Staff Member Spotlight: Michael Benson

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Michael studied Politics and International Relations at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom where he was born and raised. Following on from his studies he lived and worked in Beijing, China for two years – gaining a deep interest in Chinese business culture. He worked there as a Marketing Assistant for the popular social networking service Renren (Chinese equivalent of Facebook). Prior to working in Sydney, Michael worked in Beijing with CRCC Asia as Asia Pacific Regional Manager before relocating to Sydney to further Australia-China links.

Tell us more about your role at CRCC Asia. What's your most enjoyable aspect of the position?

Michael: My role as Asia Pacific Regional Manager involves working closely with all our program interns from their initial application to coordinating their arrival in China for the start of their program. It is my duty to select the applicants to come onto the program and ensure that the pre-departure process runs smoothly.

I was originally based in Beijing, China with CRCC Asia, however I was presented with the opportunity to relocate to Sydney, Australia with CRCC Asia to help establish our first office on the ground in Australia. It was an incredible opportunity that has enabled us to provide a much higher quality level of pre-departure support to all our program interns.

By far the most enjoyable aspect of the role is the opportunity to get to meet so many talented and inspiring program participants - naturally throughout the application process we do become quite familiar with each intern. Learning about their stories and background is always very intriguing, each conversation has certainly left a lasting impression.

Have you ever interned or worked abroad? What was the most rewarding part of your experience?

Michael: I was a participant on the CRCC Asia China Internship Program in Beijing. An experience which was essentially a catalyst for my professional career in the immediate years to come. It was an incredible opportunity for me to gain exposure to a country like China, where I had never been before. You learn pretty quickly that China is a very complex and intriguing place, and during my years in the country I was able to develop a strong appreciation of China’s business culture.

Naturally the experience in Beijing was definitely challenging, but in many ways this is what drew me out to China in the first place and those challenges and moments of culture shock which you do experience I found only endear you to China even more.

How do you see the international internship market changing over the next 5 years?

Michael: Here in Australia there are definite shifts in graduate recruitment standards and their expectations of those students entering into the graduate market. Through our membership with the Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE) and the Austrlian China Business Council (ACBC) we do often gain a unique insight into the mindset of graduate employers.

What is clear is that over the coming years the lack of relevant practical work experience will only become more of a hindrance to applicants in their hunt for a graduate position. Firms are realising that a university education alone does not provide the comprehensive practical skill set necessary to be successful in the workplace.

I also expect the release by the Australian government of their recent white paper ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ will be a major game changer to graduate recruitment. The paper explicitly outlines how Australia needs to develop a strong understanding of Asia through internships and study exchange programs. Therefore gaining an international internship will enable applicants to not only demonstrate the capacity to practically apply the knowledge they have acquired in their degree, but also showcase an understanding of the globalised economy, which is integral to Australia’s plan for growth over the coming years.

What's the most memorable story/experience you've heard from a past intern?

Michael: I was in quite a fortunate position working in our office in Beijing where I was able not only to connect and meet the program participants whilst they were on one of our programs - but to also stay in contact with those who decided to stay in Beijing after the completion of the program.

That for me is one of the more memorable experiences - is that the fact that many of our interns came out over to China looking for some kind of catalyst for their future career, not really expecting to actually see themselves living and working in China after their 1-3 month internship had finished.

I think it’s a real testament to the appeal of China that despite all it’s differences and cultural quirks it is still able to convince people to live and work there for years on end after only a couple of months in the country.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning in China?

Michael: From my own experience of living and working in Beijing I really feel that it’s key interns arrive in China with both an appreciation and expectation that everything from your commute to your workplace environment is going to be very different to what you’re used to back home. Having this understanding beforehand definitely helps you adjust to the cultural differences in China.

For me personally though it was these differences and challenges, which is what drew me to work in China and I’m glad they did!