First Generation American Yan Bai and a Challenging Journey to Success

No English, FWA Mentee & Chinese Immigrant Yan Bai on Reaching the American Dream: from Job Loss to Entrepreneur to Top Job in 5 years


Yan Bai addresses attendees at 2015 FWA Women of the Year Awards

Imagine leaving everything behind to move halfway around the world to an entirely new place. That’s exactly what I, Yan Bai, did. Then within a week, I lost the very job that brought me here. When this happened to me, I thought I lost everything.

My Story
Let me start at the beginning. Many people I have met in my life are curious why I came to the United States. I could give you a thousand reasons but the biggest one is that America is the land of freedom and opportunity.

After I earned my master’s degree in landscape architecture in China, I was lucky enough to be hired by a small Chinese company in Irvine, California. However, after only one week of working there, I was fired. I knew very little English and my knowledge of landscape differed from what was needed in that field within the United States. I still remember that night. I was looking at the sky thinking, what I should I do? What does my future hold for me? I didn’t want to go back to China as a failure; I wanted to be a survivor.

So, what did I do? I enrolled in a language class and developed my English skills. While studying, I was continuously looking for a job. However, no place would hire me, not even a Chinese restaurant, and I speak Chinese fluently!

I couldn’t even afford a car, so I had to ride a scooter to school. One day when I was on my way to school, a dog suddenly attacked me. It was horrible! I still remember its name – Honey. I guess he treated me as his honey, and tried to take a piece of me. After my recovery, I decided to move to a city with better public transportation and more job opportunities and then was when I decided to move to New York.

Life in New York City
Shortly after I arrived in the “Big Apple,” an opportunity presented itself. I learned about a baby formula scandal in China where six infants died from kidney stones, and over 54,000 babies were hospitalized after they ingested tainted formula manufactured by a Chinese brand. It was then and there that I said to myself, ‘there must be something I can do to help.’ So, I decided to start a small business exporting baby formula to China. The business began to flourish, but I had no idea where to begin when it came to managing my books and records. This was my lightbulb moment, and I enrolled in an accounting class and I really enjoyed it.

In 2014, I transferred to Baruch College to continue my pursuit of an accounting education. It was there that I came across the Financial Women’s Association mentoring program. I set goals for myself and made a lot of sacrifices. Yet due to those sacrifices and my hard work of course, I received a scholarship from the FWA and was honored as one of the BMO scholars. After numerous failures in hunting for an internship on my own, with help from my mentor and this program, I was able to obtain positions at two major financial services institutions – JP Morgan and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

I couldn’t have achieved any of these career milestones without the help of the FWA and so many others. Being connected with inspiring people here at the FWA continues to motivate me to be a role model and influence others. In my free time, I’ve mentored three of my classmates who also had previous difficulty finding internships.

There are so many women out there who desire to succeed, but lack the direction and know how to do so. With the support from the Financial Women’s Association, many future lives will be impacted. Thank you so much FWA for not only supporting but also believing in me!

Looking to give back and become a mentor? You must first become a member of the Financial Women’s Association. Join here. You can watch Yan’s full speech here.

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