10 Lessons I Learned After Moving to China

By: Thaís Moretz-Sohn Fernandes

Image Source: Thaís Moretz-Sohn Fernandes

My name is Thaís. I am Brazilian and I have been living in Shanghai, China since September 2015. I am currently studying politics as a master's degree student at East China Normal University and I am also working as a researcher at the Centre for BRICS Countries Studies, at FUDAN University.

Although this narrative sounds appealing, many people called me crazy when I said I was moving to China to assume this new stage in my career. To them, this movement was unnecessary because my career was already on track and I did not need to move to so distant a place.

In some extent, they were right. In Brazil, I had been working for the Brazilian government for more than five years and used to participate in important business and government agendas, such as the Chinese-Brazilian High Level Concertation and Cooperation Commission (COSBAN), the organization of the US-Brazil CEO's Forum, the Brazil-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee and the BRICS Forum.

There, I had the chance to develop a profound understanding of the functioning of Brazilian Foreign Trade and Investment system, contribute to the IFC publications "Doing Business," providing data and information about Brazil, and publish the study "Understanding the Chinese Political System," among many other achievements.

Besides, I was in a serious relationship, planning to get married and have kids. So they alleged I should stay in Brazil, continue my career there, marry and build my family.

Nevertheless, something inside me said I should go and, since I got a scholarship from the Chinese government, and I was really wanting to take a master course abroad, I did not want to waste the opportunity. So, here I am, in China, living in a school dormitory, sharing a room with a Russian girl and a bathroom with 30 other women.

Am I crazy? I still do not think so. I married before I came. My husband is living there in Brazil and supporting my journey from thousands of miles away, but he will also come to China very soon. Therefore, I did not forget about my personal life and the plans to have a family are progressing.

It was not necessary to choose one (career) or the other (profession), but it was possible to put an "and."

Although I have been living here for only one month, I think I made the right decision. I have already learned so many things that I cannot imagine the extent of my improvements after the two years I will stay.

Here are the 10 most important lessons I have learned so far:

BE PATIENT. Adjusting to the new culture takes some time. So, do not judge. Experiment. The food from the cantina looked awful the first time, but it actually tastes delicious now, and it is cheap.

TRUST PEOPLE. Accept other people's suggestions. There are good people in the world and they really want to help. Give them a chance.

CARE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. When you live in a community where you have to share everything (bathroom, place to eat, place to study, etc.), doing your part is important. Some people still leave their trash everywhere. This is really sad. If everyone does a little, we can live in a better and harmonious place.

HELP YOUR COMMUNITY. Sometimes we need to lead by example and, more than caring for the environment, it's necessary to show people how to do it. Instead of complaining that the bathroom is dirty, why don't you organize a group and set a time to collectively clean it? People will admire your attitude and feel ashamed to produce more mess.

UNDERSTAND THE DIVERSITY. In my class, we have people from Sudan, India, Kazakhstan, Italy, America, and many other places and cultures. We can find qualities and weaknesses in all of them. Before judging, try to meet them. I was a bit shocked with the girl in a burka or the Muslim's comments in some subjects, but when I went to this girl's house and had the opportunity to talk to her and had a warm tea with her, I completely changed my mind. She is incredible.

FIND YOURSELF. Among all the different types of being and thinking, we can find ourselves and develop an even stronger self. My Brazilian roots got deeper here and I became more aware of politics and human rights, for instance. I am currently contributing to a project called Politize!, aimed at helping Brazilians to understand basic rights and laws in Brazil.

MONEY IS NOT EVERYTHING. I am not here to make money, but to develop my skills. I am very happy to find many people who think the same. For instance, I found a Chinese guy who is tutoring me in Chinese. He gives me lessons without charging one cent because he believes he is also learning from me. He is learning how to become a better teacher, I am giving him free feedback, and he is also practicing his English with me.

LISTEN TO PEOPLE/ASK QUESTIONS. Interaction is an essential tool. You will not learn if you stay inside your box. Ask technical questions at class, but also get involved with people. Ask who they are and why they are here. You will find interesting histories and will make friends.

AUSTERITY IS NOT BAD. Although we all want to progress in our career and have some material belongings, the lack of some belongings will not make life hard. We can easily live without them. Besides, we can find a strange Peace in austerity.

SHARE. Since I am sharing the most private place, a bedroom, it's more than obvious that I need to share all other things, too. From food and other small items to ideas, sentiments and thoughts. It makes life easier and the relationship improves.

I hope these words inspire and elevate you!


Thais Moretz-Sohn Fernandes is an International Business Analyst at Apex-Brazil and currently interns and is a researcher at the Center for BRICS Studies in China.