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Next Step Connections - Shanghai Internships -
Originally from Boulder, Colorado, 20-year-old Monika Lutz has lived in nine cities, five countries, and three continents. Her experiences in China confirmed her commitment to pursuing a minor in Mandarin and return to the Middle Kingdom for work in the future. Now at Harvard University, she spends her free time salsa dancing, writing, and seeking out the city's best bubble tea. Want to hear the full story? Support Monika's book project on Kickstarter and check out her website.
Highlights: The highlight of my travel experience was eating scorpions in Beijing, most probably because I will never forget it (and have the film to prove it!). However, there is no way to compare the amazing educational experience of my time in Beijing to the beauty of Sanya, and the tranquility and good times I had in Suzhou. What I can say is that locations with a higher density of quality bubble tea (also known as tapioca or boba) shops always ranked higher on my list. (Such is the bias that comes with discovering your favorite food while abroad.)
Professionally, I will never forget going button, material, and zipper shopping while I was working for a famous fashion designer. My understanding of clothes will never be the same. Also, my presentation to the Board of Directors of a famous American company while working at a marketing firm gave me a deeper understanding of inter-cultural business relationships, which has made a strong impact on my professional career.
Morning: My mornings typically began around 6:30am because I liked being the first one at the office and getting a head start on my projects before my colleagues came in. That way, I knew exactly which questions I needed clarified and could inquire while I had all of my colleagues' attention on their way into the office. Before I left to work, I would eat "dan gao" purchased from my favorite shop in People's Square. It has a sticky, mochi-like consistency with delectable filling. I am certain it is not considered part of a "healthy diet", but I justify it by eating it first thing in the morning so that I have all day to burn it off.
Afternoon: Afternoons would be spent at the office working on marketing projects after a lunch break with colleagues at a local Chinese restaurant. If I went out alone, I would bring a deck of Chinese flash cards and practice them with my left hand while eating with the right. The locals got a kick out of watching me. But interning is about learning good time management skills, right?
Evening: I can't go a day without exercising, so I typically went for a run after work, then studied for the classes I was taking from my home university. By the time my roommates came home, I would be finishing my Chinese lesson with a local tutor and we would all go out to eat in the local "restaurants" (more like a pick-up window for homemade Chinese food, but delectable!). Several rounds of competitive ping pong, chess, or cards would be played before the night ended (when you are the only girl living with four guys, everything is a competition).
Brandon Hoffman, age 26, is from Anaheim, CA and is going to business school for his MBA at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania. He enjoys writing/performing R&B and soul music, skydiving, and reading philosophy.
Why did you decide to intern abroad with Next Step Connections in China?
Brandon: My situation was non-traditional. I was a Pre-MBA Fellow of MBADiversity Organization. Its mission is to provide minority students the opportunity to experience a culture outside of the US in a professional capacity and in that of a community volunteer. NextStep was affiliated with my organization and all of our fellows went through Next Step to provide us with the logistics of staying in Shanghai, the volunteer activity in a migrant-village, and the internship assignments with local business owners. I chose NextStep because they were able to facilitate all of our needs and had a great reputation.
What made this internship experience unique and special?
Brandon: This was my first time outside of the United States. So that in itself, made this a very special experience. Learning about the business environment and customs was very intriguing and are greatly different than those in America.
Getting a chance to learn about the Shanghai market and what type of opportunities exist, given its rapid urbanization and growing consumerism. I certainly see myself being more open minded to working or starting a business venture that is linked with China.
How has this experience impacted your future?
It was humbling to learn about the culture and lifestyle, especially of those who are living in poverty and in those migrant-villages. For instance, we taught English to a small class of children in the village, and these children revealed the grand dreams that they have - wanting to be an astronaut, a doctor, or a teacher. Yet, these children do not have access to any basic learning, let alone a full public education, and because of this they stand little chance of achieving such dreams. It is heartbreaking, and made me realize that I must not take anything for granted, especially education, which further propelled my decision to return to graduate school.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in China?
It is a life changing experience. I would recommend that you take yourself out of your comfort zone and "just go!" However, make sure that you have the right resources lined up to make your travels and stay a safe and pleasant one. Do not go it alone.
GO: What originally inspired you to intern in Shanghai with Next Step Connections?
Louis: Well, it was an absolute fluke that I ended up with Next Step Connections (NSC). I originally applied through my school who worked with another school. They found NSC. I really didn't know what I wanted to do after I graduated and I had no plans for the summer. My family and friends were always pushing for me to study abroad or do something internationally, what with my mixed culture background. I knew China in general was the place to be for business; all the hype I have heard over the years was true. I wanted to see this in relation to my studies in international business as well as for myself. I had no idea what to expect before I left. All I knew was that Shanghai was one of the best economically growing cities. NSC was one of the best programs I have been with for service in this field. They were very helpful. Rather than treat me like a business, they would treat me and everyone else who were interning with them, like a family member or friend.
GO: Describe your day to day activities as an intern in Shanghai.
Louis: I interned at a company called ET2C international. They were a sourcing, marketing and trading company. My role was a marketing and sales intern. I had a product that the company gave me to sell. I would also have to come up with presentations and get as many clients and contacts to get people interested in what I did. This was my job; I had a lot of hands on experience and even got to go out of Shanghai to represent my company. I would work 9-6 every Monday - Thursday. On Friday, I would go to Mandarin class to practice my Chinese. I would take the metro anywhere I wanted to go. Since I worked during rush hour, it was definitely a big experience. Every day, as I went to work and came home, the metro would be absolutely packed. You would have to wait in line to get on the train and you were shoulder to shoulder with people. That was definitely an experience.
I would try to eat out with people I had met through the internship for dinner after work, to try the different types of amazing food in Shanghai. On my weekends, which would start on Thursday night usually, I would go out with friends to experience Shanghai's night life. The night life in Shanghai is, hands down, one of the best I've experienced yet. It was not only great fun, but you also got the opportunity to meet other interns and other people who you could relate to and eventually become friends with.
GO: How has this experience impacted your future personally, professionally, and academically?
Louis: This experience will always be with me for life and it is something I am really glad I had a chance to do. I would recommend it to everyone. Personally, this experience has made me into a more open minded and out going person. It has taught me how to interact with people from different cultures and has taught me to how to mature personally and mentally. Professionally, I have learned different skills that I feel will be of great attribute to me in the near future. This experience was not only beneficial to me for my resume, but it has also opened me more to an idea of what I want to do after graduation. Academically, after interning at a corporate business, I can now relate what I did in my internship to what I do in class.
GO: What originally inspired you to intern in Shanghai with Next Step Connections?
Ibrahim: When I graduated in Canada, I was really looking to develop a skill set that would provide me with an edge over other graduating students. Throughout my life, I always loved traveling and was looking for an opportunity that would allow me to get exposed to a completely new culture and at the same time allow me to develop my professional skills. I was looking for a one-stop shop experience, and that is exactly what Next Step Connections guaranteed. Next Step Connections not only provided an opportunity to travel to China but also offered a guaranteed internship in my chemical engineering background. This cultural and professional experience come in very handy since most companies in USA or Canada operate in multicultural and diverse teams.
GO: Describe your day to day activities as an intern in Shanghai.
Ibrahim: Every day in Shanghai was an adventure and fun. I got to meet a lot of other like-minded interns in China and was able to explore a new culture together. Next Step Connections provided support from the moment I applied to the moment I departed from China. They were always a call away for any kind of help needed whether it was language or directions. On a daily basis we explored different areas of the city, went shopping and tried different eateries. Next Step Connection also organized guided tours to different towns near Shanghai.
All the Next Step Connections interns lived in the same building or area and so we got to become really good friends and became more like a family to each other. We traveled to different cities including Beijing and tried to do it in the most local fashion as possible. We took a local 13hr train to Beijing and that was a lifetime experience. The idea of having like minded friends exploring a culture with you is really a plus since it allows you to overcome any challenges that you may feel. Next Step Connections also organized private Chinese lessons on a weekly basis to help us settle in the culture easily. We could choose our own schedules with our instructors. At the end of the internship, I got to travel to Tibet and Nepal with friends before flying back. I got to see Mt. Everest and the little Chinese I learned came in very handy when I took a local 3 day train to Tibet.
GO: How has this experience impacted your future?
Ibrahim: This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that allowed me to put life in perspective and understand the importance of diversity and culture. China is a growing economy and almost everything is manufactured in China and so it was a great place from an engineering standpoint to go out there and learn a few things that make that society so successful in this world. I worked at a drug manufacturing company which provided a great insight into organic synthesis research, manufacturing and engineering of pharmaceutical products. I was exposed to a culture deeply immersed in working and producing the success they dream of. The experience was not only motivational but allowed me to think beyond our assumed boundaries. Next Step Connection also organized networking and professional team building events where we were able to interact with business and professional leaders in China especially at a time when China is growing.
Having grown up as a third culture kid, Virginia has lived in Indonesia, Singapore, China, and the UK. Virginia has been in China since 1997 and spent time in Shanghai, Qingdao, and Xiamen as a student and working professional. A postgraduate student of Sport Management from Loughborough University, UK, Virginia spends her leisure time playing sports, traveling, and trying different cuisines. Virginia joined NSC in March 2011 as the Program Manager managing the different programs and teams in NSC Shanghai. She is fluent in English, Mandarin, Indonesian, and intermediate in French. Prior to NSC, Virginia has worked in trading, real estate consulting, and sports.
What makes interning in Shanghai a unique experience for interns?
Virginia: China is seen as the major player in the economic growth in the Far East, and at the heart of that growth is the city of Shanghai. However, there is much more to interning in China than experiencing a vibrant, passionate and energetic workplace. The idea that there is a totally new culture in China is something that intrigues a lot of young people, many of whom have never been outside of Europe or America. There is a feeling that coming to China is an opportunity to put your skills in the workplace into practice, but also a chance to see if you can cope in a challenging environment.
What can you tell us about the workplace culture in Shanghai?
Virginia: Compared to a Western workplace, a Shanghai office is not hugely different. People are very punctual here, so any meetings or deadlines that have been arranged should be followed very closely. Chinese people are very curious to learn about western people, so expect lots of questions about your home culture! On the other side however, Chinese people are very caring and open to foreign interns asking questions about their culture, their language and their cuisine! We suggest students be open-minded and ready to accept cultural differences.
What level of Mandarin proficiency should interns have when considering this internship? Is prior work experience required?
Virginia: Mandarin proficiency is not required to apply for an internship in Shanghai as they will be assigned an English speaking supervisor. Learning some Mandarin prior to the internship would be helpful but not compulsory. Interns are not required to have work experience prior to applying. Any previous experience would be a plus in the application process. Next Step Connections offers Mandarin courses as part of the programs. These are tailor-made one on one lessons enabling students to learn at their own pace.
What are some extra-curricular activities participants enjoy while interning in Shanghai?
Virginia: NSC organizes social and professional events including social dinners, trips to nearby cities/towns, professional networking events and fun activities during the program period for our interns. These events provide a platform for all interns to meet new friends from all around the world.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in Shanghai?
Virginia: There are several different tips when you are considering an internship abroad in Shanghai. The number one tip would be: JUST DO IT! If you are thinking about doing this then you will be well aware of the huge cultural differences, the strange new food and the different way of life, but you will also be aware of the huge opportunity spending time in Shanghai can provide. It is important to have an open mind and list the things you wish you accomplish from this experience prior to your trip.
Anything else you would like to share?
Virginia: Come to Shanghai! Experience this dynamic city and the business environment. It will be one decision you will not regret making!
About Next Step Connections
Next Step Connections (NSC) is an international education organization located in Shanghai, China, and with a branch office in Hong Kong. NSC is recognized by foreign universities, partner institutions, and the international education industry as a true specialist in providing safe and quality educational programs to and within Greater China.
As University students and fresh graduates need guidance as to what will be their next step, Next Step Connections (NSC) provides internship programs and other educational abroad services to help students gain personal development, find their professional path and ultimately reach their full potential. We strongly believe we are contributing to making the world a better place as we positively impact the lives of hundreds of students across the globe every year.