Saira Shahzad in Shanghai
I am a Girl Gone International because…
I was always meant to be international.
After university I always knew I was going to move abroad and my great fortune bought me to the wonderful city of Shanghai. I’m part of GGI, as you are only as great as the community you serve and GGIs help each other with whatever questions they have and everyone is included so it’s a pleasure to give back to something that I already receive from.
How in the world did you end up in Shanghai?
Back in 2011, I was working within the banking sector in London when we were in the middle of a recession and I was made redundant. I always knew I wanted to work abroad but I had simpler aspirations of Europe when the company I applied for suggested Shanghai. We are always being told back at home China is going to take over the world so I thought – great, let me be a part of this.
What was your first impression in this city compared to how you feel now?
Amazingly it has been 5 years as of May 2016 and time really has flown by. My first impression of Shanghai was how amazingly developed it is and I’m still amazed at the rapid rate of growth, even just with the recent metro expansion it has made it the largest in the world.
However, living here I now see that Shanghai is a lot more complex than just the shiny new buildings. There are Michelin starred restaurants here and maybe on the same road a “hole in the wall” noodle shop. So, how I feel about the city is that there is still so much growth remaining and that it’s so exciting to be a part of that change and expansion.
What is the biggest cultural difference you’ve noticed after you moved?
I wouldn’t say there are a lot of large differences but some smaller day to day ones. These differences can be in everyday exchanges like when you pop into the shops right through to types of business meetings. Also, the social norms that we hold in the West and here in Shanghai.
The example that always sticks out is when I went for a pedicure here. The assistant must of caught my skin and it bled. As this happened she started to smile and attend to the cut and as she fussed over me her smile became broader which upset me. This triggered her to start giggling which was further upsetting to me.
At this point my Western friend explained to me that the assistant was actually embarrassed about the situation and apologetic but it’s common for that to be displayed by a smile and I supposed nervous giggle. We were both just not equipped to read the cross cultural body language in that situation.
Do you see yourself staying here for good?
When I moved I said to my family “hey, I’ll be back before you know it.” I was thinking 6 months tops and here I am onto me 5th year. I don’t think I will stay forever but you just don’t know! At least another few years here especially as we have started our own food company BYFO so we need to be here to make a real go of it. Then one more stay abroad, maybe another GGI location before moving home.
Do you speak the language?
Nope don’t speak the language. I really should make more of an effort to learn it.
What piece of advice would you give to a newbie here in Shanghai?
Learn the language when you first arrive as the longer you live without it, the longer you leave it the harder it becomes to learn. . Give Shanghai time. It’s a city with a great night life and sometimes people don’t see that it does have more to offer. So whatever your interests are, make sure to go out and continue to pursue them.
What is your favourite place to eat/drink/shop/explore in this city and why?
There are different favourites for different moods. Drinking is usually at a low key bar most probably in the Jingan area. When it comes to eating, one is spoilt in Shanghai. There are new places cropping up all the time. Maybe the GGI girls can pop by one of the many markets we attend with my business BYFO food and try our food.
What is the BEST and WORST thing about Shanghai?
Worst is probably the constant noise here – whether it’s the horns, the sheer loudness or the metro during commute time. Best thing about Shanghai is how amazingly safe the city is for the millions of people here. With the city being fairly young as a modern city, there is excitement just from people’s attitudes.
Do you think our lifestyle is genetic or the way we were brought up?
I am a child of immigrants, my parents moved to the UK from Pakistan in their 20’s and I suppose I did the same of moving again, ha! – full circle they left Asia and I returned. Wonder where the next generation will go off to?
Name three things you crave from your homeland that you are currently living without?
Being here for so long I’ve sort of gotten used to being without to really say I crave so much. Mums cooking and British Radio not just the music which I can compile myself but the banter of the presenters through podcasts do a good job of making up for it. Finally British snacks just small things and the amount of variety.
Any juicy/scary/amazing moments you have experienced in Shanghai?
One night, my friends and I went on an open double decker tourist bus that my friend had rented for a private party. It was pouring rain down that night yet we were still on the top deck driving around Lujiazui in the evening after all the city workers had gone home.
We had the skyscrapers on one side and the Bund lights on the other side and the bus was full of friends and we were drinking away in the rain with the DJ continuing to play. Being in that moment is a cherished memory. I have had my own love story of Shanghai. I met my fiancé here so stay tuned for those stories.
Who do you love most on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Blogs?
Sorry! Don’t use those social media channels.
Any links you would like to include or other info?
People can reach me if they want at firstname.lastname@example.org or Wechat ID: SairaShahzad01