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Opinion\From the Readers

Working in China: Challenges and problems are learning opportunities

By Ingrid Chen | | Updated: 2016-12-23 15:15

Working in China: Challenges and problems are learning opportunities

Ingrid Chen and her husband, Gang Chen. [Photo provided to]

As a foreigner working cross culturally in China, many issues arise and I often find myself asking the question, "Why do they do things like that?!" My coworker, Kathy, who is Chinese, often has to listen to my questions but responds with wise advice and amazing understanding of the difference between our two cultures. Sometimes Western directness can get foreigners in big trouble! Recently I learned through Kathy that when a problem arises with a staff member it is always best to approach it from the point of view that I have made a mistake, not blaming the other person in any way, thus saving face. This opens the door to good communication and a solution to the problem. We foreigners could probably learn from that in our own communication with each other.

Added to the normal issues of cross cultural differences, in our work we also have the added complication of working with deaf people, who have their own cultural perspective. And then, on top of that we have language barriers. If you're not careful something said in Sign Language can become totally opposite of what you meant to say. This year we were very sad to say goodbye to our workshop manager. Susan had worked with us for over 10 years but because of a family situation had to return to her hometown in Shandong. For years she has carried out all the detailed communications with our workers on how to make products. Suddenly I find myself having to communicate these things and realize we end up with some strange products. I've come to appreciate Susan's love of detail and my lack of it! Sometimes, we have to work a bit harder on areas of our personality and I'm finding, with some extra care and attention, I can do things I thought I' d never be able to do.

Despite our language and cross cultural challenges, our work place at Hearts and Hands is a place full of joy and friendship. Most of our workers have been with us for over 10 years. We've been through sickness and sadness together as well as times of happiness and celebration. Many of our staff joined us just after they left school. I've seen them develop, get married and then have children. Many of the children, this year, are entering school.

Sad things have happened too. One of our workers is a single mother whose husband left her when her children were small. The children grew up and her son was working as a hairdresser and planning to open his own business when he was involved in a serious car accident. This happened last year and at the beginning his life was threatened. His leg was severely broken in several places and he had to have metal plates put in to heal it. A physical therapist friend, who saw him last year, confesses she thought he'd never again walk properly. One of our greatest joys is that when she saw him again this year, he is walking well, way beyond her expectations. Faith and hard work have restored this ability to him. Our friends and supporters have prayed for him and supported him.

Although these difficult things happen I have seen the good that also comes through them.

Kunming has become my home and I realize this more and more each year. My Chinese husband, two children and I love visiting my family in Northern Ireland, my home country. We visited this year but are always glad to be back "home" in Kunming. My children attend an international school here that they enjoy. Excellent teachers and a great learning environment make life easier for us all. Now my children are growing up they don't need help with homework and are able to help with chores. Because my work times are flexible I don't find much conflict between work and home life.

All in all 2016 has been a great year for us. I am always grateful that we are a cross-cultural family, living with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I hope I never stop learning from others.


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