Work, study, and family in China
How to make a healthy balance between work, study, and family? After all, everything happens very fast in China and the charges are high! Faced with people who are always looking for perfection and excellent results, it is necessary to have a strategy and lots of disposition!
In this second episode focused on the Brazilian audience, we'll talk about the pace of work and how networking is different in Brazil and China. We will also talk about opportunities to act in the field of international relations and how speaking Mandarin puts you in a position of decision-maker, and not a mere spectator.
Our guest is Rodrigo Moura who works bridging Brazil and China in many ways.
Rodrigo: I’m Ibrachina Institute International Relations Director and International Business Specialist. Here in China, besides being a commercial representative for some Brazilian companies and doing consulting for Brazilian importers and exporters, I’m also taking a master's degree at Zhejiang University and working as a university representative building partnerships with Latin America and Europe. Sounds like a lot, but these activities are similar and relate to each other.
China Flexpat Podcast: Let’s start our conversation with the burning question: Working, studying, and taking care of the family. How do you conciliate all of this in China?
R: Here in China, to develop in several areas at the same time is normal. Most people do two, three things at the same time. It's craziness. For example, I work, study, take care of my family, exercise, skate, practice jiu-jitsu and read books. In my eyes, the issue is that life is only one and time passes by so quickly. The day unfortunately only has 24 hours. There are so many things to do, to learn, people to meet that to enjoy all of that it’s necessary to conciliate. So, you’ll need to be willing, enjoy what you’re doing, have priorities, and optimize your time.
CFP: We know that China is very dynamic and everything happens much faster than in Brazil and in the world in general. For you who were used to work in Brazil, how was your adaptation to this new pace of Chinese work? How long did you take to be able to fit into the new reality?
R: In childhood, I was diagnosed as hyperactive, so I was always very restless and I always had a faster pace. Even so, I got shocked when I arrived here. Their pace is much faster. It took me about 6 months to get used to it. The way to organize, plan and interact with each other is totally different. One of the first shocks I got was teamwork. Here, they have lots of meetings, and every week you are evaluated by the immediate leader, your peers, and third parties. This assessment is very straightforward. The objective is not to humiliate, but rather to help your personal development. Here, they have a continuous improvement vision and they want to form high-performance teams.
In this process, you develop your emotional intelligence and resilience as well. Sometimes they ask me to solve situations that I have no experience at all, but I have to meet the demand. An example: I've never worked with marketing, but once, I was asked to help the Marketing team to double the enrollment rate. I was desperate because we only had one day to develop a campaign and get it started. With teamwork, we did it. Another example: At the university, the professor gave us a very complex report on Mexico's Political Plan for Artificial Intelligence. It was about 80 pages long and we were supposed to analyze it, prepare a defense, and present it in front of the entire class in 25 minutes. The aim was to exercise our analytical capacity under pressure.
I feel that these professional experiences and living with Chinese students as well have changed the way I perceive and care about certain things. Before, if I got 80% of a test right, I would be very happy, but today, if I get less than 90% right, it's a huge disappointment. Here, the pursuit of perfection is daily and the competition is gigantic. The students entering Zhejiang University are 1% of the students who passed Gaokao. They are extremely dedicated and competitive people.
But I got used to this pace. Today, I optimize my time better, I use more technologies, I have more discipline, goals and I don't leave things to the last minute. You can enjoy the family, work, and study at the same time without losing quality.
CFP: According to your experience, how can a Brazilian stand out and get a good job in the field of international relations in China?
R: It’s important having graduation in the area and ease of interpersonal relationships. Besides that, don’t forget to bring your own background and authenticity. Show them your value and your knowledge. Your experiences are crucial. If you've worked with Chinese before, attended international events, or had any other international experience, it's important to speak up.
With regard to language abilities, English is essential, and Chinese is THE asset. If you speak Spanish, it helps too, as China has many partnerships with Latin America.
There are many opportunities to be explored in International Relations and in other areas, but what is lacking is the willingness of Brazilians to come here, to explore, to be pioneers, and seize this moment. Professionals who have experience here in China will certainly have great opportunities in Brazil, whether in Chinese companies or in Brazilian companies that do business with China.
CFP: And the networking, does it work the same in Brazil and in China? Can it also help you to better position yourself in the job market?
R: Absolutely, I advise that before coming to China, get informed, get in touch with Brazilians who are already here, start your network of contacts. But when you’re in China, I advise you not to live in a “Brazil bubble”. It's important to talk to Brazilians, but it's much more challenging, fun, and fruitful to build relationships with the Chinese. You’ll be able to learn more, to see through another perspective and another culture.
Here in China, they name this network “guanxi” and it’s more a protocol formality. Everyone knows the rites and procedures of this process of relating: at the beginning you're just an acquaintance. Then, if you find common ground with these people and if both sides are interested, you may set up meetings, exchange gifts, and exchange visits. The longer is the guanxi, the closer both parts become. The longer, the more intimacy and the more value the relationship has. Turns out that it becomes more than friendship. You can borrow money, lend money, be helped, and also help the other.
It is always important to look after the balance of this relationship. So, if you've been invited to dinner and your friend has paid, next time it's good manners for you to invite and pay. This isn't calculated on a spreadsheet, but it's good for this friendship health. Interestingly, here in China, these networks of people are very proactive. They will try to help you according to the level of closeness you have. So, when they know that you can speak Spanish, for example, they will refer you to opportunities that demand this ability.
CFP: Lots of people see the university as a gateway to the labor market in China, but in your case, you were already working when you decided to join the course. How does this decision relate to your professional life?
R: It relates perfectly to my work. My job is to build relationships between Brazil and China. Living here, I realized that I needed to study more about China because, in Brazil, we don't have many qualified people talking about the country, the people, the culture... Xue Xinran, a Chinese writer, once said: it’s not from inside a hotel in Shanghai that you will know China. It is necessary to go to the people and get to know the different Chinas. Shanghai is one China, Guangzhou is another, and Kaicheng is quite another.
Recently, I had the opportunity to join a university mission for Yunnan. We went with a group of students, professors, and researchers in order to do voluntary work and assess the impacts of the poverty alleviation policies. It was amazing! I went into a farmer's house and had lunch with him. I talked to the village leader about sewage treatment. I discussed the situation of the elderly and the disabled with party leaders in the region. There, I actually saw that China has managed to eradicate extreme poverty, but there is still a lot to be done. There are still dirt roads, open sewers, unsustainable land use, among others. We went there to see this, bring new ideas, and, above all, encourage those people to dream and connect with the world. This was a unique experience for my academic, professional and personal life.
CFP: And the family, how is the experience of settling in China and having a Chinese family?
R: Amazing! I imagine that settling down alone here must be very difficult. My family is very supportive. My mother-in-law wakes up every morning at 5 am to make my breakfast. The family is important everywhere, but here in China, the family plays a central role. In Brazil, you make your decisions and then you inform your family about what you’ve decided, but here, you present your wishes, debate them with the family and reach a result together. The last word belongs to the elders.
For example, I applied for a master's degree. When I received the news that I had been approved, I had to talk to my family. The family is wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. We all discussed whether that was good for me and also for the family. Finally, everyone agreed that it was a great opportunity and they would support me. So, my wife and I study and work calmly, knowing that our child is taken care of by his grandparents with all the affection.
CFP: How do you see the importance of speaking Mandarin?
R: In my case, Mandarin is essential, but it is possible to live in China speaking only English. I have several friends who have been living here for over 5 years and they just say, hi, yes, no, and how much. However, when you don't speak Mandarin, you miss a lot. You miss contacts, you miss nuances of the culture and you miss what's happening around you. In short, you are always one step behind. I have a friend who tells me he feels like he's always the last to know.
In the work environment, you are only informed of the final decision. But, if you do speak Mandarin, you have a voice, you take part in the decision-making process, you understand what's happening, the points of view, the irony, the joke, the criticism… Life in Mandarin is another life. There are many details that you only understand if you know the language. In my case, as I participate in meetings and do negotiations, it is an extremely important tool.
CFP: For people who want to go to China and settle permanently in the country, what tips do you give to achieve a healthy balance between work, studies, and family?
R: For those who want to stay here in China, my advice is to accept the other's culture as it is, and not as you think it should be. Don't come here expecting to eat steak parmigiana every day. It is necessary to open up to the culture and customs of China. It is necessary to get rid of prejudices, open your mind and spirit to learn new things, and meet different people. In this way, being resilient, proactive, open, and dynamic, you can connect easily with others and also access possibilities, and open new doors and new paths.
In my view, work, study, and family are connected. They are not in conflict with each other. If you don't study, you won't get a good job. If you don't have a good job, it's hard to take care of the family. As everything is connected, it is essential that you are willing, enjoy what you do, have priorities, and optimize your time.
To hear the original version in Portuguese, click here.