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Bicen Ye - Pursue passion in architecture

Bicen grew up in Guangzhou, China. She studied architecture at the South China University of Technology in China, and got her bachelor's degree there. She came to the U.S. for grad school and now lives in west LA with her husband and son.

Can you talk about how it all started? (i.e., When did you come to the U.S.? Came alone or with family? What made you want to move to a different country?)

I came to the U.S. in 2008, at 23 years old. I came alone myself for my graduate school. I went to Harvard GSD majoring in urban planning and design. It is my first time traveling this far without friends and family, quite a challenge.

At that time, China's e-commerce was none and I never had any experience using a smartphone or online shopping either. So I brought two huge suitcases with everything I could bring, including bed sheets, comforter, water bottle, even a kettle (crazy). I remembered I need a bike and a laptop immediately 1st week in the U.S., then I made a silly call to one of my parent's friend in New Jersey, she's trying to order a bike and laptop for me from Target, but it takes 7 days to deliver, then I told her I actually need it now, so it ended up with she's watching google map on her computer and telling me where's the closest store that I could buy a bike, and where's the nearest apple store to buy a laptop (Yes my first MacBook Pro in 2008 cost me $1800, feels rich lol)!

I had a couple experiences before that made me interested in study in the U.S. When I was at high school, I attended a summer camp at Vermont, worked with some local high school students on some environmental study projects, it was a very fun summer. Also when I was at college, I attended a design workshop between our school and UC Berkeley, they came to Guangzhou and worked on design projects together with us.

Can you talk about how you choose which city to move to?

I landed directly in Boston and that's where my graduate school Harvard is. I quickly fell in love with the city, with its walkable scale and new England style building. The city and locals are quite cool and calm (California people told me later that means "unfriendly" ok.....), but somehow I don't mind people who are very separated and only mind their own business.

I didn't know if I'm going to stay in the U.S. or going back to China after school. and I was more than 50% sure I will go back to China because I am a very typical homesick girl. Then I met my husband and we started to date in Boston. He's at technology/software engineer field. It is better to gain some experience in the US, so we decided to stay here longer to work for a couple years and see how'd it go. Then things just get serious step by step, marriage, buying a house, having a baby.... I would say when I have a child, I made my mind that we will stay in the US as a family.

My husband and I graduated during the 2008-2010 downturn, there is no job at all on the east coast, we tried our best. My first offer and his first offer are both in LA (lucky) then we both moved to LA after graduation. And that's the city we are living in since.

Can you talk about your education journey in America?

Quite simple and straightforward. After graduated from Harvard in 2010, I started working right away. However, finding a job was very difficult in 2010 due to the Great Recession.

Can you talk about your career journey in America? Could also be some interesting, unexpected work experiences.

I graduated in May, but I started to apply for jobs in April (typical as all others). My first offer came in August, so it was a painful 4 months looking for jobs. My first job was a full time but temp position because at that time they are not sure if this position will become a full time, especially I need working visa sponsorship. After I worked for a couple months, HR came to talk to me, they liked me and would want me to continue to work as long as I wanted, but they still couldn't sponsor a visa. Then I decided to start looking for a job again in LA. I found my 2nd job soon with this work experience, and fortunately the 2nd employer sponsored my working visa. I didn't do any other jobs in between, another reason is also I was not allowed to, with my F-1 student visa, I could only work in my study related field.

I never did a lot of business travel. One experience I had with my very first job in 2012 was going with a principal designer to Beijing for a project. We were working as a retail design consultant for one of the largest properties next to the CCTV tower. It is a huge mixed-use development, SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is a global architectural, urban planning, and engineering firm.) was the designer for the two towers, and our company was in charge of designing the 6 levels retail podium. I was excited to work with such a big professional team! As a young architect, it was fun to be in full-day coordination meetings with the whole project team on a day to day basis for a week.

Do you think being a multi-cultural and multi-lingual background has aided you or created struggles for you? It could be both. If so, please elaborate.

There are many struggles for sure, culture, social background, even food style are very different. A very common example, my son grew up as a native that he drinks ice water, ice milk, and wears shorts on cold days...while my husband and I were trying to ask him to drink and eat warm things, and always stay warm, constantly, that we believe these are better for his health. I don't see there's help being an immigrant, but we are finding ourselves ok with these minor struggles.

What's your biggest struggle at workplace?

Language skill for sure. It's not just simply about the ability to read/write/speak, because I think I am quite good about these already during these years. It is about understanding how to make an articulated conversation that naturally makes people comfortable and also makes your message well received, and it is hard. I think language skills takes all the years since you were born, you need to be soaked in the environment of this society, which I don't have for sure.


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