Right from the very start of my placement in Changchun, it was clear that my English wasn’t going to get me very far. But this actually posed no problems at all, as the people there are so welcoming.
I have been training with MANN+HUMMEL as an industrial engineer on a work-study programme since September 2013. As part of my course, I have to complete a placement abroad, and from early on, it was clear that I would be going to the company’s Changchun site in China. Everything was fantastically well planned by my supervisors and at the end of May this year, I flew out to spend nearly ten weeks working in the city, which boasts a population of seven million. My role there was to support the local project management and sales teams wherever possible, and ensure that our company-wide standards were being implemented. I ran training sessions with employees on site and assisted with the introduction of new analysis and reporting tools. I really enjoyed having such a wide range of interesting and challenging tasks, especially because I knew I could always count on my department back at home for help if I had any questions or problems. The placement was a real highlight of my training. Yet what will stay with me for many years to come is the incredibly warm welcome that I received from the Chinese people.
My Chinese colleagues felt very responsible for their ‘German visitor’ and made every effort to show me as much of China and the Chinese culture as possible. They invited me to dinner, took me shopping at the local markets and showed me the sights and hidden secrets of the area. I certainly needed this help, as outside of the plant almost no-one spoke any English. Without an interpreter, you soon find yourself completely lost, as I discovered for myself right at the start of my placement when I tried to take a taxi to visit a colleague. The taxi driver obviously misunderstood something I said and took me to an area of the city that I’d never been to before. Communicating with gestures, we eventually got to the right place, although it took twice as long as normal and was a lot more stressful!
After this experience, I decided that it was essential for me to learn a few words of Chinese. I started with a few basic instructions for taxi drivers and was amazed how difficult it is to remember the words and correct pronunciation. I can only imagine it’s just as hard for Chinese people learning English, so I have the utmost respect for my work colleagues who spoke such good English. They taught me so much about the Chinese culture, lifestyle and delicious food (dog is eaten here only on very rare occasions by the way). They are rightly proud of their country and culture, and take great pleasure in showing it off to visitors.
One long weekend, for instance, I decided to visit Dalian, a seaport south of Changchun. I had planned to arrange everything myself, but the colleague of a colleague travelled with me and she soon took over all the organisation. We didn’t know each other before, but she booked all the accommodation for me and made all the travel arrangements. This was really lucky because Chinese people get less time off, so holiday destinations get booked up quickly on national holidays. On my own, I never would have found a room or suitable train Connection.
One evening I sat out on the terrace of my hostel with a few Chinese of a similar age. One of them spoke English and acted as an interpreter. Chinese people are very interested in other cultures, so we spoke a lot about our respective countries, including both our work and our private lives. We dispelled many of the clichés and prejudices, and generally had a really enjoyable evening, as well as learning a lot from each other.
It’s certainly true that China is loud, its cities are full to bursting and the air pollution in the major cities is a real problem, but the people there really won me over and I definitely want to go back. Perhaps I’ll even write my Bachelor’s dissertation out there.