Welcome to a land of untapped and unmapped opportunity

Updated: 2011-11-08 07:54

By Karl Arney (China Daily)

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Welcome to a land of untapped and unmapped opportunity

For a country that many in the West still believe to be strictly Communist, China certainly has no lack of surprise business opportunities, particularly for foreigners. This is something that should have been apparent to me before I even set foot in the country.

I never thought of visiting China before I first came to teach English in 2009.

Welcome to a land of untapped and unmapped opportunity

Yet between February and August of that year I turned in a late application, accepted a job in Zhengzhou (a city I had never heard of) and landed in Shanghai for a weeklong orientation program. A week later, I was teaching college students business English despite a BA in journalism and no prior experience in teaching or business.

That such a whirlwind process did not immediately show me the nature of possibility in this country reflects just how caught up I was in that gale.

It wasn't until after a year of acquainting myself with my new profession and the Chinese language that it occurred to me that I should try writing for this column, which I had already been reading for months. Yet one story about a crazy camping trip later, I was already on the verge of doing more with my degree here than I had done in the previous two years in the United States.

Suddenly, everything clicked.

This is the world's largest country, which just happens to be moving full-throttle through national development.

English is more important that ever, not only for students, but also internationally minded businesses and anyone trying to appeal to the massive influx of foreigners.

While Zhengzhou may not be a diverse powerhouse like Beijing or Shanghai, that just means there's even less English-language competition and more work to be done.

Writing for this column became a fun and rewarding part of my schedule.

By the start of 2011 I had added yet another side job to the list.

I had responded on a whim (and my girlfriend's suggestion) to an eChinacities.com listing for an English editor at a Chinese company in December 2010 and forgotten about it shortly after.

Within a month, though, I received a return call and set about editing all of the English-language documents for Shanghai Sourcing Project Consultancy Co Ltd, a company providing consulting and assistance to foreign and domestic companies planning to open factories in China.

The relationship proved fruitful, and I wound up essentially in charge of English-language marketing for the company.

One American friend co-founded the most Westernized bar in the city with his Chinese wife, while a French community member manages another.

A long-term Irish resident is one of the highest-level administrators at my current college's parent organization, and another Irishman is the principal of a school within the company.

This is to say nothing of the various people who come in for clear business reasons from the beginning.

And all of this is in Zhengzhou, a relatively small city in the grander Chinese patchwork.

It's no secret China offers a lot of opportunity for foreigners.

The continuously growing number of them entering the country is proof that word is out.

But many, like myself two years ago, come to teach, expecting to do so as a 10-month break from their "real lives".

The real secret is to tap the diversity of opportunities once you're here.

Come to China with even the slightest ambition, and there's literally no telling what you might be doing in a year.