Arjan van der Oort.jpg
18 February 2019
Michael Eppelmann

"I live in a very fast-paced world"

The Netherlands, the UK, and Turkey – Arjan van der Oort has made a home for himself in many parts of the world. Two years ago, his new position as Head of Finance and Administration at Boehringer Ingelheim T.C.M. took him to China. While his oldest daughter is now studying in Canada, his wife and his two younger children undertook the adventure of the big move to China with him.


A guest feature.

Mr van der Oort, you've been living in China for two years now – was it the right choice?

Yes, I can recommend going abroad to virtually everyone. Although it might be overwhelming at first, you'll see that such a change in your life can be both a highly enriching and enjoyable experience. You learn so much and it also makes you recognise both the upsides and the downsides of your own country, so that you gradually start to see it with different eyes.


What was your initial impression when you got to China?

It was really overwhelming simply because it was so different – the language, names, food, smells – really everything was different. In China, I live in a very fast-paced world, and one that is highly complex. When you first arrive in China, you have to absorb this complexity at your own pace. It took me a little while. Then the months pass and things start to make more sense. It is then that you start to feel more comfortable.


Was it a difficult decision for you to move to China?

Not at all. For me, going to the UK was much harder than moving to Turkey or to China because it was the first time that I left my home country. So, as a family, we knew what we were signing up for. We also received a great deal of help from Boehringer Ingelheim. The relocation agents, for instance, helped us to find a nice place to live in Shanghai. From a professional viewpoint, the decision to go to China was an easy one: the position was both challenging and interesting.


In what way?

For starters, the Chinese market is huge and open to innovation, which offers many possibilities. Both the speed and the scale of projects are usually much greater than in many other parts of the world. This helps to achieve immediately tangible results, which can have an impact on Boehringer Ingelheim as a global organisation. That's why understanding the perspective of the Chinese market can be very helpful for Boehringer Ingelheim – and for your career.


What projects are you working on at Boehringer Ingelheim Shanghai?

As an example, we started the Stroke Rehabilitation Center. It's Boehringer Ingelheim’s first service-oriented entity and it was founded in China at the end of 2017. In addition, we're working on some other initiatives here outside the core business activities. For all of them, China provides a good ecosystem, the technological development and the market size we require.


Were there any Chinese customs that you had to get used to?

For Europeans, Chinese meals may seem a bit strange at first, such as chicken feet or duck tongue. But there are many dishes I enjoy – my favourite, for instance, is called Shanghai pork. Thankfully, restaurants usually provide pictures of the meals so that ordering is less of a challenge.


What about your private life? Has it changed since you came to China?

Our family life has definitely become more intensive in China. Especially at the beginning, when we didn't have much of a social network here. For example, we go out for dinner more often than we used to. But we've also found friends among other expats – I play football with them every weekend. Getting closely connected with locals has proved to be more difficult.


Do you feel at home in Shanghai now?

Yes, I do. My colleagues are very professional, which helped me immensely while settling in. They understand that foreigners like me who just got here need a bit of time to adjust. But I didn't find the cultural differences to be insurmountable, so settling in wasn't hard for me. The same is true for my children. Shanghai is a good place for families to live in.

"Understanding the perspective of the Chinese market can be very helpful for Boehringer Ingelheim – and for your career, says Arjan van der Oort. "
Michael Eppelmann

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