The ladies behind Thrive Beijing: Canadian Lisa Alleyne, Jamaican Nichole Alexis, and Boithabiso Mokoena from Frankfort in the Free State.Picture: Supplied
The ladies behind Thrive Beijing: Canadian Lisa Alleyne, Jamaican Nichole Alexis, and Boithabiso Mokoena from Frankfort in the Free State.Picture: Supplied

South Africans are thriving in China

By Oomphi Time of article published Jun 21, 2018

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Bontle Molosiwa had a degree in corporate communications from the North West University, but got tired of the rejection e-mails that filled her inbox when she tried to find a job.

She envisioned herself working for one of the government departments or alongside big players in the corporate world as a corporate communications or public relations officer.

But one rejection after another eroded the little hope she had of landing her dream job or any job for that matter.

“I was applying for everything, both government and big corporate jobs in public relations, marketing, sales and communications because my undergrad covered everything from journalism to corporate.

“I was hoping someone would give me something. I had dreams of giving fresh ideas to the government, but you know how developing countries have nothing to offer their graduates,” says the 22-year-old from Bokone village in Mahikeng.

While waiting for a job, she decided to enrol for an honours degree, and it was while busy with her studies last year that she considered China. She had had enough of the rejection letters and wasn’t prepared to sit at home doing nothing once she graduated.

“It’s such a pity that our country is losing its most precious assets - which are fresh ideas from universities,” says Molosiwa, who now works as a nursery school teacher in China.

However, for two other South Africans who are working in China, Boithabiso Mokoena and Esther Moiloa, it wasn’t not finding employment that pushed them to move tens of thousands of kilometres away from their families.

Both women had worked in the fast-paced world of marketing and desperately needed an escape from it.

When she was freshly graduated, with a corporate communications degree from the University of Johannesburg, Mokoena’s father suggested she try teaching as she had struggled to get a job after her internship ended. But she would have none of it.

“I was so angry at him. Everyone in my family is a teacher, and I never wanted to be a teacher,” says the 28-year-old from Frankfort in the Free State. But three years later, following a stint as a marketing manager at an advertising company, she was on a flight bound for Beijing, ready to start working as a teacher.

“I hated my job, and I got tired of working in corporate, so I decided to come here.

“I love travelling, and I’d always wanted to work abroad, but every time I searched, the one thing that always popped up was au pair jobs. I then signed up with I2I (online teacher training course), and one day in 2015 I was like, why not? I made the decision in April, and in August I was in China,” she says.

Her mother was excited and told her to “go out there, have fun and see the world”. But her father was apprehensive, especially because it was soon after a South African woman (a police officer) was arrested for drugs in Hong Kong.

Her plan was to stay on until her contract ended then move on to Japan but three years on, she has integrated into the Chinese community so well that she has even started an events company which hosts brunches every month to create what she describes as “the Maboneng type of vibe”.

“I missed places that had the vibe that I like. That’s how I started Brunch last year. I missed places like Maboneng, so I did this for a selfish reason. We are young people, and we work hard, but we also want to have some fun,” she says.

Mokoena approached the owner of The Bookworm, a bookshop-cum-bar-cum-events space and they formed a partnership which provides room for young expats to mingle and reminisce about home while dancing to familiar music and eating familiar food. The location was also perfect - Sanlitun, a vibrant area for shopping, restaurants, bars and the arts.

“The Bookworm is a very relaxed space. They host us and provide food and drinks, and they give me 45% of what they make. I asked three of my DJ friends - one Chinese, one South African and the third one from Ukrainian - to play music, and another photographer friend to take pictures,” she says.

Another business venture for Mokoena came by chance after she met and clicked with Canadian Lisa Alleyne at a women’s networking gala event in 2016.

The two of them, along with a Jamaican friend, formed Thrive Beijing (www.thrivebj.com), an online platform that profiles young professionals thriving in Beijing, helps professionals network or draw attention to their businesses, as well as highlighting places to see and events never to be missed.

“I’m surrounded by people who are doing amazing things, so I’ve been motivated to work harder.

“After coming here, I became fearless. I was like, I’ve got nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is for people not to show up, and that wasn’t gonna kill me. Because we are very diverse, it’s not easy to please everyone. But I can’t remember a moment where I’ve been frustrated. There are so many opportunities that if you are open to exploring you’ll go very far,” says Mokoena, an English teacher by day, and an events organiser and blogger after hours.

Moiloa had a job many young South Africans would consider a dream job - a company that links corporates with thought leaders, comedians, motivational speakers and top athletes for events. But a year and a half into the job, “I was feeling... but 9 to 5 is not for me,” she says.

Her childhood dream had always been to be an actress but her grandmother “was like not in this house”.

Having studied marketing and realising that it was not as fulfilling as she had hoped, a phone call to a friend who was studying medicine in China at the time opened her eyes to a world of opportunities - teaching English while travelling around the Asian continent.

“The next day I was on the internet. I Googled teaching jobs in China and four months later I was here,” says the 26-year-old from Diepkloof, Soweto.

However, that wasn’t before her grandmother took her to various family meetings - one in KwaZulu-Natal, and another in Zeerust in the North West - trying to get elders to “talk some sense into your child”.

“My family thought scams, saying ‘You’ll get to the airport and find there’s no such school’, ‘What will you eat... the Chinese eat dogs’.

“My grandma even called priests for me. I had to call my friend to check the school out and then call my family to reassure them. My mother was very supportive though. I also prayed a lot for all to go well,” she says.

Moiloa arrived in Beijing, China, in September 2014 and other than being put off by people who loudly cough up and spit phlegm on the streets, she took to China like a duck to water.

She loves Chinese food, she can speak Mandarin fluently and is currently attending classes to perfect her Chinese character writing skills.

“Picking up languages is not too hard for me. From a young age, I’ve been speaking Zulu, Xhosa, Setswana, Swati. I speak all South African languages except Tsonga. I understand Venda and speak it a bit. In high school, I learned French. So I learned to speak Chinese from the children I teach, from cab drivers, and colleagues,” she says.

She teaches science to grades one to three and debating to grades 10-12 at the Limai Chinese American International Education School.

When schools close for holidays, she travels a bit around China or neighbouring countries before travelling home to spend time with her family.

“We get two long holidays, so I go home twice a year, but I also travel a bit. I’ve been to Hong Kong, Vietnam and some European countries. I still want to travel so going back to South Africa is not on the cards for now,” she says.

She has gifted her mother and grandmother return trips to Beijing, so this coming summer holidays (June), they will be visiting her for the first time, and they’ll get a chance to experience China for themselves.

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