Why did you decide to intern abroad with Connect-123 in Shanghai?
Margaret: Connect-123 had all the aspects of a program that I wanted. The internship opportunity was attractive; I had an interest in medicine, and the program was quick and flexible in finding me different options available. Even though I didn't agree so much with one opening, they quickly found me another. The price was very reasonable, especially considering that my family and I were working on a bit of a tight budget. The location in Shanghai was definitely a factor as well, since I have family there that I could live with and visit. I also wanted to improve my Chinese by immersing myself in the city, which I had not visited for years. The intern coordinators who contacted me, moreover, were friendly, professional, and helpful in answering my questions, giving me resources, and providing me with advice for planning the trip.
In the end, I didn't end up searching for more programs after inquiring with and applying to Connect 123. I was pretty sure that I had found a good fit immediately after speaking with an internship coordinator, and so I essentially just sat back and waited for them to provide me internship options after my application was finished. The whole process was a breeze and convinced me that I had made the right choice in pursuing Connect 123 as a program.
What made this internship experience unique and special?
Margaret: There were so many aspects of interning in Shanghai that made it different from any similar type of internship I could have experienced where I currently live. The unique aspect came in large part from the culture, which made for a completely different atmosphere in the hospital, on the streets, and with essentially every human interaction. Everything was faster, busier, terser; I experienced a couple of hiccups adjusting, even with my Chinese background. Similarly, living in a city for a couple of months was definitely a unique experience for me, as I have only bounced around small and large suburbs. Walking constantly and not always getting the right-of-way as a pedestrian; riding on subways, taxis, or buses without the power to steer or control the method of transport myself; and being suffocated in crowds in a city population of over 23 million were all quite special experiences.
Moreover, Connect 123 held group get-togethers often – once every 1-2 weeks – and I found that to be not only helpful in allowing interns to indulge in expressing their Western culture every once in a while, but also unique in that the program provided a healthy balance of independence and care at the same time. Someone would check in with me every so often to see how I was getting along, but there would never be anyone breathing down my neck or watching my every move, a restrictive characteristic that is present in some other programs. Furthermore, besides the actual internship itself, the program helped me to find volunteer opportunities in tutoring and proofreading, an aspect that I didn't even know would be feasible.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Margaret: As someone focusing on pre-medicine in university, the internship provided me with not only educative experience in a hospital, but also a view of global health matters. It also made me more open to other career paths. That is not to say that I'm not considering medicine anymore because of the internship, but rather that it generated the interest for me to consider and pursue options that I had closed my mind off to before, such as global health policy. The volunteer opportunities that the program found for me also has me considering a minor or some sort of focus on teaching and tutoring in the future.
Other than academic matters, the experience also impacted me in a particularly personal way, as I have familial connections in Shanghai. I lived with my grandmother, whom I had not seen in many years, and on the weekends traveled to see my other relatives. My cousins are married and have babies now, a vast distinction from the last time I remembered them as being single and childless. My Chinese had also improved from the internship and using public transportation, so I could actually hold conversations with my family members on my own, a task that I could not do when my poor Chinese when I was younger. I now know and understand so many more things about my ancestors and their history, and it's amazing what kind of effect that that knowledge and family closeness can have. In effect, the experience was not only eye opening in an academic aspect, but also incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable for me personally.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in Shanghai?
Margaret: Do not compare everything to your own culture. Shanghai is its own place with its own people. It has its own traditions and quirks that are distinct from anywhere else. If you constantly compare the food, fashion, transportation, prices, nightlife, table manners, or people's behavior with what you are familiar with, you cannot truly appreciate the city in its own right. Really try to immerse yourself. Learn the language; don't constantly rely on people to translate for you. Make friends with the Chinese people, not only with other interns or foreigners. Use and appreciate the currency on its own; don't convert prices of restaurants or clothes to your own currency. Leave the mentality of the value of dollars to the U.S. and Canada, euros to Europe, pounds to England. 10 RMB is 10 RMB; not 1.50 dollars or what have you. It's much easier to save money and sift through which stores appeal to the locals and which to tourists that way.
In that vein, eat from decent but not high-end places to experience true Chinese cuisine – seriously, this is probably my biggest recommendation. Eat the Chinese food. Please eat the food. Don't go solely to foreign restaurants, pubs, clubs, or stores. Try as much Chinese food as possible. Don't be afraid to try something crazy; you would be surprised at how much food is delicious. Food is absolutely one of the largest aspects of the culture.
Also, don't immediately judge the people just because their actions and behavior are different. Chinese people may seem loud, sloppy, and always in a hurry in public; but they are also kind, funny, and self-sacrificing in ways you can't imagine. In other words, they are different. Your cultural customs and ideals on politeness are distinct from theirs, and it is important to remember that before judging someone noisily chomping on their food in a restaurant or elbowing past you to catch the next subway train. Remain patient and open-minded.
To sum all that up, Shanghai is Shanghai. Your country is yours. Don't juxtapose the two. Also, eat the food and go to as many local Chinese places as possible. After all, what's the point of being in China if you don't take advantage of everything Chinese?