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These days, it seems as though the whole world is beating a path to China's door - and it isn't hard to see why. An ancient civilization steeped in history, yet racing into the future at breakneck speed, China is increasingly driving today's global economy and reshaping the landscape of international business. As such, it's the perfect internship destination for students, graduates, and young professionals eager to gain experience and showcase their boldness, adaptability, and global mindset to future employers.
No matter which sector you choose, interning in China is an excellent way to build your resume while getting firsthand insight into the world's fastest growing market. And be sure to leave time for exploring - from spectacular ancient landmarks like the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army at Xi'an to the avant-garde art and fashion houses of Shanghai; China has something for every traveler!
Since the late 1970s, when China's Communist government launched its policy of "reform and opening up," the Chinese economy has been growing at a staggering rate, with the country now widely expected to overtake the United States by the middle of this century - or perhaps sooner. Massive and ongoing modernization and development, huge amounts of foreign direct investment, and a potential market of more than 1.3 billion customers - an increasing number of whom can now afford comfortable, middle-class lifestyles - have made China fertile ground for every kind of business imaginable, and prospective interns have no shortage of companies or sectors to choose from. While business, finance, and law continue to lead the pack among China interns, there are also ample opportunities in cutting-edge fields such as digital media and green technology. Below are some of the most popular choices for internships in China.
While it's possible to arrange an internship entirely on your own, the logistics are complicated, and most businesses are unlikely to take a chance on a candidate they've never met unless he or she can be vouched for by a reputable agency. For this reason, it's best to secure your internship in China through a placement company, which will handle the visa process, find a suitable internship, and handle all of the legal paperwork for you. Your placement company should also provide airport pickup and accommodation. Most also offer Chinese language courses, either as part of their program package or as an optional "extra." Placement companies charge varying fees for their programs; shop around and do your research to find out which one is best for you. Especially if you're new to China, you'll want a program that provides full and ongoing support for the duration of your stay, so you can focus on getting the most out of your internship.
Internships in China are generally available year-round, though it's best to avoid the Chinese New Year holiday period (sometime between late January and the middle of February; the exact dates, corresponding to the lunar calendar, change every year) as offices are usually closed or understaffed and no official business is done. Every internship placement program is different, but as a general rule you should try to apply at least two or three months in advance to increase your chances of being placed in a sector or company of your choosing.
The vast majority of China internships are to be found in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which are increasingly internationalized and host a wide variety of companies in industries ranging from business and finance to media and marketing. However, there are also internship opportunities in more rural parts of China, especially for those who are interested in working for NGOs, charities, and social welfare organizations.
Most interns come to China on an "F Visa," or business visa, which allows you to stay in the country for up to six months. The visa fee for American citizens is US $130, and you will need to provide: 1) a completed application form with photo; 2) a valid passport with at least six months remaining on it; and 3) an official invitation letter from your host company in China. Your internship placement company should assist you in obtaining your visa, and the cost should be included in the overall program fee. For more information on China visas, go to VISA HQ
Most China internships take place in big, international cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where the standard and cost of living is significantly higher than in the rest of the country. How much you spend will depend on where and how often you go out and how "Western" you choose to be during your stay. For example, Chinese restaurants, even upscale ones, are significantly cheaper than their Western counterparts - a full meal with multiple dishes can easily be had for under US $10. Frequenting expat-oriented bars, clubs, and restaurants, on the other hand, will drive up your expenses considerably. Most interns opt for a mixed Western and Chinese lifestyle, for which 3,000-5,000 renminbi a month (about US $500-800) should be more than adequate.
As China becomes more fully integrated into the global economy, the lines separating Western and Chinese office culture are gradually becoming more blurred, especially in top-tier "global cities" like Shanghai. That said, traditional Chinese business culture is still pervasive, and as an intern there are a few key issues of which you'll need to be aware:
Once in China it is illegal to be employed by anyone other than your host company, and while it's certainly possible to find extra work on the side (the most popular jobs are teaching English, copy-editing, and translating), the Chinese government has recently been cracking down on visa infractions by foreigners. Surprise workplace inspections are not uncommon, especially in the big cities. To ensure that your time in China goes smoothly, observe the law and make sure you have your supporting documents with you at all times.
Whatever your future career plans, an internship in China is a valuable and rewarding experience that will give you first-hand insight, not just into the world's second largest economy, but also into the life, language, and culture of a society that is in the midst of one of the most sweeping transformations in human history. However long you stay in China, the knowledge, skills, and perspective gained will last you a lifetime.
Enrico Piccinini studied international relations at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland and has been living and working in China since 2009. He is currently an associate at CRCC Asia, a company that specializes in connecting China and the global community through internships, study programs, and consulting services. Find them on Facebook and Twitter.
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