The Halfpat Life: Rob

Friday, March 2, 2007 0:31
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Originally from the States, Rob has been in China for 4 1/2 years now and is here as long as the ride lasts.

For the last year he has been working as a project manager supporting research analysts for an investment bank.
With no Chinese language background prior to his arrive, Rob took the plunge for several reasons

1) I had a long-standing interest in China’s culture, but could only get a glimpse through books, movies, or “Chinatown”. Usually these left me more curious than before; I felt that if I always remained in the US, I could never expand my perspective.

2) for the study of Taijiquan. After several years of practice with a group in Seattle, a friend (already living in Shanghai) suggested the he introduce me to a teacher in Shanghai

3) I wanted a career change since I had been in IT at the same company in Seattle for over eight years. After finishing a program studying project management, I thought it would be a good direction to go in

Initially, Rob did a little project management , but it turned out that I taught English at first to give him time to get familiar with Shanghai and learn some basic Mandarin.
Language Background:
On a scale from 1 to 10, what level is your Mandarin? 4
How often do you use Mandarin in general? Daily
How often do you use Chinese language skills at work? <10%

To get ready, Rob did no formal study of the language, culture, or business climate, but wishes he had.

For those looking to learn more, Rob suggests the website Shanghai Expat as it has a good forum for questions, 51 Jobs for job search, and to get familiar with the US Consulate and AmCham resources too.

Before entry, learn as much conversational Mandarin as possible. Knowing the right word at the right time is indispensible, even if you’re just ordering a bowl of noodles. You don’t have to be a Chinese scholar, just have a basic vocabulary built up. Also, learn some written characters if you can. If you travel in China, there are times when understanding the signage can save you a lot of trouble.

Living in Shanghai:

A recent day for Rob was:

Right now we are in the midst of the Chinese New Year.

It’s a week of eating food and families visiting one another. It’s the most-celebrated holiday for the Chinese, and reminds me of Thanksgiving Day in the US, only it runs consecutive days.

Personally I avoid all travel during this time because its difficult to even get tickets, and the crowds are impossible if you do travel. The fireworks are unbelievable, you have to be here to really get a sense of it.

Usually the week kicks-off with a night where everyone is lighting fireworks – it goes on for hours and is deafening at times…AND they are going everywhere you look in Shanghai – not just in parks or restricted areas.

What are top 5 of living in China
1. You can practice the language everywhere
2. People from allover the world & China.
3. The food! So much variety.
4. Proximity to interesting places to go to.
5. The fireworks.

What are bottom 5 of living in China
1. Too many local dialects.
2. Imported goods are expensive
3. Shanghai’s weather is too damp
4. Killer cockroaches
5 The fireworks

Living in an apartment, Rob’s employment contract provides insurance and Chinese language lessons.

Career path:
Do you have a business plan on the shelves? No
Have you ever carried 2 cards? No

Rob is concerned about what career opportunities are available for him should he return home, but his current employer does offer career growth opportunities

While in China, he believes the most valuable skills he is building are:

If I develop my Mandarin enough, I can see it being an asset in a variety of fields, especially as the US and Chinese economies become more integrated over time. To me, this is most evident in IT due to the trend for companies to outsource projects to China or India. The language barrier on US-China IT projects requires that at least one person is fluent in both languages AND be strong in the right kind of technology. People with these skills are not a dime-a-dozen, and would have good opportunities on both sides of the Pacific (and Europe too).

The direction I’m going in now is to learn more about investment banking, which returns me to my original university studies in finance. I’m starting to read for the CFA exam, appealing because it is so transferable.

Hindsight being 20/20 … Rob WOULD do it again if given the choice, and would incourage others to do the same. If they are prepared

What keeps him in China?

The chance to improve my language skills and understanding of China’s place in the world. To learn more about investment and work at something new. I’d also like to travel more in Asia – places such as Japan, SE Asia, and China’s western provinces are within reach.

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