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How ethical growth marketer Georgia Yexley launched her career in Beijing 

Mandarin Aspirations

Georgia Yexley spent five and a half years in China working with high growth tech companies including Mobike. She has now returned to London where she is Head of Growth at Beryl Bikes.

If you’ve ever been to cities like Beijing or Shanghai, you will have seen Mobike everywhere. Since launching in 2015 it has become the world’s largest shared bicycle operator, and is now a household name.

Georgia worked for Mobike in Beijing at the height of its fast-paced growth, and was integral to the international expansion of the company.

How did Georgia find these exciting opportunities and establish her career so effectively in China? Did she need to speak good Chinese for this work? We spoke to her to understand what helped her succeed.

Why go to China?

When looking for jobs after graduating with a degree in Philosophy, Georgia saw an advertisement for a role in China. She joked to her friends about applying, seeing herself going to China as “completely out of the realm of reality”. 

Little did she know that she would later find herself working at a series of early-stage startups in China, after moving to Beijing for a six-month digital marketing role arranged by an internship provider.

The reality of the decision I made only really kicked in the night before I left.

Georgia’s describes the build-up to heading to China as a whirlwind - within two weeks of accepting a job, she was on the flight to Beijing, leaving no time to think about the consequences. Her nerves finally kicked in the night before she left. Her flight was filled of “what have I done” thoughts, as she was heading to a country on her own where she knew nobody and did not speak the language.

I had zero experience of the language before I went.

Navigating daily life in China

Georgia’s nerves were quickly quashed on arrival, as it became obvious that, with the support of those around her, she would be okay.

As a seasoned traveller Georgia could also rely on her general communication skills to get by. She noted that hand gestures were a daily necessity for her! These communication skills helped her in all aspects of her life in Beijing, from ordering food to forming friendships and working relationships.

When travelling further afield, away from Beijing or Shanghai, there was also a learning curve in working out how to respond to the attention she received as a black woman. The reaction was even more pronounced when her mum visited and there would be queues forming to take photos and talk to the lady with long dreadlocks.

An English-speaker working in Chinese companies

In her daily work environment, Georgia was surrounded by people talking in detail and at speed in Chinese. Although she used English to communicate professionally, the majority of her colleagues spoke in Mandarin.

In order to thrive in this environment, Georgia trained herself to have a certain humility and was able to ask colleagues to explain something if she didn’t quite catch it. She focused on her listening skills in Mandarin and picked up on phrases she would hear often in the office.

While Georgia picked up most of her Chinese informally, she also attended lessons. After trying various settings for learning Mandarin, she eventually found that one-to-one lessons were most effective for her, as she preferred a continuous and structured approach.

The importance of relationships

Almost every role came from relationship building and what I learned from the previous role

Networking has been essential to Georgia’s success, both in China and when she came back to the UK. Her skill of building and maintaining relationships with a variety of people enabled her to get some incredible opportunities, and her ability to take something valuable from each experience has moved her from one adventure to the next.

As fashion journalist Babette Radclyffe-Thomas also noted, you never know where your next opportunity will come from. Georgia’s first role in marketing at a startup came after moving in with a French employee of a cloud computing startup.

When it turned out they were looking to expand internationally Georgia grabbed the opportunity with both hands; confidently pitching her skills to the CEO to get her foot in the door.

That was the first in a series of roles at early-stage companies that led her to the job at Mobike.

Can you have it all? Balancing Mandarin studies and your career

If I had any regrets of my time in China it's that I didn't study before I arrived or go into a language programme at the beginning.

Whilst working in China, Georgia became accustomed to the 996 work schedule - that is, working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.

Helping a red-hot startup like Mobike to become a global phenomenon doesn’t happen overnight. Georgia notes that her role at Mobike was closer to 24/7 and recalls having meetings at 4am as she was working with people from different time zones around the world. On her very first day she was asked “when can you come to Singapore?”

She regrets not studying Mandarin prior to arriving in China or before starting work, but once she was propelled into the fast-paced life of burgeoning companies, she unfortunately could not dedicate time to studying as well as working.

The benefits of speaking good Mandarin

Those people who had the better language skills had a richer experience and got a lot more out of their time there.

Although Georgia was able to very successfully navigate her way through life and work in China, better Mandarin skills can certainly enhance the experience. She mentioned how helpful it was to live with people who could speak Mandarin, particularly when speaking with their Chinese landlord.

The experience of a lifetime

I was only meant to be there for six months and it ended up being five and a half years in the end!

From stepping foot off the plane by herself to leaving with a long list of achievements under her belt, Georgia’s journey in China was full of excitement and growth. She looks back on her time in China fondly, having made lifelong friendships and had memorable experiences both in and out of work.

The Mandarin Aspirations Project

We aim to encourage and celebrate the learning of Chinese by sharing the motivations (why study Chinese), study experiences (challenges and rewards) and study outcomes (employability, confidence and intercultural skills) of Chinese language learners. We hope that these Mandarin Aspirations stories will encourage those of you already studying Chinese, and inspire new learners to join a growing and supportive community of Chinese language enthusiasts in the UK.