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China is so different – or do the similarities prevail?

The first month of internship at Henkel Shanghai has passed like a second! What an amazing experience to be able to work on future-oriented topics like diversity and inclusion as well as social progress in one of the most future-oriented cities in the world! Shanghai is changing his face permanently – making it quite difficult to remember the correct way by memorizing for example certain shops or restaurants. Nevertheless the city makes it possible – with its very different faces – to feel at home right away. Living in the city center near People’s Square means to have a wonderful park nearby, little streets with Chinese restaurants as well as huge stores. And also it means an incredible number of people! The streets are crowded at nearly every time of the day and anyone who has missed the Shuttle-bus in the morning once is able to make the interesting experience of using Shanghai’s subway at peak times – with up to 40 degrees and 100% air moisture outside! It seems as if the city eats all day as food is everywhere around inShanghaiwith thousands of street food sellers and restaurants. It is really interesting and fascinating to get to know a culture by eating meals. Still I have my reservations regarding some – at least from a German point of view – uncommon dishes, but lots of the Chinese food tastes really good and my “chop-stick-skills” are getting better with every restaurant-visit.

The architecture of  Shanghai for me is one of the aspects in which the big differences unified in this city are most obvious. To look at the amazing skyline of Pudong while staying at the Bund-riverside or enjoy the view on the city from one of the skyscrapers is an elusive experience – as well as walking through the small alleys of the old town getting aware of a totally different way of life. As there are so many things to discover I could write hundreds of blog posts regarding the city and my experiences here – but that’s not the topic I actually wanted to concentrate on.

Having read and heard a lot of things concerning the Chinese culture and the differences to the German one I enteredChinawith various things in mind I would have to be aware of when getting in contact with people here. Certainly it is important to know about the characteristics of another culture to avoid certain mistakes which can easily cause lots of trouble. Nevertheless I experienced that concentrating on the differences fosters the creation of a very biased picture of people from another culture. Working in a team of very kind and open colleagues often makes me think “Ok, where are all the differences I have expected?” Don’t get me wrong, I am neither saying that there are no differences nor I want to recommend that people should not inform themselves concerning another culture they will get in contact with. Anyway I assume that the concentration on differences involve the risk of not being open and oneself any more because of a biased suggestion regarding the people of the other culture. Where is the point in behaving differently from what one normally would behave like because of some stereotypes written in a book without having a clue if the counterpart one is communicating with would appreciate this behavior anyhow? What seems to be quite more important – and difficult compared to learning some behavioral codes by hard – is to try to understand the people around you: What do they feel? What is important for them? What can you read between the lines? If one succeeds in this I believe one can recognize that there are a lot more similarities between the cultures than assumed before! And concentrating on these similarities could help to build up relationships in which the cultural differences –which do exist – are not as important any more.

For me this was one of many insights gained in this internship in Shanghai already and I would really like to thank all the great colleagues and people here around me who make my stay here as special as it is!

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