My previous post was about China and its potential. With this topic addressed, what advice would I share with people who have the opportunity to go to China?
The opportunities offered by being in China at the ground floor (or maybe the first or second floor) as it ascends to its future heights are incredible. The country truly is a confusing place filled with misconceptions and contradictions. I believe you have to be there to understand it. Consequently, if you want to have a chance of succeeding in the future global marketplace, you should go. Unlike the United States, China is not based on a Western, Judeo-Christian set of values. There is no Roman alphabet. It will not be as easy for society to integrate China's rise as it was to integrate the rise of the United States post-World War II. It has the potential to be like Japan - a mystery to almost the entire world. However, unlike Japan, China makes up 1/4 of the world. So it will not be content to be isolated.
China right now is still on the cusp of development. It has a very long way to go in terms of cultural and managerial development. If you are young (i.e. less than 25 years old), you should do everything you can do live in China for at least a little while to learn the language, be exposed to the people, and generally acclimate to the society. In 30-40 years, China will be a true superpower and you do NOT want to be on the side that struggles to understand it.
With that in mind, what have I learned from my personal experience? I have learned that I am NOT Chinese. The locals don't consider me to be Chinese, and I certainly don't feel that way. However, I don't feel completely American either. When I was younger, I often read books about Asian Americans feeling caught in between two worlds. I never really felt that way. I was pretty much American, after all. However, being in China and recognizing some aspects of the culture there that I truly identify with, I realize upon my return that I am not as American as I thought. Perhaps that feeling will go away over time, but I cannot shake the feeling that I truly AM caught between two cultures.
I have also learned that I can adapt to new situations. My time living in China was not altogether unpleasant. There were difficult times for sure -- I hope I never wait in line at the bank again. However, visiting the Great Wall, or seeing the ingenuity in the Shanghai Maglev, was certainly invigorating.
I hope to go back to China again someday. I am excited to see how much it will have changed. That will be true if I go back in 5 years, or even next week.