Two worlds combine in Lillian Zhang: “I’m a Hamburg native by choice, but in my heart, China is my home,” she says in her open, positive manner with an aura of deep satisfaction. With childlike enthusiasm, but the know-how and professionalism of a specialist, she talks about her fascinating career path.
While she was still attending school, she already decided to go to Germany. The decisive factor for this choice was an uncle who already lived in Hamburg. After graduating at the top of her class, she initially studied German for three semesters at Qingdao University in China, whose German studies enjoys an excellent reputation throughout China. All courses were taught in German by Chinese professors – this was her first contact with the language of her chosen homeland. This was followed by a visit to the Studienkolleg at Martin Luther University in Halle.
She then moved to Hamburg to study business administration. Her Chinese upbringing of discipline has always helped her pursue and achieve her goals, she says: “I was such an overachiever because I felt that was the only way I could achieve my dream.”
Getting to know the country and its people as a priority
Years later, when she visits her childhood hometown, she notices letters that she had previously overlooked for years. In her school days, she had helped her mother at the post office. And there, in large letters, was the inscription “German Imperial Post”. The port city of Yantai was a territory leased by the Chinese Empire to the German Empire in the early 20th century. That was probably her first subconscious bond with Germany, Zhang says today.
Another stop on her life’s journey was Northumbria University in the UK, where she studied International Business Management. Her father had already traveled a lot for his job in international trade, Zhang explains. And so she always wanted to venture out into the world. That hasn’t changed to this day: “I still want to see the world. You can always expand your horizons. You can always learn new things and meet new people. The world is so big and so diverse.”
She has particularly fond memories of the Media Ambassador Project, an exchange program for journalists organized by the Robert Bosch Foundation and the Hamburg Media School. As part of the Media Ambassador Program, Chinese fellows are able to work in German media companies, while German participants are able to work in Chinese media in exchange.
Genuine contact with the country and its people is a high priority for Lillian Zhang. She has dedicated herself with all her heart to the ideal of international understanding through this project. “I think no job can fulfill a person more than when you have this feeling that you are doing something meaningful, you have a very high ideal, and you bring people together. You help people realize their dream.”
From journalism to e-commerce
The journalistic approach in Chinese and German media is similar, but the style in Germany is sharper, more critical and opinionated, while Chinese reporting is more descriptive and “milder in tone”. In addition, there are established standard media in Germany, such as Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, or Bild, which remain constant over a long period of time, while news in China is becoming increasingly diverse and is strongly distributed via the messenger app WeChat.
After the media ambassador program was shut down, Zhang devoted herself to the “fascinating world of goods” following her business studies. For several years, she worked in e-commerce. “In 2014, cross-border e-commerce took off in China. Chinese people started buying foreign goods online on Chinese websites.” Luxury items such as branded bags and watches were of particular interest, she said. “This was a whole new world for me because I used to focus on media, on people, on nonprofit projects, and now suddenly this was all commercial and for-profit.” Due to the Covid pandemic and accompanying logistics problems, Zhang once again changed her focus.
In the meantime, she has been working in sales at the technology company ACSG + DELTA Systems for just under half a year: “My career changed from people to hardware.” Her work here is extremely factual, she says, and she learns how various components and cables are put together. Her multiple career changes don’t bother her. On the contrary. She has always enjoyed exploring a new field. “I would always follow my gut these days. I think that you should just follow your heart and have a job that fits your current life situation.” Juliane Scholuebbers