|Calgary, AB - Source: City-Data.com|
In the summer of 2009 I received a bachelor of communications degree, specializing in public relations. I tossed my grad cap into the sky, saved some change from working reception at a salon and spa, and packed my bags for Mexico. I know what you’re thinking… “Isn’t this blog supposed to be about China?” I was just getting to that part. First, I spent Christmas in Mexico with my family on the beach. Then, I came back to Calgary, sold my car, snowboarding gear and all other possessions that didn’t fit in a suitcase, packed what little was left of my belongings and arrived in Shanghai, China in the beginning of 2010.
Why did I choose China?
Well, I had already traveled extensively and was often described by friends back home as an egg (white on the outside and yellow on the inside)… not to mention all the talk of China becoming some sort of global superpower. I was curious. Moving to China just seemed like the most logical decision at the time.
The black hole of prosperous career opportunities in Calgary’s petro and agric industries had no idea that I could so cunningly avoid it by moving across the world to a country where petroleum giants like Sinopec have no career section on their website and the demand for beef is trumped by an appetite for pork and poultry. Take that! OK, now what?
Step one: Define my wants.
A wise man once told me that the secret to happiness lies within three principles: (1) Knowing what you want; (2) Getting what you want; and (3) wanting what you have after you’ve got it. Most people struggle with the second principle, but my challenge has always been with the first. Therefore, I figured that the best way for me to know if I really want to live in China is by doing absolutely everything that I want to do in this country without restriction. This involved traveling, indulging in delicious foods, attending all the attractive events and simply having a good time. However, some restrictions to my joyous frolicking included a lack of both friends and funds.
In attempt to solve these problems, I applied for some jobs online and became an editorial intern at the German Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. I enjoyed generating content for the Chamber’s bi-monthly news and entertainment magazine GC Ticker and was offered full-time employment before the end of my term, but had suddenly placed myself in a German-speaking work environment and Chinese-speaking living environment. I knew some German from previous studies and from living in Vienna for five months, but my co-workers spoke English to me because it was easier. I went back and forth with the idea of learning Chinese or advancing my German during spare time, but sharing a flat with six young roommates who also liked to have fun hindered the process.
August crept up faster than expected. I declined the full-time employment offer to ponder my possibilities and boarded a plane back home. I spent one month in Calgary and another in Ontario, where my parents had moved while I was gone. I felt like Shanghai was now the closest place I had to a home (of my own) and returned in the end of October. This time I know what I want.
Step two: Acquire my wants.
In laymen’s terms, my wants are the following: (1) Live comfortably in Shanghai; and (2) Practice PR in Shanghai. I was lucky enough to have an amazing partner who made it easy to live comfortably in Shanghai. Neither of us need much for now, but we both have extravagant wants for the future. This means my desire to become a successful PR practitioner in Shanghai must soon be strategized and realized.
The foundation of all communication is language and the local language here is Shanghainese, which belongs to the Wu dialect family - one of the five main dialects of China. However, Mandarin is standard business talk because it’s nationally taught and understood. Many accents and dialects have sprouted from Mandarin, but the Beijing accent is considered most proper because it’s spoken in the capital of the country where all overarching government activities take place.
Well-established PR practitioners with some spare change can hire a translator or assistant to help them communicate with locals. My solution, however, is the second edition of New Practical Chinese Reader by Beijing Language and Culture University Press. I can proudly say, “Wŏ xiànzài xuéxí Hànyŭ” (I am now studying Chinese). By learning both spoken and written Mandarin, I hope to better integrate into the culture and also further my career ambitions – plus writing Chinese characters tickles the fancy of my creative side. I know that it will take a while to achieve business-worthy Mandarin skills, but understanding the language provides so much more than just a means to transfer a message. Mandarin is composed of historic references and alludes to a greater understanding of Chinese people as a whole.
So, for now, learning Mandarin is my first priority.
Priority #2: Make a presence in the Shanghai PR community.
… I think I’ll start a blog and call it freshPRC