laws on the UK system), how seriously will my experience be taken by the employers? Would I be thrown back into an 'entry-level' type given my lack of US experience?

    I will be taking the AICP exam this May, so hopefully with the certification, it would make things a tad easier. I know that the planning and development sector was hit quite hard during the economic down turn but from what i've heard from people, things ( in both the public and private sectors) are improving. What is your view of the current planning job market? How difficult would it be, for someone with my experience (or lack thereof) to secure a position in a respectable city/metro area?

    I am most grateful for any advise on my situation. It was a fantastic experience to work in a city like Hong Kong, but i think it's time to come back home, to the U.S. of A . Hope it would be a good move for my career as well.

    Once again, thank you for any advise. If you are working overseas and are in the same shoes as me, I would LOVE to hear from your too.
    Cheerios
    David

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally posted by Cutchpuck View post
    Dear Cyburbia community,

    My name is David Hung, greetings from Hong Kong! So after working abroad for 4+ years, I am about to make a huge decision of moving back to the States. I would be most grateful to get some advise on my situation and my career. So bear with me as I dish out my case in a few words:

    I graduated with a unaccredited planning degree in Urban Studies and Planning from UC San Diego back in 2006. After a short internship stint in California, I moved back to my childhood home of Hong Kong, where I began working in a fantastic private consultancy firm, mostly on large scale infrastructure projects for the HK and mainland Chinese governments. I am now in my 5th year with the Hong Kong based firm and am after some serious thoughts about my family, lifestyle and career prospect, i am contemplating on moving back to California.

    This is a huge life changing decision for me and my family, so i really want some advice from my fellow planning community, especially regarding my future career prospect back in US after being away for 5 years. With my experience being almost exclusively from overseas, what are my chances of competing with the other US based planners and landing a planning position (preferably in N. California)? Knowing that the planning system in Hong Kong and US are quite different (although Hong Kong does based its planning laws on the UK system), how seriously will my experience be taken by the employers? Would I be thrown back into an 'entry-level' type given my lack of US experience?

    I will be taking the AICP exam this May, so hopefully with the certification, it would make things a tad easier. I know that the planning and development sector was hit quite hard during the economic down turn but from what i've heard from people, things ( in both the public and private sectors) are improving. What is your view of the current planning job market? How difficult would it be, for someone with my experience (or lack thereof) to secure a position in a respectable city/metro area?

    I am most grateful for any advise on my situation. It was a fantastic experience to work in a city like Hong Kong, but i think it's time to come back home, to the U.S. of A . Hope it would be a good move for my career as well.

    Once again, thank you for any advise. If you are working overseas and are in the same shoes as me, I would LOVE to hear from your too.
    Cheerios
    David
    Hi David,

    I don't really have an answer to your questions, but hopefully you can answer some of mine! I also graduated from UCSD, but only half a year ago. I just landed an internship with the county (unpaid) but I am interested in the route you took. How do you suggest I find positions in Hong Kong such as you did?

    Thanks!

  3. #3
    I imagine there would be at least several large engineering/architectural companies in San Francisco with projects throughout the Pacific Rim that might value your experience.

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    Quote Originally posted by jabba rookie View post
    Hi David,

    I don't really have an answer to your questions, but hopefully you can answer some of mine! I also graduated from UCSD, but only half a year ago. I just landed an internship with the county (unpaid) but I am interested in the route you took. How do you suggest I find positions in Hong Kong such as you did?

    Thanks!
    Hi Jabba Rookie,
    The situation was a bit easier for me as I was born in Hong Kong and has dual citizenship. For foreign expats, landing a job with the private sector requires the employer's sponsorship (you can pretty much forget about working in the public sector if you are not Chinese literate). Having said that, it is not too difficult to get a job and get sponsored at one of the major multinational engineering or architectural firms as they do hire a large number of expats and language is not a barrier to employment. If you are really interested in working in Hong Kong, what I would do is start by emailing your resumes around to the large firms Hong Kong branch offices, email direct to the Hong Kong office's HR address. There are a good dozen offices that you can spread your resumes to and I am sure they will get back to you, possibly with a tele or online interview opportunity, then you just take it from there.

    Hope this helps, let me know if you need any more advise....I am actually quite intrigue to hear your interest to work in Hong Kong. It is an exciting place and great experience for young planners (if you don't mind the hectic workload and stress). So What got you interested in Hong Kong?

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    I imagine there would be at least several large engineering/architectural companies in San Francisco with projects throughout the Pacific Rim that might value your experience.
    Yes, i am actually looking into the larger private firms in the Bay Area, they seem to suit me and my experience the most. For engineering companies, would you know how large of a planning / urban design team would they usually have?

  6. #6
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    David,

    I think your solid Asian experience will help you.. I'd focus on the larger cities.

    In terms of longer term career prospects, I think that having only an undergraduate urban studies liberal arts degree will be a weakness for you at private sector arch, engineering and planning firms. The USP degree from UCSD degree is basically such an undergrad liberal arts degree, although it is a very good one, with a practicum aspect that's missing from many such urban studies programs and some of the top graduate professional programs in planning actually recruit from it. I'm not saying you couldn't get a position now, with it, but most private sector firms link advancement (and/or continued employment) to having a professional degree as well as to certification... in which case, why delay?

    If you took graduate level courses as an undergrad, you may be able to finish a Cal MCP grad program at Berkeley or Los Angeles, for example, in less than 2 years, which would save money. Assuming that you're from California and graduated from a CA high school, you get automatic/instant residency for tuition purposes.. so Cal would be by far the most cost effective alternative. Assuming you have a good GPA and recs from UCSD and that you are Californian, and given your experience, I wouldn't think that getting admitted should be a very big problem.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 28 Jan 2013 at 11:25 AM.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    David,

    I think your solid Asian experience will help you.. I'd focus on the larger cities.

    In terms of longer term career prospects, I think that having only an undergraduate urban studies liberal arts degree will be a weakness for you at private sector arch, engineering and planning firms. The USP degree from UCSD degree is basically such an undergrad liberal arts degree, although it is a very good one, with a practicum aspect that's missing from many such urban studies programs and some of the top graduate professional programs in planning actually recruit from it. I'm not saying you couldn't get a position now, with it, but most private sector firms link advancement (and/or continued employment) to having a professional degree as well as to certification... in which case, why delay?

    If you took graduate level courses as an undergrad, you may be able to finish a Cal MCP grad program at Berkeley or Los Angeles, for example, in less than 2 years, which would save money. Assuming that you're from California and graduated from a CA high school, you get automatic/instant residency for tuition purposes.. so Cal would be by far the most cost effective alternative. Assuming you have a good GPA and recs from UCSD and that you are Californian, and given your experience, I wouldn't think that getting admitted should be a very big problem.
    Cismontane, thank you for your advise. I am sooo aware the my lack of a professional degree from an accredited school playing hugely against me and my chances in job placement (not such an issue working in Asian cities, but magnified tenfolds when in the US). Your point about taking 2 years to get that planning degree is excellent, but I am just not sure I can afford the time and $$ of being back in school. As I am planning to start a family on my return to the States, i don't know if grad school is feasible, especially if it means time away from work, which translate to less/no-income.

    If there's a choice between going to grad school or go into work even as a planning assistant at a firm, i think i'd have to say the latter. I know I sound extremely short-sighted, so please tell me if I sound crazy...

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally posted by Cutchpuck View post
    If there's a choice between going to grad school or go into work even as a planning assistant at a firm, i think i'd have to say the latter. I know I sound extremely short-sighted, so please tell me if I sound crazy...
    As I said, not having the professional-level degree might be OK in the short term, in the private sector.. in which case, you may increase your chances of employment if you actually tell them that you intend to get a graduate degree within the next few years, but would like more experience in the interim. Since the AICP is a relatively weak credential, compared to those in some other professions, it doesn't really substitute for having met the educational requirements in the eyes of many employers, so, at some point, it is likely you will have to go back to school, even if you choose to defer it for awhile. For example, I've worked for three large firms whose names you would recognize, probably, since grad school, and all of them required professional degrees AND certification before they'd promote you beyond the grade you're hired at.

    You may want to check with the CSUs and CalPoly to see if they have part-time master's programs.

    I don't know about the public sector, since that's not where I am. It may be that strong performance in the civil service exams could substitute for professional education, but I don't know. You'll have to ask others here.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally posted by Cutchpuck View post
    If there's a choice between going to grad school or go into work even as a planning assistant at a firm, i think i'd have to say the latter. I know I sound extremely short-sighted, so please tell me if I sound crazy...
    The only thing I can really say is that there may come a point when you need a graduate degree but the opportunity cost to pursue it will be far higher than it is now, especially if you have a family.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally posted by Cutchpuck View post
    Hi Jabba Rookie,
    The situation was a bit easier for me as I was born in Hong Kong and has dual citizenship. For foreign expats, landing a job with the private sector requires the employer's sponsorship (you can pretty much forget about working in the public sector if you are not Chinese literate). Having said that, it is not too difficult to get a job and get sponsored at one of the major multinational engineering or architectural firms as they do hire a large number of expats and language is not a barrier to employment. If you are really interested in working in Hong Kong, what I would do is start by emailing your resumes around to the large firms Hong Kong branch offices, email direct to the Hong Kong office's HR address. There are a good dozen offices that you can spread your resumes to and I am sure they will get back to you, possibly with a tele or online interview opportunity, then you just take it from there.

    Hope this helps, let me know if you need any more advise....I am actually quite intrigue to hear your interest to work in Hong Kong. It is an exciting place and great experience for young planners (if you don't mind the hectic workload and stress). So What got you interested in Hong Kong?
    I'm actually an American Born Chinese... I can speak Cantonese (not the best, but on a daily basis with my parents). I want to work in Hong Kong because it's been hard to find a job here in the States, but also because I've never traveled to Hong Kong and wouldn't mind working there as part of a new experience.

    Do you go to school in Hong Kong and can you tell me more about living expenses?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    As I said, not having the professional-level degree might be OK in the short term, in the private sector.. in which case, you may increase your chances of employment if you actually tell them that you intend to get a graduate degree within the next few years, but would like more experience in the interim. Since the AICP is a relatively weak credential, compared to those in some other professions, it doesn't really substitute for having met the educational requirements in the eyes of many employers, so, at some point, it is likely you will have to go back to school, even if you choose to defer it for awhile. For example, I've worked for three large firms whose names you would recognize, probably, since grad school, and all of them required professional degrees AND certification before they'd promote you beyond the grade you're hired at.

    You may want to check with the CSUs and CalPoly to see if they have part-time master's programs.

    I don't know about the public sector, since that's not where I am. It may be that strong performance in the civil service exams could substitute for professional education, but I don't know. You'll have to ask others here.
    Cistmontane,

    What do you suggest is the best school in CA to get a Master's degree if I wanted to work in the private sector? I know UCLA is more policy-oriented and that is something I want to avoid...

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally posted by jabba rookie View post
    Cistmontane,

    What do you suggest is the best school in CA to get a Master's degree if I wanted to work in the private sector? I know UCLA is more policy-oriented and that is something I want to avoid...
    There are only 6 accredited public school planning programs in California, and one private school program.

    I think Berkeley DCRP is a good alternative, but it can be difficult to get into. It's tied in with the rest of the arch school, and closely linked with their landscape arch program.

    Cal Poly CRP San Luis Obispo has a strong practice, design and environmentally-oriented program.

    Cal Poly DUSP Pomona is a decent planning program, and strong on sustainability and practice.

    Those are the ones that come to mind. I don't know too much about Irvine's program, but I believe they're not exclusively policy-focused, so they might be worth looking into. The other programs are SJSU, which I don't know anything about, and USC, which does whatever it is they do at SC, expensively. Unlike other fields, where the Cal's are always considered better, the two Cal Poly's stand in their own class for planning and are widely considered to be among the top planning programs in the country.. and also offer a lot of value, dollar-wise, due to CSU's very affordable in-state tuition. In any event, they both have very good reputations. I don't know whether any of these programs permit part-time or distance study.

    Cal Poly's annual in-state tuition and fees are about half of what UC Berkeley's are.. about $9,000 per year vs $21,000 per year. USC charges something like $45,000 per year and certainly doesn't offer any more than the public programs do for the opportunity to go to school in what is basically a war zone.. just kidding, only sort of.... Of course, many of these schools have grants and scholarship funds too.. especially to people like you, with experience.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 28 Jan 2013 at 4:42 PM.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by Cutchpuck View post
    Yes, i am actually looking into the larger private firms in the Bay Area, they seem to suit me and my experience the most. For engineering companies, would you know how large of a planning / urban design team would they usually have?
    I really couldn't say. I know a couple people who work at HOK. They're worth checking out.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    As I said, not having the professional-level degree might be OK in the short term, in the private sector.. in which case, you may increase your chances of employment if you actually tell them that you intend to get a graduate degree within the next few years, but would like more experience in the interim. Since the AICP is a relatively weak credential, compared to those in some other professions, it doesn't really substitute for having met the educational requirements in the eyes of many employers, so, at some point, it is likely you will have to go back to school, even if you choose to defer it for awhile. For example, I've worked for three large firms whose names you would recognize, probably, since grad school, and all of them required professional degrees AND certification before they'd promote you beyond the grade you're hired at.

    You may want to check with the CSUs and CalPoly to see if they have part-time master's programs.

    I don't know about the public sector, since that's not where I am. It may be that strong performance in the civil service exams could substitute for professional education, but I don't know. You'll have to ask others here.
    Cismontane,
    Thank you so much for your advise. It has been an education listening to you, I will definitly look into the CalPoly's and Berkeley, hope they offer some kind of part-time program that'd allow me to continue working.
    I am also looking to see if my current company will allow me to transfer to one of their California offices. That will be fantastic if i can get that to work out with my bosses. =)

    David

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