This guest article has been contributed by Tanja Roth, Technical Writer at the SUSE Documentation Team.
At SUSE, we have a long tradition of bringing together people from different locations and cultural backgrounds – open source simply is in our genes!
First Cross-cultural Challenge
When I started to work on the documentation for SUSE Linux Enterprise High Availability Extension in 2008, I became part of a multi-national and virtual team that works across different time zones. The initial contact to the Chinese colleagues in the team was established via the project’s mailing list. As trivial as this might seem, it may hold the first (cross-cultural) challenge as you want to address your colleagues correctly. But how to tell which part of a Chinese name represents the first name and which part belongs to the
family name? Traditionally, the sequence of names in China is family name, followed by the generation name (if any) and the given name(s). The mystery was solved soon: in our company address book, the sequence of the names follows the English tradition: the given name first, followed by the family name.
Only two or three years later, I met some of my colleagues from China (and from around the world) for the first time during one of the famous SUSE summer events in the Czech Republic. It was (and always is) a pleasure to finally put a face to a name – especially if you have been working together for some time already, but only know each other from mail,
instant messaging or phone conferences.
The R&D Exchange Program
To foster even more cross-team and cross-site networking between multiple SUSE locations, the SUSE Research & Development (R&D) department offers an exchange program: Each quarter several R&D employees can be nominated for the exchange program. After a specified process, they can visit a SUSE location of their choice for 2-3 weeks. Originally, the exchange program was a possibility for the Chinese colleagues to visit and meet their colleagues from other SUSE locations in person. Fortunately, the program has been extended meanwhile. To my surprise, I was among the lucky ones last year :). I was looking forward to visiting the Beijing office and to working from there for
It took some time to get the paperwork done (apply for the visa, book flight and accommodation etc.). After discussing with the Chinese colleagues which topics we wanted to work on during my time in Beijing, I was ready to leave in September 2016 – equipped with helpful tips by other colleagues from Europe who had already been to Beijing, a guidebook on what to see and do in Beijing, and a handful of Chinese words and phrases that I tried to learn in the weeks before I left. 😉
The Beijing Office
12 hours after leaving Nuremberg in the afternoon, I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport around 11:20 am local time the next day. From there, it was only a short trip to the Central Business District (CBD) of Beijing. The office is located next to the East 3rd Ring Road (one of the seven ring roads in this city that holds a total population of more than 21,700,000 inhabitants). This area belongs to the Chaoyang District, where also many foreign embassies can be found. The surroundings where very impressive – as was the view from the office on the 36th floor, next to the CCTV Headquarters (China Central Radio
and Television Tower).
As I already knew some colleagues from previous meetings in Europe, I recognized some familiar faces among a bunch of new faces that I was introduced to. The office in Beijing currently consists of 11 teams, among them Research & Development, Sales, and Customer Care. Some of the Chinese colleagues use English names as first name (in addition to their
Chinese given name), which makes it easier for foreign visitors to remember and pronounce the names. Chinese is a tonal language, which means that many words are differentiated solely by tone (pitch). Thus, trying to pronounce Chinese words and names can be a challenge as the difficulty is to use the right tone for each syllable. 😉
With me being a member of the SUSE documentation team, the main topic during my stay in China was to share knowledge about writing skills in general and technical writing in particular. In the first week, I gave a general introduction to the SUSE documentation team during a Lunch and Learn session. I presented the team members and tasks, plus the processes and tools we use in our daily work. During the second week, I gave writing trainings for individual teams, each including a hands-on session with an example text. The task was to analyze the text for typical issues, and to restructure and rewrite it according to the principles covered in the first part of the training. All teams came up with good proposals on how to improve the text.
On the last day of my stay in the Beijing office, I joined the openSUSE Leap 42.2 Beta pizza party, after installing and testing the Leap Beta version and after reporting some bugs.
Major Learnings Along the Way
Talking about food: Food is an important part of Chinese culture. In China, you traditionally have three warm meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So during the two weeks in Beijing, I had plenty of opportunities to try the local cuisine, which substantially differs from the “Chinese food” you get in Europe. The habit of sharing dishes and the huge variety of flavors that will be selected and combined for each meal is a wonderful experience! One of the highlights was a traditional Hot Pot dinner with hand-crafted rice noodles – similar to what you can observe in this video.
Another thing that never ceased to amaze me was the hospitality and friendliness of the people I encountered (even outside of the ‘SUSE family’). The colleagues in the office were really kind and helped me with a lot of things, for example, with buying a Beijing Transportation Smart Card, which you can use on the subway and city buses. The subway in Beijing is the fastest means of transportation and a good way to avoid frequent traffic jams. It is also an excellent example of how to organize public transportation in a way which makes it easy to use for foreign visitors who might not be able to read or understand the local language!
On the week-ends, I went to see some major historic sites in and around Beijing like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Olympic park or the National Museum of China. I also enjoyed going to the parks or public places where you can listen to music performances, see (or join) people doing Taijiquan (tai chi) or ballroom dancing. As some parts of the Great Wall of China can be reached by a 60-70 minutes drive from Beijing, the
colleagues were so kind to also organize a trip to this famous building on the week-end. I could not have imagined how steep some parts of the wall are. Therefore the term “climbing the Great Wall” is more than justified – breathtaking and unforgettable!
The two weeks spun way much too fast, but I still treasure my stay in China. It was a fascinating experience in many respects! Even after being back, I kept some habits that I adopted during my time there, like drinking hot water throughout the day. (Hot water supplies are available in many public places in China like the airports or the train
stations, for example).
From my point of view, the exchange program is a great opportunity to establish personal relationships and trust, which helps to create mutual understanding and better collaboration. I still feel blessed that I had the chance to be with the colleagues in Beijing for two weeks and I can only recommend to get to know them in person – they are really amazing!