In 1935, Pei took a boat to San Francisco and traveled to Philadelphia by train to attend the University of Pennsylvania and pursue studies in architecture.
As he was more interested in modern design than the Beaux-Arts approach to classical traditions of Greece and Rome, he transferred to MIT to study engineering. The university's dean advised him to study design, as he seemed to have a good eye for it.
Pei's discovery of books by Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris) at the MIT Library were highly influential for the student. The International Style offered a simpler design, focused on the use of steel and glass, which were extremely appealing to Pei.
Upon graduation, Pei planned on returning to China but was forced to stay put as the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) was ending, with the Japanese capitulation bringing World War II to a close as well.
After he graduated, he decided to work for a real estate developer, which was highly uncommon at the time, as most recent graduates joined architecture or design firms. Pei's first commission came in 1949.
His overall style mixes traditional elements with innovative designs.