A version of this story was originally posted by the author to her account on LinkedIn.
Ten years ago, I left China for an academic scholarship in the US sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Education and Commerce, beginning a journey during which I’ve worked in and adapted to America, Germany and and the UK. Getting used to new cultures in the US and Europe has been a challenge. But as European companies turn to China, they’re struggling to adapt to local culture in ways I recognize.
Starting as a green hand with Western culture, way out of my comfort zone, I’ve learnt step by step to navigate cross-cultural challenges, to stand on my own feet and to become a full-fledged professional in Europe.
My parents still live in China but have made every effort for their daughter to live in a world where everyone has an opportunity. Being here today is the result of their unconditional love and unspeakable sacrifices. My road so far has crossed many chasms, I always jumped without looking back, with avid curiosity, mental discipline and a strong will to win.
What I learned about myself
Looking back over my past years of living and working outside China, I came to realize my view of my home country has changed completely over time.
Born and raised in mainland China within a family closely associated with the former Nationalist regime from its Whampoa Military Academy, the elite incubator for commanders during the civil war. During my first few years living overseas, I was not exactly comfortable with my nationality.
In an era of adverse media coverage and limited public understanding of Chinese affairs, I felt I was a complete outsider among my Western peers: the weird one with a non-cool accent, the one with a strange and hard-to-pronounce Chinese name. I was consumed by figuring out how to fit in and to behave like a native—let alone daring to think about how to stand out.
Following my heart, I became busy immersing myself in the local culture. Along this journey I have received tremendous support from like-minded friends and mentors. I am proud, as a native Chinese, to be able to speak fluent French, German and English.
While honing my intercultural skills, I have been asked many times about China-related issues. How do ordinary people think of the government’s censorship? What’s your view of democracy? As an only child, are you a victim of the one-child policy? It is always a pleasure to bring out my point of view, and to try to understand and explain situations that seem confusing across cultures.
Being multilingual gives me the unique privilege to educate myself across different media and cultural outlets in Europe and China. This encourages me to stay open-minded, empowers me to see things from different angles, and enables me to understand conflicts and complexities within the European Union.
Ultimately, I discovered that I could offer a fresher, multicultural and cosmopolitan point of view on Europe and its conceptions on China, not to reset the narrative or control the storyline, but to better promote mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue.
I chose to stay in Europe and together with two Chinese founders from Amsterdam launched HoiTalent Germany, a job portal for international talent and platform for tailor-made international career coaching.
What China and Europe still need to learn about each other
Every day, I speak with investors and entrepreneurs across the EU and China. I often ask them about their competitors overseas. I notice that European founders usually have comprehensive knowledge about their US competitors: top VCs, the latest numbers on their deal flows and fundraising activities.
Europe watches Silicon Valley and Israel closely, sending numerous industrial leaders, experts and students to the West Coast every year. However, without a defined “Valley,” people I meet have a hard time assessing the full Chinese ecosystem beyond Alibaba and Tencent, or celebrate another digital tycoon beyond Jack Ma and Pony Ma—even though China has transformed from a manufacturing-reliant economy to one lead by tech and innovation and become home to around a hundred unicorns as many as the US.
On the other hand, as a Chinese woman living in Europe’s most dynamic innovation hubs, Berlin, London and Paris, every time I go back to China, I am humbled by people’s extensive knowledge of entrepreneurs, companies and investors across the Pacific in Silicon Valley.
But I also hope they could better appraise the European start-up landscape, its numerous promising ventures and its courageous battle back to relevance. Europe is seen as the globe’s consumer-tech underachiever due to its fragmented market associated with languages barriers and local legal regulations, but the continent has never lacked entrepreneurship and innovation.
Its ecosystem has great talent, ambition and the global vision to produce tech companies comparable to their US and Chinese counterparts. What has been missing is capital and the scalable market required to catalyze innovative start-ups into global success stories.
There is a knowledge and information gap between the European and Chinese tech worlds: European startups remain poorly covered in Chinese media outlets, and Chinese innovation and openness remain underestimated by their European counterparts.
I stay in touch with China because I am in a unique position in Europe to introduce an innovative and tech-driven China to a curious European audience—and at the same time, I am on a mission to unveil the flourishing European startup scene to an open-minded China.