How a Mentor Matters in Transition

Recently I’m reading a book (“The Collected Works of Shanchen Xia”) written by my friend Prof. Shanchen Xia, who is a senior Chinese professor in law. We met in January 2014 when he was speaking at an event about “Shanghai Free Trade Zone” in New York. We have been keeping in touch since then, and now I already regard him as a good friend and respectful mentor, because he really helped a lot in my work and life transition from New York to Shanghai. He gave me this book as a farewell gift when I was leaving New York about 2 months ago, and hope I can get some lessons and inspirations from his rich life experiences in China and the US.

As I can conclude so far, this collection records the self-challenging progress in Prof. Xia’s life and professional experiences. Over a span of more than twenty years, Xia had worked as a business professional in international trade, an official in Shanghai municipal government, and a public servant to a teacher in Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

According to my understanding, the collection expresses his feeling and experience gained from academic achievement in law, economy and management teaching, research and legal practice. His suggestions of national policies and pursuit of truth and independence reflect his intellect, enterprise and responsibilities as a democratic party member who supports grand social construction and major reform.

Among the multiple chapters in this book, I’m most attracted to the section where he recalls and describes his travel and working experiences as an expat in the US decades ago. Because this is where we share similar life experiences, which makes me feel like that our paths have crossed before. He was living in New York for years to run a company with his colleagues on behalf of the Shanghai municipal government to promote business opportunities in Shanghai among the US companies and investors. The knowledge, courage, and intelligence he showcased in this working experience impressed me a lot, because I could relate to his experiences when I was working for a non-profit organization to promote China-U.S. business relations in New York. The difference is we were at different ages, life stages facing different challenges. But he was performing much better than me, not only in the expertise and professionalism, but also in the way that he overcame difficulties like languages, cultural conflicts, and business etiquettes.

Last month, he returned to Shanghai to attend a business meeting, and so we got a chance to meet again and have some meaningful conversations. He gave quite thought-provoking analysis and suggestions for my job search in China, as well as my future career path development. He encouraged me to gain years of working experience in China market, and then go back to the US to continue my work in helping Chinese companies and brands develop in the US market, especially in the field of public relations and marketing communications. Actually, this is exactly what I think when I decided to leave New York in the end of 2014. I do think myself need more real life working experiences and connections in China, which will help me become more savvy and confident in contributing to China-U.S. practice in the future, regardless of whether I will be based in China or the US. After the Chinese New Year Holiday, I will officially start working for a global PR consultancy in Shanghai to serve both multinational and local companies in brand marketing, and I’m quite ready to start a new journey in the new city. Transition is tough, but Mable told me it’s a valuable process for self-discovery and confidence building. I do believe in this, and I’m also sure I will achieve this.

Lee Zhang, Shanghai

Lee Zhang

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