Here’s your as-personal-as-I-can-on-the-internet guided tour…
A brilliant friend asked some excellent questions for a feature on her blog a few months back. A handful of readers said that they loved hearing this (more personal and historic) side of my story. So here you go…
Can you give a quick summary of how you ended up working in Chile, 5 years out of University? When did you first come to learn Spanish, come in contact with Chilean culture, etc.
I learned Spanish around the same time I learned English, thanks to my wonderful Mexican babysitter, Petra. She would dress me up in lacy white dresses and serve me homemade enchiladas, and we would play Lotería — like Bingo, but with cards like la sirena (the mermaid). Petra took care of my brother and me until I was 5, and then I studied Spanish all through high school and college.
At the University of California, Berkeley, I majored in Latin American Studies, and spent all of 2005 studying abroad at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago. All my classes were 100% in Spanish, from a 3-week intensive course on Chilean slang (very important in this chilenismo-filled country) to a business simulation course to a mountaineering class with a professor who was the first South American to climb Everest. I loved my time in Chile, especially interning with a non-profit called Acción Emprendedora, which teaches practical skills like accounting, finance, and marketing to toymakers, fruit vendors, chocolatiers, and other entrepreneurs.
Why did you choose to leave China and move to Chile?
I moved to China in 2006, shortly after I graduated from Berkeley. It’s kind of a long story and for 4 of the next 5 years I worked in China, in a wide variety of industries and companies (advertising, consulting, corporate social responsibility, teaching, etc.) At the end of 2010, I quit my stressful job in Beijing. I intended to pursue all sorts of freelance projects and write a book about opportunities for young foreigners in China, but I found myself quite depressed and unmotivated and burned out. I wrote about my decision to leave China in more dramatic detail here: Dear China: It’s Not Me, It’s You. Let’s Be Friends Forever.
What are some professional working habits where Chileans and Chinese differ?
The first difference that comes to mind is the way people greet one another. In Chile, both men and women greet women with a cheek-to-cheek kiss. (Men greet each other with a handshake). In China, business associates (male and female) greet each other with a soft handshake, followed by using two hands to pass a business card, and polite, congratulatory questions about the information on the card.
The second difference that comes to mind is the food and drink involved. Meetings in Chile usually involve coffee, tea, and cookies. Every office I have visited has a secretary or nana who comes in at the beginning of the meeting with a platter of store-bought cookies and takes drink orders. I don’t think I was ever served cookies at a meeting in China, but I did have business dinners at restaurants, with more dishes than we could finish, and sometimes too many shots of baijiu (Chinese rice wine).
What are some professional working habits where Chileans and Chinese are similar?
In both Chile and China, powerful people use personal connections used to get things done. Both countries have a specific and common word for this. In Chile, the word is pituto. In China, it’s called guanxi. I like to mention this when I’m talking about China with Chileans or Chile with Chinese, because everyone smiles and nods and acknowledges that the world is really quite small!
Below is the first banner from when I first launched this blog at the end of 2009. Snapshots from Beijing, Jiaxing, Huangshan, Berkeley, Laos, and the front porch of my childhood home. This blog has evolved over time as I’ve changed course — professionally, personally and geographically.
I’ve always written about a wide variety of topics, whatever feeds my curiosity. I invite you to start with my favorite posts:
My Personal History:
- The Places I’ve Called Home
- Dear China: It’s Not You, It’s Me. Let’s Be Friends Forever
- In the news! My speech about Silicon Valley, innovation, and China.
- Unexpected Perk of Start-Up Chile: Mining-Specific Chinese Vocab Lessons!
- How might shifts in China’s economy affect commodity prices in Latin America?
- Seeing China in Chile: a mini-photoessay
Chile Travel Tips:
- Pichilemu: Chile’s Budget Beach Break
- Easter Island / Isla de Pascua / Rapa Nui: The most visually spectacular place I’ve ever been!
- An Entrepreneurial Explorer’s Guide to Iquique, Chile
Travels in Mongolia:
- The Mongolian Ger as a Yanic Symbol
- Oh yes, of course your camel can lick my…
- Chinggis Khaan, Conquerer of the World
Playing With Words:
- Found in Translation: Pistachio => 开心果 => Happy Nut
- Rejected Names for My Future Company
- Thermodynamics in Verse: The Poetry of Heat
Stories from China:
- The Man in the Fountain, Wal-Mart, and China’s Course of Development
- 小资, 小偷: On Little Capitalists and a Petty Thief (Beijingers: Watch out at the Village!)
- Christmas with Chinese Characteristics. In Photos!
Random But Hopefully Interesting:
- No Pago! Reasons to Resist Microfinance in Nicaragua
- Justin Bieber, Follow the Leader in Laos & Abigail Washburn’s China-Inspired Bluegrass
- Found in Translation: How does your personality change when you speak different languages?
Thanks for reading! If any of these stories resonate with you, I’d love to hear from you. I love meeting kindred spirits.
Lots of love from Chile,