Interview with Carla Ferrero
Carla Ferrero went to China for 6 months to study Chinese and ended up staying 5 years. Back in London in 2016 she co-founded Ni-cons a personalized consulting service to help students and graduates land their dream job. In our latest interview Carla shares her experience and advice for people considering studying abroad.
Tell us about your personal experience studying abroad.
In 2009 after taking a bachelors degree in Chinese and Spanish I wanted to improve my language skills. You can only become so good at Chinese living in Italy! So I applied for a course in Beijing at a local university, which specialize in Chinese for foreigners. The original idea was to stay for 6 months, but I ended up going back for 6 more months to take the Chinese HSK certificate.
My motivation was that I wanted to be in a completely different environment and I was fascinated by the country. I also wanted a change from where I had grown up and have an adventure. I wanted to be able to live by myself, to be independent and I surely wanted a life less ordinary. China at that time was affordable, so was an easy decision.
What did your family and friends think?
Many people in my hometown see China as the end of the world. People normally haven’t been there and they don’t know what it is really like. There is quite a negative perception and they aren’t aware of the many positive things. In many ways it’s actually easier to move to China than to London, where I now live!
What did you learn from this experience?
In Italy we have this idea we are universally right. From the way we eat to the way we dress. While living in China I came to realise that there are so many options and different ways of thinking. I also realized I wanted to spend more time living abroad and that I liked the feeling of being a foreigner, starting from zero where no one knew me. Back home everyone knows everyone, so it was exciting to start again.
So what was your impression of China?
Chinese are interested and open to listen to new things especially from foreigners. Beijing is an international vibrant city with a multicultural environment. There were so many things to do, places to explore and food is fantastic! I went with three friends from Torino, but soon made friends in the classes from Spain, US, France, Denmark, Germany and outside of class China of course. Living on campus was a lot of fun.
What was the best bit of studying abroad?
I recommend to others going to study abroad that they go there with an open mind, don’t go there to make judgments. Meeting people from all over the world was special. We also made unforgettable trips within China in Sichuan province, the Great Wall, Mongolia and to Hong Kong and Macao.
What about the challenges?
When it’s going well it’s great. When it’s not, then things are complicated. China it can be very strict, bureaucratic, it’s overcrowded, messy and heavy polluted. It’s not the place to get in trouble or seriously sick!
So following your course, what happened next?
I returned home to Italy but coming back to the town where I grew up, I realised how much I wanted to go back to China. I applied for an internship offer in Shanghai and within one week I was back there! Crazy to think of it now. Within 6 months they made my role permanent and I ended up staying a few years in a consultancy firm. I was then working in a big local ad agency dealing with their international clients. It was a fantastic opportunity to manage a team of Chinese and I am grateful for everything I learned while working with them.
So how did you end up co-founding Ni-cons?
After 5 years, I finally had had enough of living in China. I knew I wasn’t going to return to Italy again. Italy is the best for lovely time with family and friends, but not for the life I wanted to lead.
While in Shanghai I had a job opportunity in London to help grow an internship company in the UK and Spain. I accepted it and I worked there for a couple of years. That’s when I realised I really enjoy ‘helping people’ – big words, I know – finding out what they like and guiding them to find out more about themselves and all the job opportunities out there.
Tell us more…
Fact that I went abroad, it changed my life and everyone should be aware of this option to build their own future. I think what is generally lacking is awareness of possibilities and personal potential.
My family was really supportive and they wanted me to be open-minded. I would like as many people as possible to do the same.
What is Ni-cons’ objective?
Our goal is to help students find the right career path and prepare them for it. When we ask students what they like to do, many never really stopped to consider. We also help young professionals who feel they are in a job or career that they don’t actually like.
What advice would you give someone embarking on their career?
One piece of advice if aged 20 is to say yes to everything. Take any opportunity that comes your way, try new things. Go abroad, put yourself out there. When I returned from China people said I was brave. I feel that staying in the same place your whole life, that’s brave!
So now you live in London, what is great about the city?
The international environment, the opportunities to do whatever you want: theatre, museums, sports, volunteering, social life. Whatever is important to you, you’ll find it here.
Also before moving here I never really thought about having my own business, but I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and meet many inspiring people.
What are the challenges?
Local people are polite, but not always friendly as the city is huge and people are self-focused. It’s easy to feel lonely.
Also without a decent job or support here it’s less easy to really enjoy the city.
What is next up for Ni-cons?
In the year ahead we plan to expand our network, reach more students across Europe. Apart from UK, we are already working in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Let’s see what comes next!
Carla and her colleague Laura from Ni-Cons are running Career Talks at The Curve. The next one is about promoting yourself on Social Media. Feel invited!
Find out more about the event on Facebook. Let us know you can make it.
See you on Wednesday 🙂