Zachary Herzog - 2014 Program Participant

Zach and his tour guide on their ride to the Great Wall of China.
Zach and his tour guide on their ride to the Great Wall of China.

What made you want to find an internship abroad?

After studying abroad my sophomore year I found that I really enjoyed travel and working in a multicultural environment. I wanted to add a second international experience to my undergrad degree, and as I researched programs, an international internship seemed like the next level.

What are some highlights from daily life as a business intern in China?

My intern placement was awesome. I worked four days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with an hour break for lunch. My company was about half an hour from my apartment so I would walk to work each day — normally buying a pastry from one of the Thai bakeries en route. During the day I worked on some different research projects where I looked at what the company was doing and then built reports to give suggestions. Some days I was in the office all day just finding data or ideas online; other days I was sent out into the field in Shanghai to do research and report back on my findings. I learned so much from my time there. My supervisor was fantastic and taught me a ton about marketing, web design, and data analysis.

My specific placement was at a consulting firm that helped expats learn Mandarin Chinese. All of the jobs I did were in English, but in order to help me adjust to Shanghai, my co-workers tutored me in Chinese for about an hour each day. I was surprised at how fast I picked up the language. I am hardly fluent—I wouldn’t even say I am conversational—but I learned how to pronounce all of the different sounds in Mandarin, and had a few phrases to help make my traveling around China a lot easier.

Bund, Shanghais most famous tourist destination.

Zach’s first time at the Bund (Shanghai’s most famous tourist destination.) The photo isn’t blurry, it was just that hazy.

During our hour lunch break, my coworkers took me out for lunch every day. I think they enjoyed watching me eat (or at least attempt to eat) various spicy and traditional Chinese dishes. We would have so much fun over these lunches talking about what they knew of America — such as the international Disney hit Frozen — as well as Chinese culture. They were always so happy to answer my questions about China and they truly went out of their way to help me experience traditional life in China while I was there.

In the evenings, my roommate — another American — and I would either go out for dinner at a family owned noodle house by our building, or stay in to cook in the wok that was provided in our kitchen. The days were long and eventful, but always loaded with great stories to share.

What was the most memorable experience you had while interning abroad outside of the office?

There are honestly so many, it’s impossible to choose just one. The internship itself was such a great eye opening experience for me and one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Outside of the office, three memories do come to mind.

I had some friends who went through different programs at their universities to also intern in China. We met up one weekend in the city that they were working in and their boss had us all over for dinner. She taught us to make dumplings while her mother cooked a variety of traditional Chinese dishes for us. It was some of the best food and conversation I had in China. This lady had worked in both China and the US so she was a great resource to talk about some of the similarities and differences between the countries. I think it was one of the first times I started to understand what makes China, China. Plus there is something very transcendent about cooking food from another culture with your own hands.

day hike in Qian Dao Hu

All of the summer interns with Next Step Connections on a day hike in Qian Dao Hu.

I also went hiking one weekend, which was just an entirely odd twist of events. Long story short, I wound up climbing a mountain in China on my own which is something I never thought I would do. My co-workers helped me put the trip together and sufficiently freaked me out about how hard it would be. They thought it would be near impossible for me to get to this mountain, find accommodations to sleep, climb it, and get back to Shanghai without speaking Mandarin. They were absolutely right, and I found myself in so many situations I had no idea how to handle. There were several confusing bus rides where I didn’t even know if I was on the right bus. I had a few awkward confrontations on the trail, and I’m still not sure what some of them were about. I also got caught in a freak thunderstorm that about blew me off one rock face. In the end though, I summited this mountain and it was an awesome experience that really challenged me and has given me a lot of confidence in myself.

The third memory would be a trip I took to see the Great Wall. I wanted to see the Wall, but I didn’t want to become a tourist to go see it. So I hired a teenage kid to take me to a faraway section of it. He brought along an ex-pat friend of his to translate and we rode out there — over three hours — in the sidecar of his motorcycle. Bobbing through Beijing traffic on a motorcycle was near death-defying, but cruising through the misty mountains was worth it. Plus, spending the day with a couple of locals around my age was a great way to hear about life in China, and a totally awesome cultural experience. Plus, the Great Wall of China should be on everyone’s bucket list, because it is just as awesome as you imagine it will be.

What was the most challenging part about living in Shanghai?

Honestly, the biggest thing I remember being frustrated by was the weather. There were weeks that it was ungodly hot. I’ve always considered myself a pretty fit person, but my shirt would be soaked to my body by the time I walked to work. I had to drink so much water to cool off when I arrived at the office. Each day my co-workers asked me if I was sick or running a fever. I am also told that I was there during a record breaking cold summer, so I can’t imagine what usual summer heat in Shanghai is like.

What advice would you give to other interns interested in a business internship in Shanghai?

I think that China is a hard code to crack for a lot of people. In a lot of ways, Shanghai is very westernized and I think American tourists would easily be able to enjoy a short time in the city. Living there for more than a few weeks, you will definitely start to notice some differences, and these differences can be confusing. My biggest tip would be to ask questions (politely of course.) Chinese people love to practice their English and they have so much pride in their country. You’ll learn so much more if you become open and aware of the differences around you and seek out answers while you are there.

It’s also really important to let go of your preconceived ideas of China. Most of what I’d learned about the country was from the news but I met a lot of other interns who had minored in Chinese or taken more academic history classes about the culture. I think we were all equally surprised by what we experienced. I don’t think you can really understand China until you’ve seen it.

What were some lasting impressions that China made on you?

For me, China really was fascinating. I feel like we learn a lot about European cultures and history in the US, but we often don’t learn much about China beyond what we get in snapshot headlines, which are often dramatized on cable news shows. While it should go without saying, in China I saw such a different view on business, politics, religion, etc. that it has really changed my thoughts on a lot of global issues and helped me to have a better understanding of my own field of study.

Zach and his co-workers on their lunch break

Zach’s coworkers and him on their lunch break at work. They introduced him to some fantastic food and also gave him lots of helpful tips for things to do while in China. 

I was lucky to get to see a lot of China during my internship. With my three day weekends, I spent time in Suzhou, Qian Dao Hu, Beijing, and Xi’an. Then there was the hike to climb Huangshan in the Anhui province, and I also spent nearly a week in Hong Kong. Each place in China was really unique. In the cities people were pretty used to seeing foreigners, but were still amazingly helpful and friendly. In smaller towns, my white face was a bit more of an anomaly and attracted a lot of attention. But across the country people were kind and genuine. There were definitely eccentricities to each, and they were both fun and intriguing to experience. If I were to go back to China, I’d love to get over to Guilin, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou to see even more of the Middle Kingdom.

Shanghai will always have a special place in my heart. I would gladly return because there is still a lot I’d like to do. It’s fun to think about the cities I’ve been to and realize that I have favorite restaurants on three different continents. It was an easy city to live in, it felt very safe, and it was an awesome vantage point to travel and see the country.

What did you learn from your internship abroad?

I think an internship anywhere is a really valuable experience. I’ve had several during my undergrad career and each has left me with some great life lessons. Interning abroad taught me two valuable ideas. First of all, it showed me an entrepreneurial side to myself that I didn’t know I had. Seeing some of the similarities in business between the US and China allowed me to really understand the elements of business that are very fundamental and universal. Additionally, I learned that working abroad is quite possible, and actually a lot easier than I imagined. Getting to know my co-workers and developing a routine, while also experiencing new things every day made life overseas really meaningful and exciting.

Would you recommend your Next Step Connections program to others?

Absolutely! The staff at Next Steps was awesome. They totally took my resume and my career goals and found me a company that was a perfect fit. It was my last summer in college, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience both personally and professionally.

Before I left for China, Next Steps communicated with me regularly. They helped me navigate the tricky Chinese visa process and gave me plenty of information to get ready for the experience. On top of finding me incredible accommodation in the heart of the city, they picked me up from the airport, oriented me around for the first week, and helped me with any issues I had while abroad (including finding western medications in a Chinese pharmacy.) I seriously cannot say enough good things about their staff, their program, and my overall experience working with them.

What was it like adjusting back to life in the US after living in China?

I had a layover in Seattle on my way home from China, and it definitely hit me really hard. Common courtesies in China are quite different, and I had definitely lost some of my American manners while abroad. I remember on the plane I ordered a snack box. As I ate it, I was belching loudly (as they do in China as a sign of respect for the host.) I quickly realized I was surrounded by my own people again and this was no longer socially acceptable. I’d also gotten really used to a “first come, first serve” mentality of customer service (lines are not a thing in China) so I frequently found myself very impatient when I had to wait during those first weeks back.

Adjusting back from China was also different from returning from other countries I’d visited. I think I’d missed American food and hearing English enough that it was nice to be back. I still miss China often. My co-workers and I keep in touch about twice a month, and I have enough friends who have also visited China that we can swap stories and help each other through the wanton cravings.