Every day at noon, my supervisor’s assistant would smile at me and say, “Okay Zach. Time for lunch.” For the next hour, we’d roam the streets of Shanghai, sampling various flavors of street food as we walked (I could never eat enough xiaolongbao). As we passed certain shops or businesses, I’d point and practice my butchered Mandarin, trying to master the pronunciation, and laughing with locals when I couldn’t.
My internship in China was a high octane adventure in every way. I developed professionally, culturally, and personally from the experiences, and it altered my ultimate career goals. Did I mention it helped me land a job when I returned home?!
If you’re exploring options for international experiences, allow me to suggest interning in China. Here are my top 10 reasons why I think the Middle Kingdom is the perfect place for your internship abroad.
10. There are over a billion people in China. That is both a fact and a reason why everyone should see it. Statistically speaking, the Chinese lifestyle is the most popular lifestyle on the planet. More people live in the Chinese culture than any other culture. It’s an entire branch of the human experience, and yet few foreigners ever witness it firsthand.
9. China Means Business. Over the past two decades, China has risen to be a power player in nearly every industry. From outsourced labor to the largest IPO in history on the New York Stock Exchange (a little company called Alibaba), companies around the world and from all sectors are interacting with China in some way. Having work experience in China on your résumé will give you a competitive edge in the job market.
8. Get Personal. In China, conversations amongst friends, coworkers, and even strangers can be quite different from home. It isn’t uncommon for someone to comment on your weight (I never got used to this!) or ask about your income. It can be uncomfortable for foreigners to get used to, but it is all intended with warmth and heartfelt friendliness. Practicing these conversations during an internship in China will make you better at international networking and increase your cross cultural communication skills (and make future comments on your weight sting a little less!).
7. Learn the King’s Speech. Chinese is one of the most spoken, and the most difficult, languages in the world. It is very nuanced, with lots of different dialects in lots of different regions. Mandarin, which literally translates to “King’s speech,” is the most common form spoken outside of China. Other tongues include Cantonese, Shanghainese, and a variety of local accents. An internship in China allows you to immerse in language learning while also developing professional vocabulary for your future career. All that said, a lot of internships in China are also available in English, which is a great way to be introduced to Chinese.
6. Chinese Food. It won’t be Panda Express, but many Chinese flavors will blow you away. From spicy dishes, one of which is called in English “mouth numbing spice”, to sickly sweet entrees, China offers tastes for every adventurous pallet on the planet. Not to mention, sharing a bowl of hot pot with your colleagues is a great way to develop your guanxi (see point #4 below) and your tolerance for spice.
5. It’s Really, Really Old. If you’re interested in history, internships in China should be on the top of your list. The Chinese Emperors were contemporaries with both Egyptian Pharaohs and Roman Soldiers, and the country has been a continuous civilization for over 4,000 years. The Chinese are credited with such inventions as ice cream, noodles, and toilet paper. China has shaped so much of the world, that it’s worth understanding “how” from first-hand experience.
4. Who You Know Matters. In Chinese culture, the concept of guanxi is a powerful force. Relationships are key to many aspects in China, and guanxi is a sort of unspoken code that governs relationships. Chinese people typically prefer to interact and do business with people they know. They also frequently trade favors, meaning they will help you if you help them, and they expect your help after they’ve helped you. Networking isn’t just important in China, it’s part of life! And if you want to have connections in China in the future, you have to be there to make them.
3. Different Religions. In the West, most people are familiar with the basic tenets of Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. While all of the religions can be found in China, Eastern religions, such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Ancestor Worship, are far more common in the lives of everyday Chinese people. While on a practical level religion is used by the people for hope and guidance, it also forms a key foundation in shared morals and societal norms. The “golden rule” we know in the Western world is derived from Judeo-Christian teaching and governs a large basis of our psyche and legal system. Chinese thought processes are also governed by their belief systems, so exploring these faiths can help you see how they impact approaches to your industry during your internship in China.
2. Cheap. If you are looking for an affordable way to add international experience to your resume, China is a great destination to do so. With incredibly intricate public transportation, an exchange rate that favors most world currencies, and street food as far as the eye can see, the cost of living in China is very affordable for interns on a student budget.
1. It will be utterly unforgettable. You’ll never forget walking the Great Wall of China, seeing the Bund lit up at night, or gasping at the enormity of the Forbidden City. You’ll chuckle when you think back to the frustration of trying to get on social media (FYI: Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are all blocked by the Great Firewall of Chinese internet). You’ll smile thinking about the foods that made you drool, and squirm remembering the ones that made you gag. The adventure of interning in China will give you strength, confidence, and a sense of curiosity, all of which are incredibly marketable to future employers.