Expat Young Professionals Panel Recap

Young Professionals, Assemble!

As China’s economic clout grows, it’s no surprise more young people are flocking here to develop their careers through internships and language study. But what happens when your program ends, your visa expires, and it’s time to go home? For many expats, a stint in China used to be seen as a stop on the way to a career somewhere else. Increasingly though, many students tell us they want to come back to China after their program to find a full-time job. With this in mind, last Thursday we invited a diverse panel of six high-achieving expat young professionals for our “Millennial to Millennial” event to discuss how to build an adult-worthy career in China.

Our venue for the event was the new restaurant/bar concept Chin Chin by Wheat, a short walk from Hutong School.  Despite the rainy weather, we had a big response from the community and with over 70 young professionals in attendance. After starting things off with some drinks, tapas, and networking, Hutong School co-founder Jan Wostyn took the floor for a welcome address. Jan noted that supporting young professionals is part of Hutong School’s DNA, which itself was founded by a group of twenty-something expat entrepreneurs back in 2005.

Next, we turned the spotlight squarely on our panel members: Gabby Gabriel, Milan Van den Branden, Margaret Johnson, Toni Friedman Michael Wert and Armando Flores Chiu. We got the ball rolling by asking them what misconceptions they had about China before moving here. Michael commented that he believed it would be difficult to launch his career, but in fact, this was relatively easy. The difficult part lay in taking the next step and advancing into a more fulfilling position. Toni, meanwhile, mentioned the misperception that living in smaller, less developed cities would necessarily result in a more “authentic” experience of China.

When the conversation turned to network building, a number of panelists mentioned the importance of networking & chamber events, WeChat groups, and LinkedIn as key tools. Meanwhile, Gabbie brought up how crucial the “follow up” is to building and maintaining valuable relationships.

young professionals

There was plenty of love for Shanghai as well. When discussing why they chose to call the Pearl of the Orient home, our panelists mentioned the quantity (and quality) of opportunities, in addition to the fantastic nightlife, restaurants, art scene and Shanghai’s position as the economic capital of the world’s largest emerging market. The local startup scene came up too, with Milan mentioning its attractiveness to entrepreneurs for its low cost and low barriers to entry. Armando, Michael, and others also brought up the fact that Shanghai is a city full of “risk takers” who have moved here from around China and the world to seek opportunity.

The topic of cross-cultural communication came up a number of times as well. Michael brought up the importance of knowing how to navigate different contexts in terms of communication (i.e. Chinese, Western, or mixed), and the necessity of being humble and not assuming your Chinese customers/coworkers were “wrong” just because they were doing things differently.  Meanwhile, Milan mentioned how crucial it is to be open and honest with customers. Toni brought up Chinese culture’s aversion to confronting problems directly, and thus the need to anticipate problems and communicate with multiple channels when working in a Chinese context.

Overall, the night was a big success. From the great turnout to the enlightening discussion and excellent gin and tonics, it was an enjoyable and productive evening of discourse and network building. We’d like to thank all of our panelists, guests, and the staff of Chin Chin for helping to make this night a big success! 

If you’d like to learn more about our panelists, take a look at our pre-event interview here, or check out our recent event for young entrepreneurs in Beijing. 

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