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

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH - By HEZI JIANG in New York hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

“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.”

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

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.

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