It can be difficult to sum up the takeaways from living abroad. Here are 8 lessons learned while living in Shanghai.

A few months ago, I wrote about the ways that living in China has made you better at life. Consider this the second half of that column, as there are certain lessons that you learn while living in Shanghai. Coaching challenges us to look at our experiences and identify the takeaways from the lessons so that the learning moves us toward growth.

1. No is Rarely No 

More often than not, there is a way to figure out how to get to yes. Maybe that means going back the next day and asking someone else or sending a Chinese friend who can get beyond mei ban fa. Sometimes, it’s a matter of talking to someone in your local office instead of someone in corporate that has never been to China. Regardless of the path, you’ve learned that no is more like maybe.

2. Yes Isn’t Always Yes

You’ve walked away feeling fairly confident that you’ve reached an agreement, only to realize that you were completely mistaken or you brought your dog to the restaurant last weekend, but she’s banned from brunch today. Just like no, yes can vary from day to day or person to person. You’ve learned to take the yes while you can get it and not look back.

3. There’s Always Room for Negotiation

You learned quickly that there is space to negotiate prices at places like the fabric market. A lesson that may have surprised you is that there is room for negotiation in almost any situation. While it initially felt strange asking for a lower price on a bicycle at the store, you’ve become skeptical that the list price is actually the last price and have learned that it doesn’t hurt to ask.

4. Wave the White Flag

Rather than pretending you have it all together, you’ve learned to ask for help. Whether you need things, like a pie pan for a holiday dessert or people, like your neighbor to pay your ayi when you forgot to leave her money, you can’t do it all. You aren’t afraid to call in the troops for reinforcements and are thankful for your WeChat network, rather than embarrassed to ask for support. 

5. Circle the Wagons

When you see a friend send up the distress signal, you are quick to offer to help. You’ve had food poisoning and know that delivering a ginger ale and flowers goes a long way when you can’t be more than stumbling distance from the bathroom. You coordinate with friends to help when disaster strikes and you’ve learned the meaning of “your friends become family” when your family is thousands of miles away and your friends are at your door within the hour.

6. Karma Matters

Rather than arguing, demanding to be right and leaving a wake of unhappy people behind you, you understand the value in leaving some money on the table in order to be able to come back to that table later. You’ve learned that their time (and yours) will come and you trust that it will all come back around.

7. Be Outside While You Can

There’s a reason Yongkang is packed on the first sunny day of spring. You’ve learned that there are plenty of bad air and bad weather days, but when the skies clear and the AQI gods smile down on Shanghai, you better move it or lose it. Blue-sky days are rare and are made for sitting outside. You’ve learned to enjoy the good weather while you can and seize the opportunity soak it up.

8. It’s a Small World, After All

Whether you randomly meet someone who knows your best friend or you see someone from another time and place in your life, the world is small. And the expat world is even smaller. You’ve learned to take comfort in this as you say goodbye during the yearly repatriation migration, as goodbye isn’t really ‘goodbye’, it’s ‘until we run into each other again in some other part of the world.’ 

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