The first flight I took, I took it alone. I was twelve and was heading – from Wenzhou, China – to a new life in a country roughly only two times the size of my hometown. I was moving to the Netherlands.
I don’t remember much about that first trip. Only that I was really excited to get out of China and the whole flight was so fun! The flight attendants took care of me, and I found my mother waiting for me at the airport.
It was there I had my first interaction with non-Chinese people. Before then, my only references of non-Chinese were movies and stories, and now I was about to spend the next 12 years of my life in a whole different culture, with no knowledge of Dutch and only the basics of English.
Twelve plus Twelve
It was tough in the beginning. All had to go really fast, as I had to swiftly catch up with the Dutch education system. I then studied in Utrecht and finished a bachelor in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Delft. I made new and lasting friendships and learned Dutch.
I was 24 when I moved back to China. It was for work – I had gone back to China before, but only to visit my grandparents – and only then I realized I had spent roughly half my life in Europe. Twelve years here, twelve years there. I now felt both Dutch and Chinese, but I definitely was in need for a change of scenery.
I started working as an intern for a design company and then worked at the Dutch consulate in Shanghai. I immediately fell in love with the city. It was so exciting and energetic!
It was then that I met Dennis, Stefan, and Sven. They were busy setting up the new Dashmote Shanghai office, and we had the chance to talk extensively. We clicked. I was offered the chance to work with them, and so I jumped in. I finally had the chance to work on actual projects and contribute to a growing startup with big plans for the future.
Different ways of Working
I think there is a huge added value in having grown up in two places. I understand both the Dutch and Chinese cultures and it’s easier for me to get along with both. I understand how people think and how they treat each other, and there are definitely some interesting differences between Dutch and Chinese people.
Take the working habits, for example. Regardless of what one might think of it, personal and business time in China are much more intertwined compared to The Netherlands. Everybody is constantly on WeChat, which is used to chat with your friends but also your colleagues or clients.
Next to speed, there’s a great level of flexibility in China. It’s completely normal to start your day with an empty agenda and end up having 5 meetings in the afternoon, whereas in the Netherlands, both at work and in your private life, you plan things weeks and weeks in advance.
As Chinese people are really busy, an overload of apps and other technological advancements creates comfort when it comes to accomplishing the simple tasks. Getting a meal is as easy as pushing a button and the waiting time for receiving food is maximum 20 minutes.
The Netherlands or China?
I get this question a lot. Good friends are asking me if I ever plan on coming back to the Netherlands, but to be honest, I really don’t know. I like it here now and I see a great opportunity in working at Dashmote. There are many things I can achieve in China that in the Netherlands would be difficult to obtain.
Also, Shanghai is so full of energy. I find it mesmerizing at times. You’ll never know what tomorrow will bring. To me, that makes life more interesting and exciting over here. Things are comfortable In the Netherlands, for sure, and there’s little to complain, but my personal opinion is that this is also what makes it monotonous at times – even boring, one could say!
Short shots, long shots
If I had to give advice to young professionals, I would tell them “Know what your long shots are, as your short-term decisions should tend to the long term objectives.”
For example, I have a dream: setting up my own company. And that’s the reason why I went back to China. It’s also the reason why I studied Industrial Design and the reason why I’m currently working at Dashmote. I want to try to be my own boss, and see how it works out, but to get there, I have to take a number of small specific steps.
So keep the big target in mind, because all the choices you make now will make reaching your goals easier in the long run!