Ahead of next week’s young expat professionals event, we sat down with our panel members to get to know a bit more about what makes them tick, how they ended up in China, and what advice they have for other young expats looking to establish themselves in China. 

 Armando Flores Chiu: Business Development Manager @ deVere Group / Head of Communications @ MEXCHAM China

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What inspired you to move to China?

It was a combination of personal and professional factors.

On a personal level, my current fiancée is Chinese and we met back in Mexico. On the professional level I thought it would be a good challenge to have working experience in Asia. I first went to Hong Kong and after 2 years, I made the move to the ‘Hai.

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What have you found to be the most challenging thing about moving abroad?

Visa issues in mainland China… that is a big challenge. Other than that, my very first week out of Mexico was tough as I was not doing much yet in Hong Kong. My master program hadn’t started and at that point, I didn’t know anyone. So for a week, I felt very lonelhomesicke sick but that changed pretty quickly.

Do you think you would have had the same opportunities here that you would in your home country?

Definitely not. I believe China and some parts of Asia are a great platform to boost your career. The growth is faster. Everything is changing at an incredible pace and if you learn how to catch up with it, you get awesome opportunities to grow both personally and professionally.

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How did you get into the field that you’re in now?

LinkedIn. I studied and worked in different fields before doing wealth management for expats but communication skills, something that I studied during my masters, are very necessary when dealing with clients. I approached a recruiter from my company on LinkedIn and talked to her about my experience and interest in moving to Shanghai and that led to an interview. The rest is history.

What do you feel you’ve gained most since moving abroad?

It’s given me confidence. Confidence to explore new opportunities, to talk to people from other backgrounds/ cultures/ nationalities, to engage with top executives without feeling smaller, and to simply experience life with a more open approach.

What advice would you give to young professionals/students who want to move abroad to China?

Engage with people you admire or that are in the industry that you like right away. Shanghai is a Mecca for networking and most of the best opportunities are not posted on job websites. On the “streets” is where you can find your next employer, business partner, roommie, workout mate…

Gabby Gabriel: Founder, CEO @ LesQueers

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How did you get into the field that you’re in now?

Through following my strengths and constantly searching for opportunity. When I started LesQueers, I never thought it would become a business. I just did it because I loved it, and wanted to make friends. When it started to take up a lot of my time, I didn’t want to let it go, instead, I found a way to make it sustainable. Passion played an integral part to work past challenges, and to test my own abilities in an entirely different field.

What do you feel you’ve gained most since moving abroad?

Living here has activated a completely different side of my brain. When we stay in one country our whole lives, we learn one way of life, and there is nothing wrong with that. Living in China has been an education in and of itself. I used to see things locally, or even nationally, now I think globally. I can see perceived challenges from two lenses, and I have a deeper understanding of humanity. It’s easily been the best move of my life.

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What advice would you give to young professionals/students who want to move abroad to China?

Just do it. The perception the Western world has of China is inaccurate. Once you arrive, let go of the ways that worked in your home country, and adapt to a new pace of life. Challenge yourself to find points of intersectionality, and build upon your strengths.

Michael Wert : National Director for Early Advantage,  Regional Director for Zhejiang Province @ Enreach Counseling

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What inspired you to move to China?

My mother, the Recession, and boredom, in that order. My mom was in a graduate education program from 2008-10 and kept getting emails from companies, schools, and other organizations that wanted her to come teach in Asia. Because I was bartending after a brief flirtation with graduate school, she sent some of them to me in the hopes that I’d apply to one of them, get the job, and come back to start my life and career in the US. It, uh, didn’t work out that way.

What have you found to be the most challenging thing about moving abroad?

Moving wasn’t hard for me. Or, at least, most of the challenges I faced were pretty mundane. The hard part has been adjusting to the idea that this isn’t a temporary stop on the way to something else – it’s my life. Facing a future that is radically different from the one that I envisioned for myself when I was younger is way harder than making some temporary cultural concessions.

Do you think you would have had the same opportunities here that you would in your home country?

I’d be doing something completely different, but as a white dude, it would be disingenuous to suggest that I don’t have the same opportunities in the States that I do here.

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How did you get into the field that you’re in now?

I thought that the field of college admissions was an interesting problem to solve, and a friend working in the field recommended me to fill a position someone had backed out of at the last minute, on the basis of conversations we’d had on the topic.

What do you feel you’ve gained most since moving abroad?

I’m so much more relaxed. I know that I haven’t seen everything (or most things, or even a lot of things) but I’ve had enough things go so terribly wrong due to my own idiocy, circumstances beyond my control, and the world around me that my native anxiety has cooled off substantially over the course of my stay here.

What advice would you give to young professionals/students who want to move abroad to China?

You will not change China. It’s really easy to see cultural differences, particularly in education, as problems to be solved. That insidious, well-meaning streak of cultural imperialism is almost impossible not to indulge at the beginning, and almost every major problem I’ve encountered since moving here has come down to me thinking I knew better than the clients, students, or co-workers with whom I was speaking.

Toni Friedman: Charity Manager @ Community Center Shanghai 

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What inspired you to move to China?

I moved to China initially to improve my Chinese. At first, I decided to take a job in Wuxi (a “small town” of 6 million people close to Shanghai) with the idea that I would only socialize with local Chinese people and become a Chinese language master. But, after a year I decided I wanted a bigger city so it was off to Shanghai.

What have you found to be the most challenging thing about moving abroad?

The most difficult part was just getting set up initially. A lot of small things confused me at first, like buying MSG instead of salt or having to register your name at the bank with your family name first and given name second, but overall, I think China is a super convenient place to live.

Do you think you would have had the same opportunities here that you would in your home country?

I definitely wouldn’t have had the same opportunities. While I think there are more opportunities in the US for traditional career climbing, there are so many new, interesting projects in China to get involved in, and the barriers to entry are relatively low. I’ve also met way more people from all over the world in Shanghai than I would have back at home.

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How did you get into the field that you’re in now?

I applied for my job as charity manager online when I was living in Wuxi. It was probably the only non- profit job at the time for foreigners in Shanghai, and it was super exciting to get it.

What do you feel you’ve gained most since moving abroad?

I’d say the opportunity to gain new experiences. It’s hard to have a dull day working and living in China.

What advice would you give to young professionals/students who want to move abroad to China?

I would suggest seeing if there are any larger companies from their home country that need support setting up shop in China.

Milan Van den Branden: Sales and Marketing Manager @ HI-COM, Co-founder @ Dutch-Belgian Young Professionals China

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What inspired you to move to China?

Actually, I never planned to work in or move to China. I came to China at the start of a trip around the world. I ended up liking Shanghai so much that I decided to stay here!

What have you found to be the most challenging thing about moving abroad?

Paperwork has been the most challenging and annoying thing: visa papers, insurance, registering at the consulate in Shanghai, etc.

Do you think you would have had the same opportunities here that you would in your home country?

I am 100% sure that I have more opportunities here in Shanghai. There are all sorts of different job offers, a better salary, and it’s easier to travel.

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What do you feel you’ve gained most since moving abroad?

For me, the single biggest thing has been becoming more independent.

What advice would you give to young professionals/students who want to move abroad to China?

Don’t be afraid of the language barrier! I don’t speak Chinese and I have been leading an amazing life in China for the past 3 years.

How did you get into the field that you’re in now?

I actually met my current boss (the owner of the company I now work for) in a bar in Shanghai! We got to talking and really clicked, so I went for an interview two days later and ended up getting hired just a week after that.

Thanks so much to all our panel members for taking the time to share their valuable insights! And if you’re in Shanghai on May 24th, make sure to come out to our Millennial to Millennial event to hear our panel members discuss what it takes to be successful, both personally and professionally in Shanghai. And of course, it will also be a  mingle and network with other expat young professionals while enjoying some tapas and drinks!

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And if you want some more practical career advice, check out our previous blog posts on negotiating a salary in China and the seven steps you need to prepare a job application.

Ready to take your career to the next level? Why not “internationalize” your resume and learn valuable skills employers love through an internship or language course with Hutong School in China! Get Started today!