One of the reasons we chose China ahead of Turkey and Malawi, where Raymond also got job offers, was that we believed there would be better work opportunities for me.
I had worked in vocational education for nearly 20 years, including international business development, and consulting – off shore and virtually in New Zealand. International education is New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner, and Chinese students choosing to study in New Zealand is the largest contributor to that. I thought I might be able to work in China, work virtually for a New Zealand company, or consult in the broader Asian region. I had had conversations back in New Zealand that made me feel optimistic about this.
Yes and no.
Once we got a bit settled I started networking and concluded that
- I could work in China but a local job would be relatively poorly paid and mean I could not travel with Raymond in his many holidays, or have much time for learning Chinese
- the New Zealand Consulate values my skills and experience but there were no NZ government opportunities in the short term
- consulting might be an option, but again nothing immediately.
However, one opportunity popped up. I sought job hunting advice from a kiwi who has lived here for 25 years. He and his Chinese wife bring a wealth of experience, having run a business here for many years, and having helped many kiwi and other western companies enter the Chinese market.
After I shared my CV, and we met a couple of times, they invited me to go into business with them. It turns out that just before I arrived they had been approached by a group of New Zealand education providers to represent them in south west China. They were already seriously interested in this opportunity, and then I arrived with complementary skills to complete the leadership team. It appealed to me because I
- would be working semi-locally with the chance to grow cross-culturally while not being fully immersed
- could learn from two experienced mentors
- could work flexibly i.e. still study Chinese, travel with Raymond, and consider small consulting opportunities if they arose.
The only downside was working for nothing initially (length of time still to be confirmed).
Brightsparks was born!
How have I found it? Long term readers of my blog will be able to predict the answer – a roller coaster.
- having people to interact with during the day (I got lonely being a lady of leisure, even though I was initiating social connections as much as I could)
- the stimulation of working and using my brain to work out stuff as one does in any job
- the chance to problem solve and innovate, and create something of quality from scratch
- meeting interesting people and feeling more interesting myself
- growing understanding of international education and the global world in which graduates will be working
- growing understanding of doing business here, particularly as I work with my business partners
- working on our website with my daughter, and seeing that she is not just amazing personally, but professionally as well
- working with my volunteering colleague, without whom I might have gone crazy during the set-up phase of the work – she is bilingual, competent, unphased by China, and fun company
- being flexible and autonomous in my work.
- challenges of starting from scratch, and always having to push myself, never being pulled
- not having the language
- working across cultural differences.
Every day it would be easier if I could speak Chinese. Work communication can be challenging enough in your own language. My first big success was asking in Chinese ‘Please give me the logo. Do you have my ’email’?’. Wahoo! I have tended to work through my bilingual colleague to get IT issues sorted, although recently she has been away and IT guy and I have had to cope on our own. Me starting with ‘please help me’ in Chinese, and seeing if he can work it out from there before bringing in the reinforcements, has worked surprisingly well.
Working cross-culturally is harder than in your own culture, which, again, can be challenging enough at work. I can’t trust what comes naturally, I don’t even know the rules well enough to consciously decide to work within them, and sometimes I have to accept things that from my perspective are not good.
A good example of all this was developing the Brightsparks brochure. The local graphic designer was working on it, guided by the branding on our new website, which my daughter Bek had developed. I worked closely with her by distance and loved the final result, although we have things we want to add to make it even better in phase two.
By contrast, to my eye, the first version of the brochure looked terrible – bright yellow with red writing, purple circle graphics to communicate about our process, crowded rather than simply elegant, and nothing that matched the website branding built on lovely New Zealand natural colours. I tried to think of something positive to say.
Quick checking with other young staff in the office confirmed the graphic designer’s view that young Chinese think bright yellow is much cooler than elegant blue. He stuck to his guns about some other elements too.
Over the next week, through my bilingual colleagues we discussed options, but relying on Chinese whispers I was never sure what was getting through about vision, messaging or branding – all things that it is easier to have iterative conversations about over a period of time. I am having to work out what I think on my own more than I used to. My natural style is bouncing ideas around.
We finally arrived at a halfway house that we are all happy with. The graphic designer added the two tone blue and kite imagery from the website, and some pictures of New Zealand apart from the Auckland sky tower. The trendy cartoon purple circles and red writing remain, ‘sandy’ yellow replaces sunset orange in the logo and will be added where possible to the website, and the front of the brochure is less cluttered.
And I am still not 100% sure what it says.
It was an interesting experience. What do I insist on, and what do I let go? As a non-Chinese older person developing a brochure for a young Chinese audience, I have to listen to others. But I decided good practice anywhere in the world means consistent branding. And all the time, I need to depend on conversations happening in another language around me.
No wonder things take longer.
The good news is that late last week, the same graphic designer shared his first version of the front and back covers and first four pages of our present project – our partners booklet. I was prepared to have a similar experience as with the brochure. But we are all learning. I looked at it and was able to say what I had just learned in my Chinese lesson that morning – 完美 (wánmĕi – perfect)! He and my bilingual helper both smiled.
My only suggestion – let’s add a little bit of bright yellow!