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August 30, 2011

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For foreign neighborhood staffers, life is complex

FROM daily family chores to property management, Luo Yun and Shen Liang take care of just about every facet of expatriates' life in the Biyun International Community, the largest neighborhood of foreigners in Shanghai.

"We should be able to do almost everything, including speaking foreign language, organizing private parties, taking care of children and doing psychological guidance," said Luo, a 29-year-old supervisor of the community who takes care of more than 100 families, mainly from the United States and Europe.

Her colleague Shen, also 29, works in property maintenance but apart from fixing lamps and furniture, he also needs to look for missing dogs and keys for residents and help them find domestic helpers, or ayis.

The two young locals both say they like the job that makes them feel like they're staying in a mini global village. And why not? The community in the Pudong New Area, also known as Green City, has more than 1,000 foreign families from 60 countries. More than 90 percent of the residents are foreigners.

Luo has been working in the community for seven years. Shen has put in two.

The community has about 10 customer service workers like Luo and Shen to take care of residents' daily life. Most of them are university graduates and have good English skills, said Shi Wanqing, an official of the community. While they are neighborhood staffers, their jobs are more detailed and difficult than their counterparts in normal communities, Shi said.

Luo receives more than 50 daily e-mails and hundreds of calls around clock from residents. The requests range from help buying mobile phones to translating Chinese television menus.

Luo said that apart from the need to improve her English language skills, especially foreign slang, she has to learn some psychology.

In particular, she needed it for a little boy from Norway whose mother died when he had just moved to the city.

Luo learned how to do psychological guidance by herself and talked with the seven-year-old boy once a week to coax the child, who refused to speak with others and became open again after three months.

"I would do some little tricks to let the boy win some gifts or surprises at the Christmas party and other activities," she said.

Cultural difference is the major burden during communications with the residents. Luo said some US tenants forget to take off shoes when entering the homes of Japanese residents, so they need to be reminded in advance.


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