“It is in China things are happening - not here”
The newly graduated electrical engineer Andreas fell for Beijing
When the 20-year-old electrical student Andreas Lindgren stepped off the plane in Shanghai, he was greeted by a 40-degree, humid heat. He immediately felt at home. Today, four years on, he speaks fluent Chinese and wants to play a part in building China’s future.
Before his first visit to the multi-million city Shanghai, Andreas Lindgren didn’t really know anything about China. Now he has come to love the country where certainly many foreign engineers work, but not all of them feel at home.
“It’s all happening in China. The Chinese have a strong belief in the future: everything will only get better. There is such a powerful focus on a brighter future,” says Andreas Lindgren.
He took his degree in engineering in early May and is right now on a six-week job-hunting tour in the capital Beijing. Several Swedish companies there have expressed interest in his services. Who doesn’t want to take advantage of someone who broke the Chinese cultural wall?
“There are two possible reactions after a meeting with China. You either get stuck there or you never come back to China. And I felt so incredibly good there right from the start. It was the climate, the fascinating language, and the relaxed atmosphere that made me fall for it,” he says.
He immediately became aware of China’s growth, it was a country on the rise and he wanted to learn more about it to understand what was about to happen.
Andreas Lindgren spent a summer month in Shanghai, where he studied languages, history and culture at Fudan University. A year later he was back for two terms of language studies, determined to properly enter the Chinese culture. He devoted half the days to study, and the other half to getting to know the Chinese people:
“I made a conscious decision not to meet any Swedes during that year. Otherwise, there is great possibility to fall into the trap and eat “Swedish meatballs” with fellow citizens every night in Shanghai.
Adopted Chinese habits
Instead, he sought contact with Chinese people through forums on the Internet. He got a great response and met predominantly with local students who he went out to eat with. There’s no coffee break culture in China, but people visit restaurants a lot in Shanghai,” he says.
“This was very important to be able to get into the Chinese community and to learn the language. During my year in Shanghai, I spoke Swedish, about 3 per cent of the time, while my classmates certainly spoke Swedish more than half of the time there. So I gained a decided advantage by doing this.”
Andrew adopted the Chinese way of life instead of finding it difficult which many foreigners do:
“Many Swedes find some of the Chinese people’s habits a bit uncivilized: for example, they slurp and burp when they eat and spit on the street. Personally I found it relaxed and comfortable. For me, the reaction was: well, if they slurp, then I can eat in a relaxed manner, and choose to slurp myself if I want to!
During his first stay in China, he didn’t pay all that much thought to a future career in the country. It came later on and was a welcoming motivational factor when he was studying glossaries six hours a day during his year in Shanghai.
“I see great career opportunities in China. Many Swedes who work there cannot speak Chinese at all. They live, work and receive wages in China. But they do not live in China. They do their shopping in foreign supermarkets, take a taxi to and from work and they go to western parties in the evenings. But I want to live as a part of the Chinese society, which I have really learnt to love.
“It is obvious why China attracts”
He experienced foreign alienation for himself when he did his degree project at Jiaotong University in Beijing last year and lived in a student’s hostel for foreigners. But after just a few weeks, he left the vast, barren and desolate hostel for a regular apartment in another part of town.
He rented a room from a young Chinese couple. The man worked at an IT company, the woman was a housewife. She was looking for a job but was never given the opportunity to talk to an employer because of her fertile age,” says Andreas Lindgren.
The day before he went home to Sweden, he met another of his Chinese friends who was unemployed and had just submitted a job application to a company. The competition was fierce - thousands of other Chinese people had applied for the same job.
“On the shuttle bus back to Stockholm, it became so clear to me what I’m drawn to in China. In Sweden, everything is so finished and complete. We are quite pleased with things as they are which can be a bit boring. I love Stockholm because it is my home. But it’s not “happening” here. It’s all happening in China, that’s where it is serious. If I get the chance to be in China and work there for a long time, I’ll take it.
The job which Andreas Lindgren is aiming for is all about being a bridge between cultures, a bridge which he himself has crossed, largely thanks to his language skills. Many companies in Beijing and Shanghai have foreign managers, and they are not always able to communicate well with the Chinese workers and officials.
“My ultimate role would be to establish links between these two worlds. Being able to combine my knowledge of technology with my knowledge of the Chinese culture would be perfect,” he says.
Text: Christer Gummeson