A Passion for All Things Intercultural: Sangyi Li, ICUnet China

We had a chat with Sangyi Li, Senior Account Manager at ICUnet. A key member of ICUnet’s China operations since joining in 2015, Sangyi is truly passionate about her work and all things intercultural.

“We train both Chinese and Western employees across organizations whose workinvolve cross-cultural collaboration. And in my daily work I get to see the advantages of intercultural training and consulting first-hand.” says Sangyi.


“Local employees of MNCs get the skillset to create high-trust relationships with colleagues of different cultural backgrounds. They’re able to create Guanxi networks at a global level. It also helps them get professional recognition and buy-in from colleagues at Headquarters by being able to explain how things work in China.” Sangyi continues.


ICUnet can be instrumental in international career progression and for companies to realize the full potential of local staff. “Chinese talents are often super-capable in technical skills but aren’t good at showing off. They prefer to think things through, which Western counterparts sometimes perceive as lack of engagement. Chinese participants who we work with build influencing skills, and often have big reveal moments about the expectations of their Western colleagues.”


Or as an ICUnet participant put it “In terms of motivating employees, the ways and means are very different. In China, we somehow all hold this ideal of ‘a better life’ and the motivation for employees comes directly from that in the way of salary and development opportunities. In Europe, as a manager, you need to spend time really trying to get to know the values systems of your individual staff. You consider what his or her drivers are and what qualities they want in a leader. Improvements in my cross-cultural communication have been crucial to my success in Europe.”


For Western employees in China, including managers who have been here for years, comprehensive and continuous intercultural development also have big advantages.


Sangyi explains, “Understanding and learning to appreciate there are other ways of doing things opens many doors. Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor, once said, ‘To have a second language is to have a second soul’. Likewise participants come out of our programs being able to better decode indirect communication, and better able to handle differences and difficulties in business settings. They become confident in their abilities to earn loyalty from local colleagues, and better able to understand the Chinese business mindset.”


There are many opportunities for ICUnet in China says Sangyi, “We see so many commonalities among MNCs in terms of cultural clashes. Even after 40 years of being in China, many Western companies in China are still not achieving the successes they could be, so there is a big window of opportunity for us. Also, for Chinese companies going global, they will face the same challenges, likely even more, so there we see big opportunities too.”

More about Sangyi and ICUnet

I joined ICUnet China in 2015, very lucky to find the right company after graduation as a German studies student. During four years of studies I spent one semester in Northern Germany, a cultural shock that gave me the ‘intercultural bug’.

ICUnet is a group of people with true passion about intercultural endeavors. With that comes engagement, this is what I appreciate. Everyone cares deeply about what he or she does. It’s such a great feeling picking up the phone and calling a co-worker in a different continent with whom you have never spoken before, and you immediately connect. I hope this can be the case not just at ICUnet, but at all of our MNC clients. A sense of achievement comes with the impact you can see in the training and consulting work we do. This speaks to my values and what I think of what work should be about.

I am also shaped by our organizational culture I would say. From coming to the first interview and told by one of my German colleagues years later his fist impression of a shy, young Chinese lady to someone who was nominated by one fellow colleague at the reunion of the high potential training program as the most memorable part of the workshop discussions.

I have grown a lot, and continue to grow with ICUnet, and I aspire to continue to be a living example of an inter-culturally competent professional. It should be a lifelong learning. I sometimes joke about the vision of ICUnet being to achieve world peace through intercultural understanding when people asked me about what I do.