Assembling a life in China
When Karolina was first asked to move to China, she was taken by surprise: “Someone called out of the blue and said: ‘What do you think about going to China?’ I had limited knowledge of the country and I had never thought about visiting, but curiosity is my second name so my husband and I decided to go for it.” Like anyone, she had certain preconceptions. “Before, when I thought of China, I pictured lots of workers in endless factories making dubious-quality products that flood the world. Air pollution and human rights issues also came to mind, but I did know that China has a long and incredible history.”
After arriving in Shanghai Pudong Airport, she found her assumptions had been wrong. “The China of today is nothing about history – it’s all about the future. I don’t think there is any other nation or society that thinks about tomorrow as much as the Chinese. It’s a highly digitalised society. There is an app for absolutely everything, and people use them – it makes life so much easier. For example, if you don’t use WeChat in China, you don’t exist. It’s a combination of Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others all rolled into one.” Karolina was also struck by the speed of development. “Decisions are taken today and the results happen tomorrow. There is never any doubt that they will happen.” Chinese consumers are anything but laid back and relaxed. “The Chinese are extremely demanding when it comes to services and product quality. And there are many very wealthy people in the country. They can afford things that most people in other countries could never afford.”
There are some similarities between Poles and Chinese, however: “We definitely share the trait of entrepreneurship. And both countries have had a tough modern history, which has made both people more creative – they have had to be in order to survive. I would say that the Chinese are generally faster in doing things than Poles, but both nations are in more of a hurry than established societies. That’s why I think Poles would settle down in China better than Western Europeans or Americans,” says Karolina, who is learning Mandarin and passed her Chinese driver’s license.
Facebook & Google ain’t here
Living in any new country, there are some inevitable downsides, apart from obvious things like missing home food. “Things that were quite funny at the beginning soon became annoying. Our kids have blond hair (she has three boys, Maxim, 12, Konrad, eight, and Hubert – who was born in China – one) and people point at us, want to take photos and even to touch. My son wanted to start charging them money. There’s also limited communication in English with the Chinese, and it’s harder to connect with the outside world because there’s no Facebook and no Google.”
Working for a Swedish company, with its strong company culture, means that she hasn’t experienced a genuine Chinese work environment, but she has seen insights into Chinese working characteristics. “Chinese people need time to trust you. Outside work, it’s difficult to become friends. A westerner I know was determined to mix with Chinese people and become their friends, but after a while, he gave up. They keep to themselves. We ourselves can only count one Chinese family as our friends.”
Perhaps the biggest difference Karolina found between Poland and China – in fact between the western world and China – is the scale. “In Poland there are around 38 million people. In Europe it’s about 740 million. Here there’s 1.3 billion. Many cities have more inhabitants than some countries in Europe – a city of 10 million is perceived as small.”
Finally, Karolina has found an unexpected, somewhat counter-intuitive experience with Chinese journalism. “I have found Chinese journalists to not only write the correct facts, but also to dig deeper than their western counterparts – in my experience. They really want to understand the topic, and go into real depth to enable them to do so.”
Karolina Horoszczak is Corporate Communications Director at IKEA Group China, based in Shanghai. She was born and grew up in Poznań, where she studied Management & Marketing at Adam Mickiewicz University, before moving to Warsaw. While working for IKEA in Poland, she was offered the job in China and moved to Beijing with her family in July 2015.