Internships in China attract US students
Study abroad in China has long been popular, but internships are now the latest trend among American collegians building their resumes
“My mom keeps saying, ‘ Skype us, Give us an hour of your time’,” said American Elizabeth Oppong in Shenzhen, a major city in southern China and the nation’s first and one of its most successful Special Economic Zones. “But I have no time. I want to get it all. I want to see and do everything.”
Oppong, who’s going into her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, fell in love with Shenzhen after interning at Sunlink Consulting and Synergetic Innovation Fund Management Co last summer. This year, she flew back to Shenzhen for a start-up project she founded, WeLink — a network empowering women in enterprise. She wants to connect business women in China.
It was midnight in Shenzhen and Oppong had just gotten back to her apartment from a social event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. She was talking about her internship experience with a reporter through Skype.
While study abroad in China has been popular for years, internships have become the latest trend. CRCC Asia, a leading provider of internships in China for international students, alone has sent nearly 6,000 students to China since 2006, and nearly 2,000 were from the US.
“We started in 2005, and it was really slow, people didn’t know much about China. We had about 50 students,” said CRCC founder and director Daniel Nivern. The Olympics was the turning point — the number spiked to 250 in 2008. In 2009, it doubled again. “Now we send about 1,500 students to China every year.”
“In the early days, having a degree was very important, made you stand out from other people. And then a master’s degree became very important to make you stand out. Now, having previous internships or work experience is really essential in order to stand out from your peers,” Nivern said.
“And having international internships now is really important, especially when it’s China, the most important country in the world right now,” Nivern added.
A junior at University TexasAustin, Laura Bowman, doesn’t speak much Chinese beyond NiHao. During her summer in Shanghai, she felt like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday — everything was new, interesting and confusing. “I didn’t know China was all one time zone. That’s pretty weird,” she said. “I got lost several times, and felt so out of place 24/7. But I loved it so much.”
On the first day of work, Bowman got lost and had to ride to the office on the back of a stranger’s moped. “She was probably 75-years-old,” Bowman said.
For Dalton Lewis, a senior at Hampshire College, Beijing was not a strange place. He moved to China with his family years ago and attended an international high school in Beijing with students from all over the world. This summer, not only did he find an internship by himself, he also tutored English evenings and weekends to pay for his food and airplane tickets. “I love the cheap Chinese food,” Lewis said.
These American students came to China for internships with varying levels of knowledge about the country and language, and by different routes.
The largest group are students like Oppong, who have studied Chinese in school and hope to polish their language skills and experience Chinese culture.
Oppong started learning Chinese in high school. “A lot of my friends were picking French and Spanish,” said Oppong. “I was 14, and I was the kind of kid who always wanted to do things that everyone else wasn’t doing.” She’s been hooked on China ever since.
Majoring in economics and East Asian civilizations and languages at Penn, Oppong saw the CRCC China internship program on the school’s job listings. After applying, she was interviewed by the CRCC. Based on her interests, the CRCC recommended the city of Shenzhen and assigned her an internship at a Chinese consulting firm.
Doing an internship in China, like any study abroad program, can be costly. CRCC charges about $4,700 for a twomonth internship in China. The price includes placement, visa application, hotel accommodations and evening activities.
There are a limited number of scholarships available. Oppong got a partial scholarship from CRRC, and her school covered the rest.
CRCC has partnerships with many other schools in the US, including the University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, Michigan State University and more. UT-Austin itself sends about 60 of its business and engineering students to China every year as part of its BE Global program.
“Interest in internships in China is rapidly rising,” said Matthew Rowett, CRCC’s university partnerships manager. “We are seeing a recent rise in applicants for positions in engineering, but finance and business are still our strongest sectors.”
Based on interests and language ability, some interns work for Chinese companies, others for the China-based offices of international companies.
Dalton Lewis found an internship at Smart Agriculture Analytics, a small start-up based in New York with offices in Beijing and Sao Paulo, to learn about how foreign start-ups operate in China.
Chasen Richter, now a junior at Boston College, was assigned by CRRC to shadow a Chinese business professional June Deng, going to daily meetings.
“When you meet people, you exchange business cards immediately,” said Richter about his observation. “The Chinese are much more indirect when doing business. You drink a lot of tea.”
Bowman interned as a marketing coordinator at MGI Entertainment, an Australian celebrity marketing company, and spent time reaching out to international sponsors.
Oppong worked with Sunlink Consulting and Synergetic Innovation Fund Management Co, pitching to companies for future joint ventures, helping startups come up with crowdfunding concepts and more.
Oppong’s supervisor Cao Jie, managing director of Synergetic Innovation Fund Management and founder and president of Sunlink, admitted that he was skeptical at first about having a Western intern in the company when the CRCC first approached him, since both of his companies serve only Chinese clients.
It was Oppong’s famous Ivy League school that made Cao to give it a try. And it turned out to be a pleasant experience. Cao and Oppong kept in touch, and went out for coffee when Oppong went back to Shenzhen.
“She showed us new opportunities. I was thinking, if we expand our business to the US market in the future, I will definitely hire many Western interns,” said Cao. “We want to become an international company, and globalize our operations. I hope our interns will come back.”
As many Chinese companies grow internationally, some are looking to meet talented students around the globe, to market their brand while inspiring young minds.
Larry Milstein, a junior at Yale studying global affairs, attended the so-called Global Dreamer internship program sponsored by e-commerce giant Alibaba, spending a month of his summer in Alibaba’s hometown of Hangzhou.
The Global Dreamer program, founded in 2013, was designed for young minds around the world to connect with Alibaba, to learn and to be inspired, and to make their dreams come true, according to the internship description. Over the years, they have attracted students from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore and more.
The 30 dreamers worked in groups on three major projects, including studies of Alibaba’s corporate culture and logistics platform, and a chance to work with an executive mentor from the company. They also took tours of different parts of the company, traveling to see warehouses in Shanghai, and nearly every day, a senior executive or other speaker would come to discuss their experience in the field, said Milstein.
“The days were definitely busy but a lot fun,” said Milstein, who was inspired by the passion for innovation at Alibaba.
One of his favorite moments was visiting Jack Ma’s old apartment in Hangzhou — the place where it all started. “It’s very simple,” said Milstein, “yet full of positive energy.”
While there are things the American students don’t appreciate — like the heavy traffic and gloomy skies — everyone China Daily talked to said the experience was well worth it.
“One hundred percent recommended. I really loved it,” said Bowman. With CRCC, she not only did an internship she loved, she learned a lot about Chinese culture through weekly Mandarin and business classes, dumpling-making night, tea ceremonies at a tea house, karaoke events and community outreach.
They also made contacts. Oppong now has about 100 friends on her Wechat. “Sometimes when I want to feel good, I just scroll through the names,” Oppong said, “the list is so long because you are constantly meeting people.”
Traveling was also a big part of everyone’s experience. Bowman loved the Yellow Mountain; Milstein experienced the Nadaam festival in Inner Mongolia; and the Great Wall was high on everyone’s list.
“Through second- hand knowledge, it’s very easy to depict any country in a flat way,” said Milstein, who was amazed by “how diverse, how large, how multifaceted China is — the diversity of interests, the diversity of everything.”
“We developed an understanding of Chinese culture, developed an appreciation for a lot of the history, the basis of the China we see today,” said Oppong.
Most significantly, the experience will sparkle on their resumes.
“It will definitely help me get a job in the future,” said Lewis.
Oppong, who worked in Barclays in New York this summer, saw how interested people were in her China internship.
“When recruiters interviewed me, it wasn’t like ‘ You are a leader on campus’ or ‘We are very impressed by your academic record’, but rather ‘We see you worked in China, tell us more’,” said Oppong.
We developed an understanding of Chinese culture, developed an appreciation for a lot of the history, the basis of the China we see today.”
Elizabeth Oppong (standing) mentors members of WeLink in Shenzhen in August. Founded by Oppong, WeLink is a network empowering women in enterprise.
Laura Bowman (left) and her internship co-worker Hong Dantong feed birds at an interactive exhibit at Shanghai Wildlife Park in early July.