The Two Taras: Same Name, Very Different Lives

PHOTO Tara Tang, 25, is shown left./Tara Walsh, 29, is shown, right.

Meet Tara and Tara, two twenty-something, college educated women pursuing their professional and personal dreams. One lives in China and the other lives in the United States.

Tara Tang, 25, starts her morning every day with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and soy milk before heading to work as a lawyer with Lenovo, a China-based multinational computer technology corporation.

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Tara Walsh, 29, eats her oatmeal every morning before heading to work as a kindergarten teacher at a charter school in the Washington, D.C. area.

For both women, career is a passion and they have worked hard to get where they are. Both spent six years in college.

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Tang said that her goal is to be general counsel for a major company. The starting salary for an attorney like her is $12,000. In the United States, a starting attorney makes almost triple that, $35,000.

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She said that her family always stressed the importance of education.

"Imagine how many people we have and how many vacancies the university can offer, you know. The supply and the demand is totally crazy so everybody has to study very hard," Tang said.

In China, the number of university graduates like Tang soared from less than one million in 2000 to more than 5 million by 2008.

The Chinese curriculum is tough, placing a strong emphasis on memorization. Families become consumed preparing children for the gaokao, or high test. The nine-hour test determines which students get into Chinese colleges and universities.

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Over in the United States, Walsh said that she was aware of China's emphasis on education.

"I think that culturally they have an expectation of good grades and standards for school, and that education is really valued and is a reflection of your family as well. I don't think every culture in America values education the way that we should and the way that we need to be so our economy is competitive with China in the future," Walsh said.

The fight to get into university in China is tough, but the fight to get a job after university is equally so.

Many recent grads with impressive white-collar degrees are forced to live in tiny rooms, hours outside the city in villages known as "ant tribes."

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The feeling of working hard for little payoff isn't exclusive to China. In the United States, the recession has created nearly double-digit unemployment and led to massive cutbacks across the board, including in education where Walsh works.

"My generation, we really weren't in tune with the idea of being laid off or having it be difficult to find a job," Walsh said. "I knew people in the recession that were laid off and who are still looking for jobs."

Walsh said that she was lucky to find not just a job after graduate school, but a job that she loves teaching kindergarteners.

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"At the end of the day, you think back at your day and you have like five funny stories in your pocket," Walsh said.

Walsh eats lunch from a canvas bag with her students every day.

Across the world in China, Tang eats in a cafeteria with her coworkers. She buys snacks from a vending machine that also sells cigarettes. Tang follows her lunch with a game of ping-pong.

These young women have more in common than one might think. Both love sports. Tang loves yoga and swimming. Walsh loves going to the gym and taking spin classes.

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