Diverse teams are key for innovation! But what is it actually like to leave your home country to work with a team on a completely different continent? We asked our Fresenius Netcare colleague Natalia Alvarez about this. Born in Colombia, she moved to China four years ago and has been a Sales Manager at Fresenius Netcare in Bejing for two years now. During this time, she learned a lot about the similarities and differences between the two cultures – and how everyone in the team can profit when different perspectives come together.
Natalia, how is the weather today in Beijing?
It´s warm today 15 degrees and sunny, last week we had minus 20 degrees, which felt like minus 30 degrees.
As a Colombian, what brought you to China?
My family has been negotiating with Chinese companies for many years. Ever since I graduated from college, they wanted me to come to this country. For many years I resisted, but when I arrived and started learning about the culture, I was amazed, their warmth and way of living in community has been a wonderful experience. Although I have cleared up, I have lived in three different cities in China: Ningbo, Wuxi, and Beijing. These cities are quite culturally diverse, so this experience has given me a complete perspective of how divergent this country is.
Moving to China was something I delayed for years even though my family had tempted me many times. My decision changed when one my family’s business suppliers made me an unrefusable proposal. The first city I lived in China back in 2017 was Ningbo where I lived for two years. Since Ningbo is a city near Shanghai, I learned different perspectives of the Chinese people, how they work and how they see the world. In 2019 I started working with Fresenius Netcare in Beijing, northern China. Here I work with 53 Chinese Colleagues of Fresenius Netcare, and I am the only foreigner in the whole group. I am responsible for the development of projects that support different teams, in a nutshell, we find new technological solutions that help them improve their work processes on our ADT platform helping to reduce development times and generating good practices.
What is the experience of being a foreigner in the company?
Being a foreigner in this culture makes a big difference. We have different practices between Eastern and Western even though we are one company. There are different ways of seeing life between these two hemispheres, but the challenges you set your mind to are more enriching when you are outside your country. One of my passions is to develop projects with different cultures. It's incredibly exciting to know the different mindsets, the way we can all have a different perspective on the same thing. That is why I greatly appreciate the experience and knowledge I learned from my Chinese colleagues. They are very resilient, persistent, and educated. From my perspective, the differences with the South American culture are that we are not very patient, we want everything to be done immediately, and being among them, they helped me understand that persistence is the main step of your goals.
What other foreign experience have you had in China?
During the pandemic lockdown I had a very good learning experience: here, everyone stays together, everyone knows what to do to protect the society’s children and the elderly. Between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., the houses doors were closed; no one felt locked up but protected. It's about the community, everyone should be fine. And me, with my Western mindset, just wanted to go out to run. I was alone in my apartment for two months. At the end of the lockdown, I had to run away at least once, and I went down to the river to run. That didn't hurt anyone since I lived alone. I admire the Chinese for the coherence with the collectivism, reinforced by Confucian thought, lives, while in my culture the idea of individualism prevails. A lot of my friends say I've changed, and I already have a western and eastern part.
How does South American culture fit together with Asian Culture? Is there a common ground between both cultures?
Yes, there are similarities, even astonishingly many. The Chinese maintain a very strong family cohesion, several generations live under one roof or at least close to each other. That is also very important in my Colombian homeland, in Latin American culture: we spend a lot of time in the family, with the grandparents and everyone who belongs to it, and help each other. What we also have in common is respect for older people. You are valued by the younger ones for your knowledge and life experience. Older people are held in high social esteem. In both cultures there is also a high degree of solidarity and cordiality. Another cultural commonality I discovered is the rich coloring of traditional clothing. Something that distinguishes both cultures is that South Americans are more reactive to their environment and influences, so they often react very spontaneously and promptly. The Chinese, on the other hand, are very straightforward and pursue their goal. And that is the crucial thing about diversity: both mindsets come together and are a perfect mix - we need each other.
In your opinion, how help the cultural differences to make better decisions?
The differences give us much more diverse perspectives on challenges and decisions. This helps us enormously to create better foundations for better decisions. One example is the aADT project, in which we developed an application. Our colleagues at KABI in Mexico needed a solution very quickly so that nurses and doctors could quickly and easily identify products for treating patients. In cooperation with our Chinese colleagues, we were able to provide a solution in two months. This shows how crucial it is that we work together as a global team. We are one IT team in one group.
What surprised you the most when you came to China?
What really impressed me at the time was how many objects a Chinese person can transport on a bicycle. To this day, I can't explain how that works. I also experienced a funny story about food. My parents taught me that I always have to try everything at least once. In a restaurant I tried something delicious, it tasted like spareribs. When I asked about it, I found out that it was snake. I still like to eat snake to this day.