Living in Shenzhen: A Conversation with Marie Tatibouet
Interested in living in Shenzhen? Here, Marie Tatibouet shares the highlights and challenges, as well as her tips for an amazing experience abroad.
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where are you from? Where do you currently live?
My name is Marie and I love to travel! I also love meeting people, learning new things, dancing and technology.
I was born out of the fusion of two different cultures, so I guess nobody was surprised when I packed my bags at 17 and went abroad to study. I was born in Paris to a French father and an American mother and moved around a lot as a kid.
When I’m not travelling the world, I live in Shenzhen, China. It is such an exciting place to be! Although you may not have heard of it, chances are you have at least one item in your home made here. Shenzhen is heaven on earth for techies. Many electronic products are made here, and most probably the very smartphone you use everyday.
And so, you may have guessed, I work in mobile phones. I work for a fantastic company called OPPO, which is rocking it in South East Asia. As a true digital native, they call me the Social Media Queen as I spend my time scouring the internet for cool ideas to bring a fresh approach to the brand and make sure we stay current.
What made you decide to move abroad? How long did you live there for? Tell us about how you spent your time in your new destination — whether you worked, studied, traveled, or did something else.
I think it was my destiny to live abroad, and it had always been my dream as a child to come to China. I had always been fascinated by the Chinese way of life, their long-standing culture, their values, and most importantly, their language.
I first moved to Shanghai in April 2013 to do my final semester for my masters at EM Lyon, a French business school. I was really busy there, organizing the Junior World Entrepreneurship Forum, attending classes, and getting to know the city.
Naturally, Shanghai was very different from what I imagined living in China would be like as a child. It was a bustling, highly international city, with great heritage. However, as the economic capital of China, it was difficult to find a job as a foreigner.
My boyfriend (a Frenchie) moved down to Shenzhen to find a job there, and I followed him. We’ve found it so much easier to find jobs as foreigners here. And since then, we haven’t left. I’ve been living in Shenzhen now for one year, and it’s been a blast.
My Chinese skills have really progressed, I’ve gotten some real experience working with Chinese peeps, and I’ve met Chinese people from all over the country. Shenzhen is a very young city with many jobs, so many people come for work.
As Shenzhen is really turned towards exports (indeed, many of the main Chinese companies have their HQ here, like Tencent, Huawei, OPPO, ZTE, TCL, TP Link, etc), you find very open-minded people…and open-minded managers!
As I work on the foreign markets, our Chinese managers really appreciate a foreigner’s input, and this means you can really jumpstart your career if you provide good ideas and work hard.
Shenzhen also has growing maker, designer, and artist communities. They often meet with their Hong Kong counterparts (Hong Kong is just an hour away by metro) and create a wonderful fusion.
What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while living abroad? What were some of the greatest highlights?
Chinese people don’t have the same notion of timing, personal space, and noise as others. However, having dealt with understanding a different culture is not what has been the most difficult.
The most difficult part of living in China has been dealing with the language gap. As many Chinese do not speak English–and do not seem to understand my broken Chinese–truly interacting with any Chinese person is difficult, from the taxi driver to the waiter in the restaurant.
I am trying to overcome this by learning Chinese, but it has not been easy. I have recently had a breakthrough and am starting to understand a lot more and express myself in a better way. I have found the more characters I learn and the more sentences I hear, I cannot only better communicate with Chinese people, but I can also better understand their culture and society.
Visiting Beijing, the temple of Chinese culture, has definitely been a highlight. The sites are beautiful, and the artsy neighborhood is to die for. I was also lucky enough to go during a beautiful week, so it was truly a magical experience.
Playing drinking games with the locals is always hilarious. As a white person, or as we’re called here “Laowai,” you usually attract a fair amount of attention. The Chinese are usually too shy to approach you, but this disappears when they’ve had something to drink. I’ve learned many of their drinking games, and it’s truly funny to interact with them through their own games.
I am also very thankful to have made some great Chinese friends. Last year, for Mid-Autumn Festival, I was invited to my friend’s house for a big dinner with her parents at her apartment. Her parents are from a village, so it was incredible to see what they thought about (“Your mother must miss you so much!”) and how we interacted together. Also, inviting anyone to your home is rare in China, so it was truly honor. Her mother’s cooking (she is from the Henan region) was heavenly!
And finally, I’ve been learning how to cook some Hunan food with a friend. This has been amazing!
What do you wish you knew before you moved?
China is not always very foreigner-friendly, and the characters can make it very difficult to get things done. Simple things like setting up an internet connection, or getting an online bank account can be very difficult.
Another issue is healthcare. We all want to make sure we have a plan if we become sick. Because getting a work visa is not always easy, you can sometimes be without healthcare from the company you’re working for until you officially get your visa. Make sure you get covered!
Living in Shenzhen: A Conversation with Marie Tatibouet
Any favorite restaurants/events/sites that you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
La Maison: A wonderful restaurant in Shekou that’s perfect for when you’re feeling homesick. I feel like I’m sitting in a bistro at home!
Hua Qian Bei: The very famous electronics market, which is run by SEG company. Here, you will find anything tech related, and it is absolutely incredible. Each stand represents a different factory, so it is a great place to do business, and also a great way to see what is popular in the techie trends. Also, it’s just generally fun to chat with the owners and to barter with them.
Creative Market: Every first Monday of every month, all of the artists in Shenzhen get together to set up the creative market in the hip and artsy neighborhood of OCT Loft. It provides a wonderful way to spend a sunny afternoon (that’s 250 days a year!), followed by a lazy coffee or a trip to the latest Maker Shop.
Are there any tips you’d give someone else considering a similar move?
Make sure you are ready to live with a totally different culture. You will not change China, and you will not change the Chinese. You need to be okay with that, even though it’s hard sometimes. I have seen a number of foreigners who cannot deal with how the Chinese act in public (pushing, spitting, talking loudly) or at work (very responsive to authority), and they end up banging their head against the wall on a daily basis. Accept them, and they will accept you.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they move to your destination?
China is a wonderful place for women. It is so safe, you will be delighted!
Follow Marie on Twitter and Instagram. Living in Shenzhen: A Conversation with Marie Tatibouet