Expats sharing their skills with locals gains popularity and creates social ties

By Chen Ximeng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/25 17:53:39 Last Updated: 2016/8/26 7:48:43

Daisy is learning violin from Kasia, a Polish musician who launches gigs on Pingo Space, a skill-sharing online platform. Photo: Courtesy of Lily Li

Martha Walch, a 24-year-old New Yorker, who has lived in Beijing for two and a half years, has a stable job as an English teacher. Yet after work, she enjoys leading baking classes and sharing her skill of making New York cheesecake with Chinese locals. She is able to bring people in through an app called Pingo Space that allows foreigners to sell gigs (classes) to showcase their knowledge and skills.

Since she registered for the app in December, Walch has had about 20 gigs. Each gig lasts for one hour and earns her 269 yuan ($40).

"I love baking cakes, so it's something I really want to share with people who are also interested in learning here in China," said Walch. "I think that the shared economy is a good way for foreigners to show that they can offer more than just teaching skills. If you go to another country, there are well-established foreigners performing in a multitude of different areas, but in China, it seems that most of them are here as teachers." 

In recent years, the sharing economy, gig economy or on-demand economy, has been increasing. According to a study by JPMorgan Chase on online platform economy, including Uber and Airbnb, around 10.3 million people in the US earned an income through these online services, which is a 47-fold increase from 2012 to 2015, the South China Morning Post reported this June.

The gig economy has also been spreading in China, which has created a lot of job opportunities by connecting part-time or freelance workers with new ways to earn money. By taking advantage of emerging knowledge and skill-sharing apps, some foreigners in China are also engaged in the gig economy to monetize their unique skills.

Online platforms are on the rise, giving foreigners the chance to share their unique skills and knowledge with locals. Photo: Li Hao/GT

More than English teachers

Walch remembers being extremely excited when she got the news that there was an English app designed specifically to help foreigners launch gigs in China.

"There are many platforms that provide services, but they are all in Chinese," said Walch, who was not satisfied with being a teacher and could not wait to offer her baking gigs on the platform. To her delight, Walch soon became a star teacher, but just in a different subject.

"Nobody is more of an expert of their native culture than that person. Being from New York, I know what good cheesecake is supposed to taste like and I learned the reasons behind the different techniques. After one gig, users can judge whether the foreigner really has something to offer and if it brings an authentic cultural experience," said Walch.

So far, she has earned more than 5,000 yuan from all the gigs.

Sophie Su, co-founder of Pingo Space, told Metropolitan that since it was launched in December, they have about 10,000 Chinese users and over 1,000 expats registered as service providers for arts, sports, cooking and so on.

"Besides language, the gigs in highest demand are music and arts, as well as fitness and travel," said Su.

After returning to China from Australia eight years ago, Su, who is an Australia-born Chinese, finds that she has a lot of expat friends in Beijing and they all have unique skill sets and experience. At the same time, she also has Chinese friends who want to learn some of these skills without going abroad.

"After using platforms like Airbnb, I realized that there may be a market for expats to rent out their time to make more money. This fits in directly with a sharing economy. That's where Pingo Space comes in," said Su. "We want to connect Chinese and foreign cultures, and help erase cultural hurdles."

Martha Walch is teaching a Chinese boy some new cooking skills. Photo: Courtesy of Martha Walch

Bringing different culture 

Lily Li, a 34-year-old mother of seven-year-old Daisy, lives in Beijing and sometimes feels it hard to find a good violin teacher for her daughter. She said that some of the classes are very expensive, ranging from 600 yuan to several thousand yuan per class.

In December, a friend recommended Pingo Space and she quickly found Kasia, a foreign teacher. For each one-hour class, Li will pay 1,000 yuan. But if Daisy shares with three other pupils, it is only 250 yuan.

"Kasia is a musician from Poland, the hometown of Chopin and she has received positive feedback from users," said Li.

She said every time Daisy had class with Kasia, Daisy was very happy. When she pulled the wrong string, Kasia did not criticize and always encouraged her.

"Her teaching style challenged me. I always thought the children who learn instruments are taught with sternness and torture. How can a child have such leniency in education and still have a positive outcome?" said Li.

"Then I realized that in traditional Chinese education, teachers are very strict with students; once they make a mistake, the teacher uses criticism, scolding or beating to let them gain quick progress. Foreign teachers focus more on positive feedbacks and encouragement. Having confidence in the children and praising them is what many Chinese teachers and parents lack," she said.

Li hopes that more and more foreign teachers will appear on online platforms so that parents and children can experience a different style of education and culture from the Chinese exam-oriented education pattern.

Vincent, a dating coach and the founder of xinnanshi.com, a platform that gives dating coaching to men, thinks that online platforms are a good way for him to connect with Chinese men looking for a dating coach with international experience. So far, he had coaching sessions with 10 men through Pingo Space, with each session costing between 299 and 799 yuan. 

Vincent thinks the uniqueness of foreign teachers lies in the fact that they have mastered skills or gained knowledge in areas such as sports, music or date coaching in a different culture over the years. Chinese clients can learn different ways of doing things and be exposed to other ways of thinking.

"This cultural exchange makes the experience richer. In this way, users can absorb new things that they find valuable and create their own systems with both the best of China and the West," he said.

"Compared with America, where coaches started emerging around 15 to 20 years ago, this type of thing is relatively new in China. Now Chinese men are paying more attention to what attracts women and trying to improve by learning new skills from coaches," he said.

For him, the best experience is to see those Chinese guys changing their life and doing things they could not even think were possible before.

Vincent (center), who is a dating coach Photo: Courtesy of Vincent

How to gig it?

So far, there are three relatively large online platforms in China that focus on or include foreigners in creating gigs, Pingo Space, Zaihang and Shanghai-based Skillbank.

Cui Shuxin, the public relations officer of Zaihang, launched by Guokr, a popular science website, told Metropolitan that since its launch last March in nine cities including Beijing, it has gained over 1 million users. There are around 100 expat "experts" covering presentation practice and so on.

As for the income, Su said it depends on the bookings and quality and uniqueness of the skill. It is up to the service provider to decide the price for their service.

"One of our expat users said he had been using the app for about three months and is making the same money as he does at his full-time job by freelancing on the weekends," said Su.

Kasia holds a record of teaching six violin lessons a day, which means she is making nearly 6,000 yuan a day.

"With the shared economy, this gives foreigners the opportunity to try any skill or business idea they'd like without a lot of risks. But there are disadvantages, such as trust and safety issues that many major companies are dealing with such as Airbnb and Uber," said Walch.

Su suggests that expats and clients should meet in a third-party location first, for example a café. They also work with schools and other spaces to provide a safe location for both parties.

"Because we meet or have an online Skype interview with all expat service providers, we make sure that their identity is verified," said Su.

Looking at future development, Su believes that foreigners in China are now more likely to expand their skills and accept freelance jobs as well.

"People will slowly move more toward freelancing and on-demand work due to the nature of the emerging markets," said Su.

Walch advises that people can also try to develop business ideas from these platforms.

She said a foreigner on the platform has found that her art classes are very popular and has an idea to open an art school from the money she has earned from the platform.

"So far, I have not established any business ideas from sharing my skills, but I did buy a rickshaw and give gigs touring the Gulou area. It's a way to see if something could sink or swim," said Walch.

Newspaper headline: Get your gig on

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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