A COLOMBIAN IN CHINA

An English to Spanish translator, system engineer, and teacher takes on the challenge of living and working in a new country. BY GABRIEL AREVALO, EDITED BY NINA BOGDAN

One day, on a beautiful, motivating, rainy morning, I was contacted by a stranger with a proposal about doing business in China. It surprised me, but, as I had been working for several years in my country, Colombia, as a teacher and translator, I decided to explore a new world full of diversity, uncertainty and challenges (using my chief asset: persistence or, as I like to call it, “useful stubbornness”).
Due to how quickly everything happened, my belief in Destiny was reinforced. Perhaps many people don’t believe in the existence of some uncontrollable and mysterious forces, but my life is full of evidence that they exist. It took only one month, after that memorable dawn, for me to arrive at Beijing Airport on my way to my final destination of Dalian.

IN CHINA
I was happy but confused, filled with faith but sometimes fearful. In order to calm myself, I would think about my parents’ advice: “You only get what you deserve, and since you deserve the best, go ahead without any hesitation.” This thought gave me confidence in my first encounters with a new language, food, customs, and environment. After about one week I discovered why this seemingly odd event had occurred: I met the woman who is now my wife. On the practical side, I obtained a work visa to teach and found work with some translation companies.
I set a goal for myself to learn more about my new country. One of the most striking things I have witnessed in China is the attitude of many managers, especially those in factories. I had the chance to visit some of these and the managers’ attitudes were opposite to some of their Western peers: they exhibited diligence, joy, exemplary attitudes, and hard work. I could not identify any traces of bureaucracy. They eschew suits and ties, dressing casually, but what is most admirable is their direct involvement in every activity of the company, including cleaning, carrying heavy loads, supporting their employees, and much more. I have not seen a marked difference between the managers and their employees, except in salary. Chinese employees work efficiently, diligently and proactively, whatever their salaries. Moreover, the Chinese people have an enduring loyalty to their country’s principles and profoundly respect their country’s traditions.

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
My experience with my parents-in-law has also been enriching. We neither argue nor disagree about anything. (Perhaps because we do not speak a common language). In the beginning, this lack of a common language was a challenge, even if a pleasant one, as sign language was not sufficient for some issues.
There were embarrassing moments such as my uncoordinated attempts to use chopsticks. I remember the first night I met my parents-in-law; it is common in China to have a special dinner with the closest family members—in this case, the father, mother, daughter, grandmother and the only guest: me.
After some conversation, we were ready to begin sampling the varied and exquisite dishes on the table. After half an hour or so, I was proud of my skills in using the chopsticks like a native. But then I dropped one on my foot: the entire family in chorus said: “没事” (it doesn’t matter). Despite their reassurance, I was quite embarrassed, but since that first night my abilities have quite improved.
Every day I learn something new on my “life road,” for instance, how to be patient about life in a new society, respecting its laws, customs and culture but simultaneously keeping my own identity. Experience has taught me that:

  • Nothing good is easy.
  • There are things that can be learned only by living them.
  • If you want to get what you have never had, you have to do that what you have never done.
  • In order to get something, we must imagine it, dream it vividly, work diligently and never give up.
  • This is a good prayer: “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change those that I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.
  • I don’t believe in luck as an uncontrollable event. For me, each person builds luck by their thoughts put into action.
  • The best way of receiving is giving. Actually, I would say the only way.
    If you love what you do, someday you will do what you love.

Colombia has given me my life, family and education; in turn, China has given me my wife and my present happiness, and I focus my efforts to support both these glorious countries. GA/NB

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