Mr. Yang earns a full-time job writing code and a coveted H-1B visa sponsorship.
Two years ago, Qing Yang left China and his job as an assistant engineer for mobile app development at Samsung Electronics for a computer science graduate program at the George Washington University.
He traveled the more than 7,000 miles with two goals: discovering the “American experience” he had grown to admire by listening to the popular Voice of America series “The Making of a Nation,” and earning a coveted employer-sponsored H-1B visa that would allow him to live and work in the United States following graduation.
“I knew that this was a very extraordinary opportunity, but that it would be difficult,” Mr. Yang said. “I grew up hearing how my father left his small village in the Sichuan Province to go to the ‘big city’—he succeeded and did well for himself, so I knew I had to try.”
But with only 65,000 H-1B visas available to the more than 300,000 international students seeking employment in the United States and a seemingly insurmountable and sometimes isolating language barrier, Mr. Yang quickly realized the odds were not in his favor.
In response, Mr. Yang buckled down on his studies. But it was an offhand remark during a job search presentation last March from the Center for Career Services Managing Director of Curricular and Strategic Initiatives Anne Scammon that changed everything.
“She told us that practicing our English with Americans was important, and if we couldn’t find someone to practice with, we should just stop by her office—so I did,” Mr. Yang said with a grin. “I think I was the only one to take the offer.”
That initial visit sparked more than a year of mentorship and a meeting each week where Mr. Yang practiced his English language skills with Ms. Scammon.
The sessions set him on a path that led to a full-time position writing code at Epic Systems in Madison, Wis. The healthcare software company will sponsor Mr. Yang’s H-1B visa for up to six years—including a three-year extension—after which he can apply for another worker visa or a green card.
“Coming to the U.S. was the first time that I was truly independent, and I love the atmosphere and the culture,” Mr. Yang said. “Ms. Scammon is like a friend to me—I appreciate what she has done so much.”
Mr. Yang said their talks ran the gamut from music to politics and history—a preferred topic was Abraham Lincoln, Mr. Yang’s favorite U.S. president—to interview preparation and discussions of cultural customs.
“We started out with simple conversations, and it was amazing to see him progress and become much more relaxed, much more himself when he spoke,” Ms. Scammon said. “We tell the students how difficult it is to get visa sponsorships—it really depends on networking, and communication is key to that process.”
Mr. Yang said that networking in America was “completely different” than in China, but he learned by attending professional meet-ups for coding professionals in the D.C. area and workshops offered by the Center for Career Services and the International Services Office.
In between visiting D.C.’s many museums and traveling to Philadelphia, Boston and New York City with other international students, Mr. Yang also gained workplace experience as a software engineering intern at the American Institutes for Research.
All of these experiences—whether academic, social or cultural—helped him succeed when he met the Epic Systems representative at the 2014 Fall Career and Internship Fair, he said.
“I researched the company on GWork before the event and went to their table and did the pitch with my resume,” Mr. Yang said. “I think it went well, and I got my offer very quickly.”
Five rounds of interviews later, including a site visit, and Mr. Yang was on his way to becoming an Epic Systems employee.
“My father is very proud,” he said.
His advice for other international students?
“Practice your English and your technical skills—it helped me, and I think it is the reason I got the job,” Mr. Yang said. “When I came to America, everything changed, there were so many opportunities.”
“Oh, and if you like hamburgers, you don’t need to learn to cook,” he joked.