Name: Harrison Peacock
Studied: BA in Modern History and MSc in Marketing
Works at: Abercrombie & Fitch
From: Originally from East London but now lives all over China, mainly based in Chengdu, in Sichuan Province; Qingdao, in Shandong Province; and Shanghai.
Tell us a little about the global experience you had
In July 2013 I was given the opportunity to go and manage opening Abercrombie & Fitch stores in new markets either in the Middle East or China. Because there would be an opportunity to learn a new language in China and I had always been interested in Chinese history and culture, I chose the latter and left in August, first travelling to Beijing for three months of language training.
After language training I managed Hollister stores in Beijing, Tianjin and in April 2014, I helped open the flagship A&F store in Shanghai. I then moved to Chengdu to open the first international chain A&F store and have technically lived in Chengdu since then, but my work now takes me across China every week and frequently to the company’s Home Office in Columbus, Ohio.
My basic responsibilities in China are to assess and drive the business for the A&F brand, ensure the local and expat managers inside of stores and support departments are developing well and help them further their careers. I also help with store openings, the company’s international language training program and creating content for the international social media channels.
What was the biggest barrier to taking this opportunity and how did you overcome it?
Leaving my family behind. My mother was very ill when I was leaving and I also have a ten year old half-brother and seven year old half-sister on my father’s side so it was very hard to face missing them growing up, especially with the internet restrictions in China and the cultural restrictions in the Middle East.
I asked my family for advice on this and my Dad said that I may never get another chance to do something this amazing again and that nobody would doubt my decision as long as I got everything from the opportunity as I possibly could and made as much time as possible to reach out to home. My mother said that she would never forgive me if I didn’t go!
Was it difficult to fit in with a new culture?
Arriving in Beijing on my first day was like waking up in a new world. As soon as I got to the airport, I was shuffled into a police station because a guy who’s taxi I was about to get into, at a legitimate taxi stand, was a wanted criminal! After spending my first two hours in China in a police station giving witness statements, I still wasn’t ready for how different the country would be and after nearly two years, I am still integrating.
Sometimes it is a real challenge to be so far away from home and have to constantly adapt to different cultures and behaviours, especially at times like waiting for a delayed flight in a crowded airport or trying to get on the metro. Living in deep China, I am also one of the only foreigners that most people see so I have to be very aware of my own behaviour and mood at all times!
Having said that, the challenges that you have to face daily are completely worth it for the experiences and opportunities I have had from being out here.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working abroad?
Firstly being able to communicate with and learn about a completely different culture is amazing. I never thought I would even be able to travel to China, let alone spend most of my day speaking Mandarin!
Being able to travel to new places so quickly and cheaply is also a massive bonus. In the last year I have been able to see Singapore, Thailand, Sanya, tonnes of Chinese cities and America basically every month!
Did you know the language before going and how did you deal with the language barrier?
I did not speak a word of Mandarin before I came to China and upon accepting the role I was advised not to start trying to learn until I got into the country because I would pick up bad habits. Being able to say my first address upon arriving at the taxi stand/police station in Beijing would have helped massively though.
How did you fund your trip?
My company offered me financial support to come out here and I was given a better contract. I sold my car and some things that I wouldn’t need any more in the UK to save money for extra support but my company helped me massively.
Have you got any advice for other students considering a global opportunity?
Challenge yourself to stay out of your comfort zone as much as possible but don’t be afraid to have one. Try new foods and new experiences that you wouldn’t want to or be able to try at home. Find whatever it is that you relied on to relax back home, be it a sport, the gym, a club etc as quickly as possible in your new surroundings but push yourself to try new things whenever you have the chance.
Try not to just make expat friends but make local friends as well and approach each challenge with as open a mind as possible. Be patient or quickly force yourself to learn how to be! Stay in contact with your friends and family at home but don’t solely rely on them for emotional support because if you face tough times away from home and only have them to help, you will quickly want to go home.
How did taking a global work opportunity help your career prospects?
I am really enjoying my role in China and find that I am regularly picking up new responsibilities or having new experiences. Because of my success with the language, I have received a lot of different opportunities, some complimenting or running alongside my current career and some that would require me to leave my current position.
In London I only really had 3 choices: I could accept a role in the finance and trading industry from an internship I completed after my second year at university. I loved the allure of the salary but I really found myself constantly bored at the internship and didn’t think there was much job security or enjoyment to be achieved. Other than that I continue working in a role that was solely retail focused or take a different basic role in marketing which invariably would have required me to start by cold-calling.
What is your favourite food from your host country?
Tie Ban Do Fu (Iron pot tofu). I didn’t even touch tofu before I left for China but I eat it every week now.
I also eat Sichuan hot pot every day, especially because of the mala (spicy and numbing) peppers.