From the rural Pacific Northwest to the middle of a concrete jungle, Olivia Plotnick has made it her mission to never stop challenging herself to reach new horizons. Making the decision to move to China by herself several years ago she has quickly learned how to build a personal network from scratch, become recognized for her knowledge of marketing and branding in China, get featured in Forbes and grow a WeChat account from 2,000 to 5,500 followers in just 6 months.
Olivia, what is the story behind your move to China?
I started studying Chinese at St. Mary’s High School. It was the first high school in Oregon to offer Chinese program. The summer after my first year of studying we had an opportunity to come China and I was one of the seven students selected. We travelled all around China during the holiday, it was my first trip outside of the States. It was the Summer 2007, and we went to Beijing, Henan, and the southern part of China, Kunming in the Yunnan province. It was so different from anything I had known or been exposed to before. After that experience, I started thinking that this is the path that I wanted to follow. I studied Chinese and business throughout college and I completed my final six months of college in Beijing, at Beijing Language and Culture University. I moved there by myself and enrolled in an intensive language program. The classes were only taught in Chinese and I was the only American in my class, with no other native English speakers. I think I cried a lot (laugh) and I was a little bit miserable for about five months, but by the sixth month I was loving it: I have this distinctive memory of riding in a cab and passing all these incredible buildings in Beijing. The energy from the city was electrifying. I went back to Oregon, graduated and found a job at an international adoption agency. I was helping prospective parents through the first 1 to 2 years of the adoption process. I was also helping to update the organization’s website to drive more traffic and liaising with our Beijing office. While this role was a huge learning opportunity for me, I knew it wasn’t my career path. I really wanted to move back to China and pursue a career in international business.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao-tzu, Chinese Philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)
In 2011 I quit my job in SAP recruitment in London and moved to China. Little did I know what was going to happen, but I hoped that the relocation would help me change my career.
I didn’t love my job, but I didn’t strongly dislike it either. As everywhere, it had its rainy Monday mornings when commuters were rushing through the Liverpool Station. Everyone seemed stressed out and unhappy about starting a new week in the City. However, as soon as I would get inside the office and make my coffee while chatting with colleagues, it didn’t seem that bad. ‘I can do it, I can get through another week, if I only survived Monday’ I would say to myself. There was also the thrill of headhunting, the constant buzz in the office, and a lot of laughs. Life was good and the closer to the weekend the better it was becoming. Around Wednesday, emails from my friends were starting to circulate as we were preparing for another fabulous weekend in London. It rarely happens that we are entirely happy or unhappy in our job, and I guess that makes any decision harder. When is the cutting off moment when we say: “I’m done with it and ready for a new role”? Once we have reached that stage another obstacle appears – we don’t have clarity on what we WANT.
I realized that what bothered me the most about my job was the fact that I didn’t feel challenged anymore. I didn’t want to live only for the weekend. I thought about moving to internal HR, as that was one of the most common “career transitions” for agency recruiters. I was also asking myself when was the last time I was happy at my job? The answer was three years ago, working as an executive search consultant in the energy sector. With that in mind, I was considering going back to the executive search. Then my boyfriend got a job offer in Beijing. We discussed three options: a long-distance relationship, me staying in London and trying to job hunt in Beijing, or finally quitting my job and relocating together. From a recruiter perspective, I knew that being in the right location could make a huge difference. Firstly, my CV with London and the UK number on it could go into the “bin folder” in a matter of seconds. Secondly, meeting hiring managers face to face is a small difference that makes the all the difference.
While discussing relocation, we also decided to get married. Three weeks later, on a Monday morning, I was rushing through Liverpool Station to work. I was going straight from the airport and I asked my manager if we could have a meeting. He knew I just came back from Las Vegas, he wasn’t particularly surprised about the marriage decision. However, he didn’t expect the news that I was now moving to Beijing.
I was moving to a country that I haven’t visited before. I didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t speak the language. A country that scores at the top of the most difficult places to live and work in the world. The goal was to find a new career path and I was excited about it, especially about the fact that everything was going to be different.
What happened in China?
Originally from Sweden, Elsa Medin relocated to Shanghai four years ago to study Chinese. She decided to stay in China and did her bachelor degree in international business. With her motto being “If I cannot find the path, I will create it!” she launched Spare Leash right after graduation. Elsa has a dog named Betsy, a schnauzer adopted in Shanghai in October 2016. She also fosters dogs.
Erin Leigh studied public relations, advertising and applied communication at Western Michigan University. She came to China after graduating from college. She has been living in Shanghai for over five years, working in PR and marketing, before co-founding Spare Leash. Erin has Oliver (labrador mix), Betty (mini schnauzer), and Max (terrier mix). They used to be foster animals, but she ended up adopting them. Erin usually fosters one more dog every month. She also rescues kittens; she bottle-feeds them and looks after them while searching for adopters.
Spare Leash is dedicated to making life easier for pets and pet owners by providing loving and trustworthy pet sitters in Shanghai. Their services are safe, reliable and cage free. The company was founded in Shanghai, in 2016. In the same year, Spare Leash was awarded by Time Out Love Shanghai for Lifestyle Service of the Year.
How Spare Leash started?
Elsa: It began in 2016 when I wanted to adopt a dog from the street in Shanghai. I was still a student, and I was going traveling for a whole month. None of my friends could take care of him. Finally, I didn’t adopt this dog. However, I started to think how we can all help each other looking after pets when we travel. I had an idea, and I spent a few months thinking about Spare Leash and how I can make that happen. I had mutual friends with Erin. She was facilitating pets’ adoptions in Shanghai.
Erin: One day, Elsa texted me out of the blue, saying: “I need to talk to you. Meet me for lunch”. We met at one of my favorite restaurants, Kommune. Elsa told me about her idea. It was also a part of her university project.
Elsa: I had a class called Entrepreneurship, and that’s how I started to look at it from a business perspective. My initial idea was a pet hotel, but I wasn’t 100% happy with that and kept on brainstorming. I went to Australia for a month, and because I didn’t adopt the dog, I was thinking about it during the whole trip. I was doing my research, writing down my ideas and a business plan. When I came back, I met Erin.
Erin: Elsa nearly had a business plan and the avenue laid out, as well as the name and the logo. Right away I said: YES. The very next day we were in my living room, my three dogs were running around, and we were starting the business. It was around early April. I had just quit my job in PR.
Elsa: I was in the last semester of my Bachelor’s degree majoring in business. I had in my final exams. My final thesis was about the WeChat business, so I was going to many business events and learning from hands-on entrepreneurs.
Erin: We first built a website, which took a month. Then we had a launch party – a charity event co-organized with Best Friends China.
Elsa: We got our first client during this event. The first interviews with sitters happened in Erin’s apartment.
How to volunteer and engage with a local community during your busy life abroad? #AddingValue series
Tiziana Figliolia is the Sr. Vice President, Global Business Operations and Finance at PTC. She is also the President and Board Member of International Professional Women Association (IPWS) in Shanghai, and a speaker on the topic of gender diversity, equality and women empowerment (Women TEDx Shanghai Salon, Shanghai International Forum on Women’s Development).
Tiziana is a global leader with 20 years of experience working with technology companies publicly traded and startups, with a wide range of strategy, planning, finance, customer support, sales & operations, R&D, and business partnering related responsibilities. As a native Italian and after graduating in Economics, Tiziana realized that moving to the USA was the right choice to springboard her career. Being a naturally curious and open minded person, Tiziana relocated a few times with her family and progressed her career around the world. Currently, she lives with her husband and son in Shanghai, a city, which she finds the most international and cosmopolitan from all the international cities.
International Professional Women’s Society is a non-profit organization that provides professional women with different platforms to connect and foster personal and professional growth. IPWS has a community reach of more than 2000 women.
Tiziana talks with Coachify about her motivations to volunteer, engage with a local community and empower professional women, as well as how it helped her to live a fulfilled life. One of the lessons we can learn from her is: choose a volunteering project or community that resonates with your life vision and passion.
Tiziana, how did you become interested in IPWS?
After working for some time in China, and completing my MBA, I felt there was a void in my life, which needed to be filled. I’ve accomplished a lot professionally, I have a great family, but I needed more to fulfill my purpose. More than the traditional work/life balance, I believe in living an integrated life where professional, personal (family) and social (giving back to the community) are interconnected and a measure of who we are, what we do and how we accomplish our life goals. These are three very fundamental parts of who I am. At the time I felt that the social aspect was incomplete. I asked myself: How do I give back? How do I make an impact on the community? I started to look around, and when my friend Margot invited me to an IPWS event, I joined. I enjoyed the crowd and the ambiance of the event and worked my way to join the Board of Directors and become the President of the organization, now for the past four years. IPWS was and still is an excellent fit in terms what I was trying to achieve.
Yolanda vom Hagen is originally from Düsseldorf, Germany. Her photographic main focus is on interior, industrial and documentary photography. She studied photography and design at the University of Applied Science Dortmund and the Beijing Film Academy. She was commissioned as the official press photographer of the German Pavilion at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Yolanda is fluent in German, Chinese, and English, which enables her to work independently in most parts of the world.
Yolanda sees herself as a preservationist of humanity’s current lifestyle and being. Her vision is to capture this generation’s contemporary environment for future generations.
Yolanda, when did you discover your passion for photography?
When I was a little kid my mother gave me a camera to take some pictures while I traveled with my brother on our own. After we would come home, my parents would develop the pictures and I would have the memories from the trip. The preservation of my experiences gave me the ability to share with my parents what I experienced, seen, and done. I did not have an outlet for my deep need for sharing, but taking pictures gave me the ability to preserve something not only from my life but also from others’ lives. It became a way to communicate. For my eighteenth birthday, my father surprisingly gave me a proper camera. I started to play around with it. When I was nineteen I needed to decide what I want to study after high school. I looked at architecture, psychology, and photography and then tested all of them during my summer vacation.
How did you test them?
In Germany, we have something called Volkshochschule which is a summer school/ workshop program. I participated in one photography workshop. Another workshop was about architecture. I also interviewed an architect and I asked him about his job.
He said: “There are so many people studying architecture nowadays that you will end up behind IKEA’s desk selling furniture.” This, plus my fear of math contributed to my decision to choose photography rather than architecture. I thought this would give me the ability to meet, communicate and work closely together with people, which is what a psychologist also does… However, photography gives access to a variety of different topics and fields I can work in. My father had ten or fifteen jobs in his life. I thought photography might give me the option to travel, see different cultures, work with different people and update myself to fulfill my need of learning and steady creative and personal development.’
Your father had so many jobs throughout his life. You picked up one job, which has so many jobs in it.
Exactly. There are so many fields I can work in. It took me some time to figure out my skills set in photography. The studying aspect made me really confused about which field of photography I want to work. I’ve failed a lot. Every single semester I had to redo my work two or three times. Only interior photography was OK. And there … we are coming back to architecture.
Adding Value, Coaching, Consulting, Human Resources, Leadership, Location independent, Modern Career, Relocation
What do coaching, opening a new café, and creating a time saving app have in common?
Too difficult to answer?
How about this one: what do all the above have in common PLUS establishing an internet shop, volunteering in Africa and running photography workshops – all at the same time?
As a career coach, I might be slightly more attuned to these ideas I hear literally every day – from my friends, acquaintances, and clients. What is this all about, you might ask. Is it about who has the best idea? Who is the most creative? Maybe who can execute something and bring it to life? Or perhaps about picking and focusing on just one idea? I can see something on a much deeper level: people desperately long to add value to the world and be truly useful to others. When others around me say ‘I want to open a vegan bed and breakfast’ or ‘I want to create a job search app’ or ’I want to be a life coach,’ I hear “I want to add value.” They want to change the world – or at least help improve parts of others’ lives. At the same time, we would like to use our unique talents, be creative, have fun, and earn for living (except, of course volunteering). Earning while doing something valuable and enjoyable seems to be the trickiest part. I think many of us still believe that they can not earn well while doing something they love. Others think they first have to sort out their own careers and financial security and only THEN they can start adding value and changing the world.
Is adding value and helping others a luxury you can only afford after you yourself become established and successful?
Last time you knew, I chose to come back to Prague and join a teaching startup company (I had to turn down an international company position due to them not being able to sponsor my visa once I was offered the job) in hopes of finding more of an international role in the future. Fast forward six months… The job turned out not to be what was discussed during the interview and also I realized it is not something I love doing. After some disagreement about working after hours, I finally had to put in my notice. With the help and support of Coachify, I gained a clearer sense as to what I was looking for in that moment and I wouldn’t settle for something else unless absolutely needed!
I looked at the regular local job websites here in Prague on a daily basis and nothing truly caught my eye – then I was directed to an organization called Internations which is a great site to meet other expats and network. I decided to look at its job forum and there were a few jobs I was quite interested in, including the one I have now. Within this job description, there was one thing I didn’t have at all, “french speaker,” but I thought why not apply anyway? I had nothing to lose. So I did – I heard nothing for a few weeks but then I was contacted by my current boss. She had asked the organization if french was truly needed for this role and in the end, they agreed that it was only nice to have. She immediately pulled my CV and called me – I got the job that day. Lesson: you just never know.
I say all of this to encourage you to:
- Keep going even if things seem fuzzy or you have lost sight of the vision – stay hopeful!
- Apply for a job even if you don’t have EVERYTHING on their wish list – it truly may not matter in the end and it could change your whole direction
Talk to people like Coachify who can help direct and encourage you – sometimes friends and family have your best intentions but they are afraid that you will get hurt so they might offer more discouragement than you need . Trust yourself and your intuition.
So here on I am…it is the first day on the new job today. I ended up working both jobs in June so that was a busy month but now I am in full gear with this new position. I am not writing this to tell you that the perfect job landed in my lap – but it is the perfect next step. I do struggle because I want to do so many things! My mind literally changes all of the time in terms of career direction (read Beata’s article about ‘the grass is always greener’ HERE – very me). But I am learning that having that type of mindset is okay and I can actually use that to my advantage – especially this day in age where job changes are actually accepted and expected.
On a personal note, I am still in a long distance relationship – and it’s thriving. We have been together for close to ten months and have seen one another on average twice per month. Not too bad – there are definitely hard moments but we have chosen this and we DAILY choose one another. That’s it. We make the moments count and when we are together, we just live life. And the best part? We get to build our friendship, which we both value the most for the long haul. One vision that is becoming clearer – building enough skill sets to work location independent so when the timing is right, the transition to London (or somewhere new together) will be a lot easier… Stay tuned.
Thanks for journeying with me as always! I always love that you are here with me.
Some people just love change. They live, breath and talk change. Let me call them “the grass is always greener on the other side” type of people. However it is important to mention that I have in mind people who don’t just simply talk or dream about “the other side” – they really go for it. One day they mention that they are ready to relocate and the next thing you see is an invite for a leaving party. Or maybe they reveal to you that they don’t get along with their boss and are considering to put their CV out there. The next time you meet them they have already joined a new company. Let’s say you have recently changed your job, but things are not going as you expected and you are really disappointed. You say: “It is not what I have imagined, but now, since I made this change, I need to stick around. I can’t just run away all the time” – “Why not?” will say your “the grass is always greener” friend, being genuinely surprised that you don’t see a solution. It’s so simple, just make a change. It didn’t work out? Make another change. That’s their motto. If you have these type of friends, it is never boring to be around them, as they are always up for something. And of course it seems all of the adventures in the world are happening to them. But what to do if you are this person?
I have put together some tips and lessons learnt from my own experiences and from observing people similar to me. Yes, I am a change loving person too. After countless job and place changes myself, I can say that I somehow learnt to manage it in the way that it doesn’t affect my career development and happiness. I have also learned that changing everything doesn’t have to be the best option.
It’s not an easy decision to pack your belongings and leave your native country. I know I wasn’t the first one and won’t be the last one. However, coming from a small Mediterranean island having to fly to start a new life to a destination that takes more than an hour to reach is a big change. You must keep in mind that the size of the whole Maltese archipelago is 316 km² (Prague alone is 496 km²).
People move from one country to another for various reasons, mine was based on two – love and job opportunities. My partner of 4 years comes from Prague and after her contract in Malta expired we evaluated our situation in Malta and looked at the possibilities in Prague and here we are.
In my articles I will be sharing my views on life in Prague. My experience as a newbie expat and an islander living in a landlocked country.
In my first weeks in the capital of Bohemia I noted the following:
No Sea No Beaches
When I meet Czechs and they ask me where I’m from, I tell them Malta. They ask me why I decided to move to Prague and give up on the beaches and the sea. Let me provide a clearer picture to the reality – most of the jobs in Malta at executive or managerial level are 9:00 to 17:00. A day in the office during a heat wave drains your energy and after work you wouldn’t have enough energy to enjoy going to the beach. There’s always the weekend! I feel you stating. If you enjoy spending your relaxing days on a beach of 2Km to 3Km stretch with another 1,999 others please be my guest, I tend to opt out.
Blessed public transport
Efficient, inexpensive and great service! The public transport in Prague is effective and many agree that it’s the most efficient way to travel across the City. Moreover, the Lítačka is very convenient and provide different public transport packages covering from 1 month to 12 months.
I am officially back in Prague. After a couple of months at home and figuring out what to do as you knew from the last post, the visa finally came through and then I actually had two job offers on the table. My previous job was still available to me, and then Amazon called me when was back in Oklahoma to see about starting in the HR department. What a whirlwind! I went through the process of both, but in the end, the door shut with Amazon due to my visa situation. In this moment, the answer was now very obvious and clear. So I officially accepted the other job and signed a 1.5 year contract that came with a signing bonus and more salary pay – WOW. Now, I am so thankful that I am back in the Czech Republic – refreshed and ready to go for round two 🙂 The first time was just practice, right?
The holidays were an amazing and restful (and much needed) time with family back near Tulsa. I am beyond grateful for the love that constantly surrounds me, and only hope I spread it to others wherever I go!