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'Swedes are quite similar to the Chinese'

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Xiaodi Cai. Photo: Lisa Mikulski
11:14 CEST+02:00
A Chinese woman in Gothenburg explains how Swedes and similar to her fellow countrymen back home, and dissects the three phases of learning a language as a translator.
Even though she admits she has packed her suitcase many times over the past few years, Xiaodi Cai is firmly rooted to Gothenburg and has been since 2011. 
 
Armed with a media degree from London and a Swedish-born Chinese beau, she ploughed through Swedish For Immigrants (SFI), worked a stint at Volvo Cars, and then joined National Electric Vehicle Sweden (Nevs) as an Chinese Media Specialist.
 
The job allows her to follow her media-related interests as well as continue working as interpreter for the company - but the road hasn't been easy for the language specialist, especially when it came to the initial culture shock. 
 
“At first I was very much myself. I was loud. I had opinions. I spoke without thinking. Then I realized I wasn’t appreciated," she explains.
 
"The second phase, I tried to shut down and keep myself quiet. I tried to hide myself and pretend I was someone I was not. But then I wasn’t happy either. That wasn’t the real me. You know, you can be unhappy not because you are necessarily challenged by others, but because you are challenged by yourself. Third phase, where I am now, I am confident to be myself but I also understand why people act in other ways.”
 
She also classified learning Swedish as a three-phase challenge.
 
"The first phase of my learning, I was so excited to speak and learn the language. I thought I knew everything. But then I found myself having difficulties. I couldn’t always understand what my colleagues were saying," she explains.
 
"I found myself having some trouble to understand important points at meetings. Then I became very shy and embarrassed. That was the second phase. Now at my third phase, I take more initiative. I can be more honest. At fika I will speak and my colleagues will ask if we should speak Swedish or change languages. I say, ‘Yes let’s keep to Swedish'."
 
Cai adds that there are many similarities between the Chinese and Swedish cultures. “Swedes can be very shy and quiet. They seem to be detached from strangers. Chinese people also tend to stand back a bit. They are very careful.”
 
The biggest challenge in moving to Gothenburg, she says, was the need to build her reputation from scratch. In London or Shanghai, she explains, her past qualifications would be enough to get her in the door. 
 
"But in Sweden, what we have done or achieved in the past means zero. Here people have a different way of seeing things. So you have to persuade people to give you an opportunity to let you prove yourself. I think that is the most difficult part. It’s like trust. You can’t expect people to trust you in the first place."
 

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Cai’s advice for other expats: “Be to be honest to yourself. No matter how you are not appreciated by other people you have to trust your gut feeling that this is you. You should keep your good qualities. Of course you keep yourself open for improvements, but don’t give up. Your own personality is the bright side of yourself.”
 
"I packed my suitcase many times. But in the end I didn’t give up.”
 
"Be grateful. Good things take time. It’s the challenges and adverse experiences that make you a stronger person. So no matter if you are experiencing difficulties … remember, it is a very good learning day for you. You have learned to keep your feet on the ground. Every day you are here you are learning. You are becoming a better you." 
 
Lisa Mikulski

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