The Irishwoman selling sláinte to the Chinese in Shanghai

‘I’m the eyes and ears of an Irish brand in China, an emerging market for Irish whiskey’

Roisin Oates is based in Shanghai, promoting Irish whiskey

Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Roisin Oates, who is a brand ambasssador on the Jameson Graduate programme in Shanghai, China

Where are you from?

I was born in Dublin and moved to Roscommon when I was six. I loved growing up in a small community, where everyone knows each other and I’m still friends with people I went to primary school with.

When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?

I left Ireland in 2014 for China, as part of a year abroad work experience during my degree. I returned to Ireland a year later, and came back to China again in September 2016.

The day I was leaving Shanghai to return to Dublin for my final year in university, I remember looking out my apartment window at all the skyscrapers and thinking to myself, I know I’ll be back here soon.


What took you to Shanghai?

I’m currently in my second year of the Jameson International Graduate Programme, and I work mainly as a brand ambassador. You apply to the programme and you could be sent anywhere in the world, but with my language skills, China was the obvious choice. I’m basically the eyes and ears of an Irish brand here in China, an emerging market for Irish whiskey.

What does your working day involve?

My role touches on a lot of fields, I’m half in the office and half out and about, growing awareness of the brand, as well as tapping into what the current drinks trends are.

I do a lot of marketing, working closely with the team developing strategies to promote the brand. Jameson is a small brand here, so if you have an idea, the team will let you run with it. I love that element of my role, you can be creative, your ideas can become real. Of course, there is a lot of on the ground advocacy too, such as building relationships with bartenders and running events.

What career path did you follow to arrive at your current position?

I went to UCD to study commerce with Chinese, majoring in marketing. As part of my degree, it was a requirement to do a year abroad to improve my language skills, so we were sent to Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing is a really traditional city steeped in Chinese history. Chinese is spoken by almost all of the 21 and a half million people living there, so it offered me the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture.

The second half of my year abroad was spent in Shanghai which is a much more international city. Because of its place in the global business community, it’s an outward looking city, and you could get by without speaking Chinese.

How did you get the job?

I applied for the graduate programme in January 2016. To secure a place you have to do a video application, which is a good method because when you’re on the job, you’re always on stage. After that, there were several interviews and assessments with people from across the company, both in Ireland and on the ground here in China. It was May before I finally secured my place on the programme.

Are there any particular challenges you face in Shanghai?

There is that initial culture shock – the entire population of Roscommon and more lives in Jing’an, the area of Shanghai I live in. The pulse of the city is different from anything I’ve experienced before.

Doing business here can also be difficult to adjust to at first. Chinese philosophy, "Confucianism", can play major roles in doing business in China. There is a concept called guanxi, which is the relationships between people. From experience, I have found that people often say yes to things to be polite, even if they don't want to commit there and then, and this can lead to misinterpretation.

For example, if I’m throwing a party for bartenders to build brand advocacy, and I need specific numbers of bartenders to organise the event efficiently, a yes is not necessarily a commitment.

Do you work long hours?

My normal day starts in the office at 11am, working with the team, and then for the afternoon I am going to bars, and attending events. There’s something on every night of the week, from pop-up bars to film screenings.

Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?

I think working abroad will stand to me wherever my career takes me. China is the fastest growing economy in the world and is so quick paced. Working abroad gives you more rounded and varied experience compared to if you spend your whole career in Ireland. I can apply this wherever I go.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career abroad?

See what is available to you in other countries, keep your ear to the ground and you never know what you might find. I have friends working all over the world in amazing places like Dubai, New York and Beijing, all through researching at home in Ireland to see what opportunities are out there.

Having a second language is a bonus if you want to work abroad.

Networking is as important as ever, particularly in this digital age. It’s important to keep your LinkedIn up to date and present a professional image of yourself to the world.

Are there any other Irish people in your business/social circles in Shanghai?

There are lots of young Irish people over here, three of my colleagues are Irish. Recently I attended a Christmas event with about 50 Irish people. There are GAA clubs over here too, so I’ve built up a good community through that. That’s how I’ve met most of my Irish friends. There are so many people here working for Irish companies in the Chinese market. There are huge opportunities out here to fly the Irish flag and represent the business community abroad.

What is it like living in Shanghai in terms of accommodation, transport, social life and so on?

There aren't the same stresses for young people here as there are at home. For example, the housing shortage is on everyone's mind in Dublin. There are high rise apartment building everywhere in Shanghai, which is very different to at home. There are also lane houses, or longtang, which are really cool, and there are many other remnants of Chinese culture around the city, which is very nice.

There is an extensive metro system. Scooters are everywhere, and I have my own branded scooter which is really handy as in my job I’m always travelling from one place to another.

The social life is lively and diverse. There is something for absolutely everyone whether you want to meet people who are into jazz or hurling, and because it’s such a large bustling city, you are always discovering new and exciting places to hang out.

Where do you see your future?

In the near future, I can see myself travelling more to other countries to work. Shanghai is so much fun, but I would love to get experience in a mature market for Irish whiskey, or another Irish brand. I recently visited Australia and I completely fell in love with the place, so that’s definitely on my bucket list, much to my mum’s dismay, as it’s even further away.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

Two words: the craic, you can’t get that anywhere else. The laugh you have with a bunch of Irish people is so unique and it can’t be replicated. It’s fun to be travelling abroad, but I can see myself settling in Ireland. Not right now, but I definitely hope that is where my future lies. ]