From Shanghai to Changchun: cities in China that most appeal to foreigners

West Lake, Hangzhou

In these Brexit times, China is a land of opportunity, but where to even begin? It’s not all Shenzhen and Shanghai (former British PM David Cameron visited Southwest China with his business delegation).

A cursory look at a map of East Asia will reveal a territory of mindboggling size. I once took a flight from Shanghai on the east coast to Chengdu – not even in China’s geographic centre – and landed in Sichuan 3.5 hours later. That’s like going from London to Kiev. A flight from Shanghai to Urumqi will meanwhile take 5.5 hours – the same as going from London to Amman in the Middle East.

A former colleague once asserted that China was more a continent than a country – and I could see his point. Twice the size of the EU (yes, including Britain) and surprisingly diverse, China is also the world’s most populous nation.

Each of China’s provinces could be considered a country in its own right. Take Shanghai – a city whose population exceeds Australia’s – a sprawling society with a thriving economy, its own identity and a language (Shanghainese) spoken by 14 million people (more than the number of native Czech speakers). Shanghai is a virtual country.

And it’s Shanghai where most foreigners gravitate to, according to a new survey. A report released by “China Society for Research on International Professional Personnel Exchange and Development” reveals the cities with most appeal to foreigners living and working in China, based on criteria such as living environment and local culture. The top 10 is as follows:

  1. Shanghai
  2. Beijing
  3. Hangzhou
  4. Qingdao
  5. Tianjin
  6. Shenzhen
  7. Suzhou
  8. Guangzhou
  9. Nanjing
  10. Changchun

If anyone is wondering, like I was, about tenth-placed Changchun, I can tell you that it’s the capital of Jilin province, bordering Russian and North Korea. Changchun is home to some 7.6 million, making it slightly bigger than Hong Kong. It’s also an important industrial base, known in China as the “City of Automobiles”.

It would be no surprise to see more cities appeal in the years to come, as foreigners explore more of the country. Some China urban areas are seemingly sprouting from nowhere, like volcanic islands rising from the sea, while other cities, from Beihai to Dezhou, are busy putting themselves on the international map.

And finally, while I’m not resident in China, of the 10 cities listed above my vote would go to Qingdao. Beaches, seafood and fresh Tsingtao beer served straight from the keg in takeaway bags.

More expat assignments leading to failure, reveals ECA

Work stress

More and more expat assignments aren’t working out for either party, a new report reveals.

Global mobility company ECA International’s latest Managing Mobility Survey showed that the number of assignments terminated early in 2016 was 7.2%, up from 4.9% in 2012 – a difference of around 50%. The failure rate was highest in big companies (more than 10,000 staff).

Unsurprisingly, the cause of these early terminations was “a mismatch between expectations and reality”. Nearly three in five employers reported that assignments ended early because of assignees underperforming in their new role. The second most common reason given was the international assignee quitting early over dissatisfaction with their new role.

Partly this is down to not fitting in: assignments are failing because of families not adapting to cultural differences. According to the report, only 18% of employers offer cultural training for the family (which is quite astonishing, as getting it right culturally is critically important, as evident here and here.)

While the report doesn’t appear to explain why the failure rate has gone up, the following solution is offered:

The key to improving an employee’s ability to adapt to assignment and, later, post-assignment life is making sure they are well prepared for what is to come.

It’s common sense: preparation is everything. But rather than consult guides and websites, try before you buy. Get out to the overseas destination in question, interact with your new colleagues in person rather than through email, and get a feel for the culture.

And if everything goes very terribly wrong, at least you’ll have something to talk about down the pub, or at your local Fuckup Night if you’re more entrepreneurially minded.  And let’s face it, you can’t be any worse than this guy, right?:

How do you succeed abroad? A GSOH helps, says cut-e

Emotional man

Working overseas isn’t always a bed of roses. A bad day can be pretty rough (and you won’t necessarily have Marmite and Eastenders to look forward to at the end of it). A stoic mindset and not taking things too seriously can help make life a lot easier. You’ve made it further than most (literally), so cut yourself a bit of slack.

A recent report into expat behaviour by cut-e confirmed that a sense of humour, among other factors, can make the difference between sinking and swimming.

The study of 35 returning expats, as well as their managers, peers and subordinates, looked to see if personal characteristics could predict success abroad. Feedback was collected on each expat’s performance, their personal success, their communication ability and how well they integrated into the local culture.

And the results showed the following character traits:

  • emotional stability
  • openness to change
  • cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity
  • an ability to adjust to different customs
  • perspectives and business practices
  • strong interpersonal skills
  • flexibility
  • resilience
  • respect for diverse viewpoints
  • a high level of autonomy and
  • a sense of humour.

Based on experience and observations, I’d say that cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity are critically important. Get these wrong and the repercussions can be far-reaching, as evident here and here. While a new culture can be a bit of a minefield, publicly slagging off your hosts is an obviously bad idea.

Some digital nomads, who naturally choose their location, are acutely aware of this and make efforts to connect meaningfully with the local community. Steve Munroe of Hubud in Bali described this as “co-giving“.  Similarly, entrepreneur Stuart Jones revealed how Coworkation was working with Bali Children’s Project to provide tangible assistance to those needing it most.

But not all foreign workers are digital nomads, and cut-e recommends that international assignees at least take a personality questionnaire covering values, motives and interests in advance.

Better still, in my opinion, would be to get out to the destination in question and take a few weeks to interact with the culture – you will have an inkling soon enough if it’s right for you (trust your gut), and perhaps avoid this fate: