I was lucky to have been invited to a symposium promoting economic cooperation between China and Germany, which was organized and financed by the board of trade of the autonomous area inner Mongolia and the board of trade of the provinces Anhui, Jiangsu, Jilin, Hubei and Hunan.
My route in fact passed through Shanghai, Wuhan, Changchun, Jilin and Beijing.
However, it was my first time outside of Europe and my first big international business experience. In the following I would like to share some of my individual experiences during this incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which you may find interesting and – in the best case – encouraging.
Precisely because I as a matter of fact didn’t have many opportunities in the past for travelling and people set me restrictions concerning what I was capable of. I finally dared to live the life I’ve always wanted.
China and the European Union have been cooperating for a long time in various fields. Europe is the major commercial partner of China. The initiative “One Belt, One Road” and the recent state visits of president Xi Jinping and Angela Merkel built a stable foundation for the intensification of the relationship between China and Europe. The symposium promoting the Chinese-European economy 2017 was an action which was consistent with president Xi Jinping: “China and Europe may seem far apart geographically, but we are in fact in the same time and the same space. I even feel that we are close to each other, as if in the same neighborhood. Both China and Europe are in a crucial stage of development and facing unprecedented opportunities and challenges. As I just said, we hope to work with our European friends to build a bridge of friendship and cooperation across the Eurasian continent. For that, we need to build four bridges for peace and stability, growth and prosperity, reform and progress of civilization, so that the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership will take on even greater global significance. We should not forget that there is still greater room for the growth of China-EU relations and the potential is yet to be fully tapped. To move our relationship forward, China needs to know more about Europe, and Europe needs to know more about China. For any country in the world, the past always holds the key to the present and the present is always rooted in the past. Only when we know where a country has come from, could we possibly understand why the country is what it is today, and only then could we realize to which direction it is heading.”
Our stay in China consisted mostly of business activities. We were a group of twenty chosen (future) entrepreneurs from Germany who were visiting various companies and production plants in China, as for instance in the automotive industry. Nevertheless, the outstanding highlight was the well-known company “Lenovo”, where we were introduced to their latest technology and received detailed insights into the Research & Development department.
Another impressive part of our programme was attending numerous trade fairs where automation, robotics and three-dimensional holograms were exhibited, medical devices could have been tested or sustainable energy transitions were promoted. Electrification, connectivity and digitalization were defined as the current significant challenges of today’s economy.
In my opinion, the best part of this trip were the symposia, where influential and professional people from politics and economy gave speeches concerning a peaceful and stable relationship between our two countries, our growing economies, prosperous societies and collective technological progress – which were all translated simultaneously from Chinese into German through an electronic transmitter. Products and services have been presented, business cards have been exchanged and cultural differences have been experienced first-hand. It was surprising that there was a cameraman who recorded everything. We were told that it would be broadcasted in the Chinese TV programme afterwards. I really enjoyed the networking events. Who knows, those connections might become useful one day. I still remember how I felt – shocked and blessed at the same time – when entering our residences during our stay. The luxurious hotels were incredible comfortable and we were treated very respectfully. The Chinese hospitality was nearly overwhelming. On one hand, you as a German were perceived as a valuable collaboration partner if you provided any advantageous knowledge, skills, connections or capital. On the other hand, Chinese culture follows its own rules and if you don’t know them, it might be difficult to behave appropriately from a Chinese perspective but – thanks to the organizers – we had bilingual experts on our side.
“First try, then ask what it is” was basically the polite and correct way of eating which required courage from time to time to some degree. The Chinese cuisine was good, but after the first week I would have killed for anything else but Chinese – although I liked the turning table, impressed by the ability to overload it and of course the classic “hot pot”. By the time I finally mastered to eat with chopsticks, the source of amusement for my Chinese counterparts dried up.
There are no words to describe the electric scooters driving through an overcrowded pedestrian zone honking everyone away, the moment where you lose your group and got carried away by the crowd, just finding your way back because you have a pass around your neck which tells people in Chinese to call someone who picks you up again or the moment trying to cross a street while fast driving cars don’t seem to care about whether they hit you or not or simply the moment, where you witness the typical crazy rush hour in public transportation. It seemed that this country had a catalysator concerning noise, speed and shortage of space. But all this was not as weird as not understanding anything at all – which could only be topped by being isolated from the rest of the world since all your social media accounts or google services were not working anymore. This business trip was the most horrifying, comfort-zone-bombarding, horizon-extending, weird, fascinating, enlightening, overwhelming, emotional, funny, inspiring and motivating trip ever. As some people have experienced before me: Travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comforts of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things. And at the same time, it is the greatest reward and luxury to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. This impression reconfirmed itself when I stood at the Great Wall of China in Mutianyu. Such an experience is beyond any words.
What did you do to deserve this magnificent trip?
That was the most frequently repeated question that I was being asked and to be honest, I sincerely don’t know the answer. I guess our happiest moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. I have been pursuing a career for my entire life so far. After finishing school, I did a social voluntary gap year at the German Red Cross to improve my social skills and orientate myself in career terms, which was followed by an accomplished apprenticeship in logistics to gain first professional experiences in a promising sector that I liked. Finally, I chose to study at Karlshochschule International University to learn languages as Chinese and Russian, foster my ability to operate internationally and increase my intercultural competencies. Moreover, I wanted to learn about business from experienced lecturers and find mentors who support me to become who I want to become. I focused on my further personal as well as professional development. I have been collecting interdisciplinary working experience over the time. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect describes the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a minor change in one state of a system can result in major differences in a later state. Who knows if I would have been given this opportunity if I had done anything different. I am simply deeply grateful for it and I sincerely believe it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my university, the companies I have been working for, friends and mentors, so thank you all.