“My task is to facilitate the Danish community in Shanghai and to make its members’ experience here more meaningful and inspiring.”
Anneli Vilu is the Executive Director of the Danish Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. She sees herself as a service provider; representing the business interest of its members, sharing useful information with and between them, arranging entertainment, events and trainings, and finally providing a networking platform for all Danes in Shanghai. But how did it happen that an Estonian woman has come to lead this Danish organization in China?
From country life to Copenhagen and finally to China
Growing up in Estonia, Anneli enjoyed her childhood years on the country side, running around barefooted in the summer and playing in the deep snow in winter with her siblings and the other kids from her little Estonian village. Only, when she was 9 years old, her family moved to “the big city” of Türi with 7,000 people.
When she was about to begin her studies at the university, Estonia was breaking out from the Soviet occupation and opening its borders to the outside world – providing new possibilities of exploration for her.
“It was clear to me that I wanted to work internationally,” she tells.
“I grabbed the chance and chose Swedish as a minor, when Scandinavian language classes at university level were offered for the very first time in 50 years.”
On the side-line, she learned Danish at an evening course, and being an industrious student was awarded.
“I got a scholarship from the Danish Democracy Foundation for a 3 month stay at Bornholm Folk High School in Denmark.”
This was the beginning for many years of work as an interpreter and translator, for both, the Danish and the Swedish language, and eventually her career at the natural centre for the Danish business community in China: The Danish Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.
Moving to China
After working at the Estonian Embassy in Copenhagen for some years, the Scandinavian-Estonian axes seemed to be too narrow for Anneli, and she decided to add a new language and culture to her package.
“I considered Chinese to be the most obvious to make an effort to learn, since it is the most native spoken one. I started taking an evening course at Studieskolen in Copenhagen, and soon after got a chance to move to China,” Anneli tells.
During her first years in the Far East, she did a lot of different and exciting jobs such as being the Program Director for the Estonian EXPO Pavilion and the Conference Manager at the Nordic International Management Institute. In between, she continued to work as a freelance journalist and translator, and guided tourist groups all over China. Finally, she wrote a book about Shanghai. Meanwhile, she accidentally met a fellow student from Studieskolen Copenhagen, who happened to be a board member of DCCC Shanghai.
“She [the fellow student] invited me to become a member of the chamber.” Anneli says. “I was amazed about the quality and sheer number of really interesting events the Chamber offered, and the network possibilities they provided,” she adds.
Two years later, the position as the DCCC’s Executive Director became available, and she got it.
“I just happened to have the most suitable CV for the job at that time,” Anneli says.
Today, Anneli has been living for 7 years in China, and she is satisfied with the Scandinavian environment in Shanghai. She lived in Denmark for only a relatively short amount of time, but the Scandinavian people, language and culture have followed her for more than 20 years, even if she is located at the other side of the world, far away from the Nordic countries.
“From my very first contact with Danes, I felt right away that the Danish mentality and humour fitted me very well. In Shanghai, it fits me even better, as I feel the Danes in China have a special edge of mentality that is a little different from the Danes in Denmark,” Anneli says.
She is also enjoys the city of Shanghai itself.
“Shanghai is a very safe city, and I like the ebullient metropolitan social life and the wide range of cultural events. I never feel alone or bored here.”
She is delighted with her place in life right now. She is still busy promoting, studying, enhancing and exchanging information regarding commercial relations, investments and trade between Denmark and other Nordic countries in China. Even if the secretariat is small, only consisting of Anneli Vilu and the event manager, they have very active and helpful board members who provide lots of inputs, ideas and practical help on a daily basis.
There is even a little Estonian community in Shanghai which Anneli is very fund of, and she is also involved in keeping the Estonian flag high.
“My roots are in Estonia and one day I will go back there. I don’t mind to have the next phase in my life in an environment closer to nature. In my heart, I am still a country girl,” Anneli admits.