Meet my friend Ivah

Photos from Erica Knecht

This is my friend Ivah, we met when I was living in Shanghai. She is Indonesian and a wonderful ambassador to her country: kind, generous and proud of her origins. She has been in China for 10 years where she currently works at EF Education First as a Senior Digital Market Manager. She is married to our friend Stephane who is French-Chinese, and together they have two children, Zoé and Zachary. Today, she tells us what brought her to China, what she misses the most from Jakarta, how her husband’s and her cultural background affect them as parents…

Hi Ivah! Thanks for taking the time to share your story! Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to move to China?

Well, I was born and raised in Jakarta. My mother had an office job in an advertising agency while my dad worked many different jobs: he repaired aircons, ran a wholesale clothing shop and has been managing a furniture workshop for more than 10 years.

As a kid I attended catholic school, and managed to get into University of Indonesia where I majored in English literature. I had small jobs while studying: tutoring children, assisting teachers at the university and I had no problem finding work upon graduating. I continued teaching, did subtitle translations of American series and documentaries… Although I was already financially independent, I felt English wasn’t enough of a skill and decided to learn Chinese and therefore, go to China. My parents were supportive but couldn’t finance my studies so I sold my car and was of to Beijing. I enrolled in a local university and took intensive mandarin classes for the next 2 years. I was living frugally, and rarely went back to Indonesia in order to save money and study more. After less than a year I was really broke so I took on some English teaching jobs, while continuing to study.

I met my husband around that time (he was also attending mandarin classes), we were friends, then roommates, then not roommates, and only started dating after months of friendship. Eventually, after two years in Beijing and about a year together with Stéphane, he was offered a job in Shanghai and I decided to follow him. That’s when I started working for EF Education First.

What is a normal day for you now? And can you tell me a bit more about your job?

Our day starts around 7am to get everyone ready for the day ahead. My husband and I take turns in dropping our daughter to school, she is attending a bilingual school that teaches in Chinese and French. We take the metro, the school is only 4 stations away so it is very convenient. Our son stays at home with our nanny, and they pick up Zoé in the afternoons when school is over.

I go to work by scooter, it takes me about 20min. Car and bus drivers are not kind to bikes and scooters but Shanghai traffic is not very dense and very orderly compared to Jakarta.

I manage a small team, which is quite recent and very exciting. We are a very international team and our job is to create content relevant to English learning for 3 markets: Indonesia, China, and Russia. My day usually consists of reponding emails, managing 3 team members, attending meetings after meetings in order to oversee the content strategies for the 3 EF websites I’m responsible for.

I usually work until 6h30-7 so I am able to see my kids every mornings and evenings. Our nanny or my husband usually cook dinner. He is currently self-employed so is a bit more flexible with his working hours.

For a full-time working mother of two young children, I have a good work life balance. I live close to my work, my company is very family friendly (we have a breastfeeding room which I use daily for pumping, and playdates in the weekends when employees can bring their kids to play), we have a great nanny and my husband is also very involved in all aspects of our life as a family.

Do you miss Jakarta and would you like to go back?

For sure, my family and friends, the kindness of the people, the food, the climate (Shanghai winters can be very long and cold, with negative temperatures) but traffic is the reason why I can’t imagine going back anytime soon. My husband and I both want to work and balance that with our family. Spending several hours daily in the car would be too big of a sacrifice.

What do you like the most about living in Shanghai and what are the biggest challenges?

Shanghai is a very lively city. It has young and energetic vibe. The city itself has so much to offer, you won’t be lacking on activities to do with your family be it indoor or outdoor. Plus, both of my babies were born here. We have grown so much as a family, and so has our circle of friends. It’s always the people that can make you feel at home where you are in a foreign place. The biggest challenge is the pollution. On bad days, we normally stay indoors and turn on all air purifiers and I remind my nanny not to take the kids outside to play. Pollution will be one of the main reasons for us to leave this city one day.

Do you feel any difference between you and Stephane as parents because of your cultural background?

Oh yes, definitely. One example I can think of now is co-sleeping. I have co-slept with my own parents throughout my entire childhood as most kids do in Indonesia, and I love co-sleeping with my own children. Stephane on the other hand wishes our kids would sleep on their own, as it is usually done in France (French kids rarely sleep with their parents past their first birthday).

It’s not just our different cultural backgrounds, we also have different religious backgrounds and that impacts the way we approach certain topics (god, faith, death…). Having said that, I think we are pretty good at talking things out and agreeing on what is best for our children so I don’t see those differences as a problem, but as what makes our children’s upbringing richer and more interesting (btw, Ivah’s children speak French, English, Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesia!).

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