Health & Safety
Great city, lacking internship experience
Submitted by Keriann Reeves - Manassas United States College of William & Mary | January 27, 2018
I've wanted to travel to China for some time now, but also realized the importance of getting internship experience before graduating college for future resume and skill-building. So I decided to go on this Shanghai 2 month trip (which almost didn't happen due to crazy visa complications) the summer before my senior year. My fields of interest included marketing, communications, and advertising, and I ended up working for a local non-profit that was focused on environmental issues affecting China called the Oriental Danology Institute. The organization was founded by a husband-wife pair who are highly educated and knowledgeable academics, however, they were far from being traditional supervisors. Their expectations were very vague and even trying to explain what the organization's mission was a bit unclear in the beginning. We worked remotely from them 70% of the time, as they were busy managing other projects that were running at the same time as ours. We were tasked with interviewing Shanghaiese senior citizens at local community centers throughout the Jing'an District and surrounding areas. Jingjing, our primary supervisor and contact throughout the internship, was only able to visit the first site with us and then we were left to find the remaining 9 centers ourselves (often times with less than 24 hrs notice as to where the next day's assignment would take place) and explain the whole scope of the project as well as conduct the interviews of multiple participants (completely in Chinese) in one afternoon. Our team consisted of myself and two other American college students who were on the IES program with me and one post-college local Shanghai woman who was looking to do graphic design (and didn't seem to know entirely what she had signed up for). Completing the task of conducting the interviews was difficult as none of us Americans were proficient in Chinese (not to mention having no experience with the local dialect) to the degree we could communicate fully with the residents.
On the off-days we didn't have interviews scheduled, we were tasked with translating pamphlets and program information from Chinese into English for their promotional materials. This mostly consisted of us plugging the text into Google translate (via our VPNs) as the sheer volume and complexity of the text was far beyond our elementary level of comprehension. It also didn't help that we didn't know the context of the material since these were not projects we were actively working on.
The people I met were really kind and tried to be as helpful as they could be, but I left feeling like this wasn't what I signed up for in the first place. The transferable skills I'd say I left with were the ability to deal more gracefully with ambiguity in the workplace, how to navigate a city where I wasn't as familiar with the transportation services or geographic layout, and having to work independently and with people from very different backgrounds than my own, and to take the initiative to fill in the gaps of knowledge regarding what we were supposed to be doing at any given time. All somewhat valuable life skills, but not directly tied to what I want to do in the future necessarily.