March 6, 2017

My Experiences of Working in China vs. the United States

The following is a guest post by Yan Tang.

Yan Tang in Shanghai, China
Can you imagine how much uncertainty and anxiety I had when I was working on a Global Administration (GA) project in Shanghai IBM office located in Shanghai Jinmao Tower (one of the tallest buildings in the world)? Can you imagine how I was handling with a big group of people who come from all over the world and possess significantly more experience than me?

I was 23 years old, a recent college graduate and an age when many of my peers spend their time shopping, dating or traveling. I decided, however, to face all those challenging situations with the IBM GA team as a project manager working over 20 hours a day without dates or holidays. Is that something that I would like to do it again? Absolutely!!

The experience was challenging, but full of self-accomplishments. I was surrounded by many intelligent and brilliant people. Even if I had little confidence working together with them, I found a great opportunity learning from them. That also becomes my lesson #1: it is okay to feel overwhelmed and scared by other's superpower as long as you can learn the most from them. My dad often repeats Isaac Newton's infamous quote: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." The IBM GA project taught me how to see different perspectives and learn from people who are greater than me.

I studied English and Chinese as an undergraduate in China and did not learn business skills in the traditional classroom setting. While being placed on the GA project, I was facing very competitive and stressful situations with limited knowledge of business and corporate operation. To survive, I simply used a very ineffective method to adept myself into IBM working environment: work hard before I work smart. I spent nights and weekends studying business manners such as emails, meeting arrangements, communications, and negotiation. I would practice hundreds of times in order to deliver presentations confidently in the presence of a large audience.

A friend once visited me in Shanghai. After finishing dinner together, we could have hung out for movies or shopping, but I had to go back office to work. I still remember what she said to me knowing I had to work through the night. She said: Yan, when your hard work and effort are commensurate with your desire, you are likely to succeed. You will always have my support. At that time, I learned that working hard is a virtue that you are willing to invest time and energy improving your skills.

I find myself in the United States a few years later as a student in the Professional MBA program at the Seattle University Albers School and Business and Economics. I experienced a dramatic shift going from China to the U.S. Now I am sitting in SeattleU's Lemieux Library reflecting on my experiences working in Shanghai. That was like my past life, so far away and blurry. What is happening here is the real life: going to school and completing an internship. There are no tall buildings, no urgent deadlines, or no overnight work. I just concluded a breakfast meeting with my professor this morning and met with my supervisor afterwards. Everything seems less intense and well planned; in other words, I am controlling my own pace of my life.

SeattleU's IEC team
Here in Seattle, I am engaged in several projects as a client relationship management intern for SeattleU's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC). We are managing a new initiative program named RAMP (Resource Amplification and Management Program). This is a different working environment where I cannot use my old work methods to cope with people and situations. I experienced ups and downs when working in a different country with different business cultures.

I was too result-driven and focused on getting work done. However, as a member of the RAMP team, I have been learning to enjoy the process and have fun before rushing to see what results are, as the process is where you can think, make adjustment, innovate and enjoy yourself. RAMP provides Seattle University resources to support local underserved small businesses and community partners to build capacity, grow and thrive. The results of fast growing in these businesses do not happen overnight. I need to be very patient and trust the process of what I am working on. If I can manage the process well and make sure it works smooth, the expected results will follow. My supervisor Sue Oliver always shares her philosophy with me: if we do our best in every single part of the process, we can trust the perfect outcome will unfold for us. I have come to better understand this philosophy through my work experience with RAMP.

I have experienced several aha moments over the past year through RAMP. One such moment came when I was suggested to "manage up" in order to complete my tasks. I was a little shocked by hearing "manage-up." In China, a possible consequence of manage-up is "you are fired" if you dare to challenge your boss. In America, however, managing up is considered a tactic to request resources and support from your supervisor to get work done efficiently. A result of this tactic is showing your ability to set priorities and have clear goals about what you need for task management. You can also establish a good working relationship with your boss if you can use the "manage-up" tactic in an effective way. The application of "manage-up" makes my work-life much easier and brings me job satisfaction.

It requires time to understand how people work in a different business setting and it needs tactics to perform well in a different culture. Until now, I cannot completely understand what are their thinking and acting patterns in business settings. Some tactics I used in China may not work in the U.S. However, I learned the importance of communication whenever I encounter cultural differences or have different approaches to problems. With diversified working experience both in China and the U.S., I am more open-minded and have more different perspectives when identifying situations and looking for optimized solutions.

Yan Tang is enrolled in the Professional Master of Business Administration (Marketing) program at Seattle University. She also serves as a Business Relationship Management and Small Business Coach at Seattle University's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. Previously, Ms. Tang worked for Manpower in the company's Shanghai, China office where she served in several roles including Service Consultant, On-Site Project Manager for IBM Shanghai, and Recruitment Consultant. Ms. Tang may be contacted at

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