Snapshots from Abroad: Prosperity, Safety and Happiness in China
- August 16 2015
Snapshots from Abroad is a column exploring the real stories behind the clichés of foreign travel. Here we’ll profile interesting ex-pat personalities in Q&A format, delving into the reasons they left home and the new perspectives they’ve gained from their experience.
Where are you originally from? I was born in Michigan, USA. I grew up in the Detroit area.
How long have you been in China? More than 11 years.
What do you do in China? I am an entrepreneur of sorts. Over the years, I have been involved in many startups. However, the time has been split between software sales and development and education.
Why did you leave home? During my time in business school, I learned many truths about the world. Unfortunately, Detroit was not predicted to have a bright future of opportunity. On the other hand, during my studies, I noticed that everything in stores was labeled “Made in China.” I remember a period of time going to malls and challenging myself to find something not “Made in China.” When I failed to do that, I realized there must be some major shift going on with the world. During my senior year at the University of Michigan, I took a two month backpacking trip around China. The trip was very enlightening. While many places were not ideal for me to consider living, the day that I arrived in Shanghai I immediately knew that it was a place I could make an exciting and opportunity-filled life. So, I finished my studies and moved to Shanghai a year and a half later.
Do you speak the local language or are you learning the local language? How is that going? If not, how are things for someone who doesn't speak the local tongue? When I moved to China, I had a 10-year plan. This included career goals, goals that are experience-related, and becoming fluent in Mandarin. Shanghai is NOT a good place to learn Mandarin. It’s so international that most people can get by in their native tongue, English included. After more than a year in Shanghai, I had made no progress. So I committed to stick to my original goal of learning the language and ventured off into the interior of China. I was determined not to return to international Shanghai until I was conversational. It took about four months of daily study and conversation with locals to get to that level. When I returned to Shanghai, I was more confident in my language ability and more marketable as a worker.
What is the best thing about living in China? To be honest, China is a very big country and there are many fantastic components unique to happiness in each region. For instance, the spicy food is the best in Sichuan Province. The beaches are the best in Hainan Province. There are amazing mountain ranges and local customs spread throughout the country. For me, it’s the challenge of making it here. After experiencing so many things, I find the fast-paced life of opportunity and growth that happens in Shanghai most suitable for me. A person should take the time to explore a new country and understand that different places offer different experiences. Then, each individual can identify what is the best thing for his or her personality and interests.
What is the worst thing? These days everyone says the pollution. Air, water, noise pollutions are all part of daily life. It’s not as bad in every area and most people are able to shrug it off as part of a country in the midst of vast changes in economic development.
Where is the coolest place you have traveled to there and why? Hmm, that’s a tough one. People really do make a place. If forced to choose one, I’d say that the city of Guilin is pretty impressive. It has ancient culture mixed with “Avatar-like” landscape and most of the locals are keen to help out travelers. There are beautiful clean rivers for swimming, excellent food options and even cormorant birds that are trained to fish.
What do you think the future holds for China and what are the biggest opportunities for American and other foreign students, professionals or expatriates? China has been growing healthily for over 30 years now. It’s really only made the newspapers in America the last few years. People need to understand that the whole thing is just getting started. China and Chinese people will be scouring the planet and converging on all countries to have their own growth opportunities. One should make the time to understand cultures, understanding, mindsets, and more. There is no doubt that in the coming years, these people will be your colleagues and customers. Whatever your area of study or profession, take the time to prepare for these coming interactions. It will bridge gaps to greater opportunities in your future and put you ahead of the competition.
What advice would you give people back home who are considering a move to China? Unfortunately, most Americans have insurmountable debts. Try best to liquidate your life and responsibilities before considering a move. You can always return and get back into debt (haha). But, don’t worry about “making it” here. Not everyone becomes a millionaire in China. However, everyone gains from the experience and experiences that they acquire. This is an asset that can never be taken away. Have goals, ask others for help, grow yourself and be ready to do your best. Don’t be afraid. Don’t listen to others around you that have never done anything like moving to another country. Follow your gut. You only live once!
Has living in China given you a fresh perspective about your home country in regards to things that it does well (or things it can do better)? Absolutely. I believe visiting any region or culture different from where you come from will give you a fresh perspective. However, China just happens to be on the other side of the planet. Their norms and history are far more dissimilar from our own than any European country. One perspective that you will find quite quickly is that the Chinese share the same core life values as all of us: economic prosperity for our family, better future for our children, safety and happiness. The last one is the hardest to quantify. So, I’ll leave it to readers to define that for themselves.
What are your future plans? World domination! No, I’m just joking. Personally, I am a family man now. All my plans include ongoing education and experiences with my family. Whatever we can do together is a win-win. In a few years, we will all learn to speak Spanish. Professionally, I have done business in multiple industries. I plan to continue being open to new opportunities that present themselves, and having the wherewithal to capitalize on them. So, just like your readers, I can’t say for certain what I will be doing…..but I’m willing to keep an open mind and give it a go.