With the career aspiration of working abroad in the future, interning with a Chinese company this semester is the perfect intro to global business.
This spring, I’m acting as an operations management intern for a small social media start-up, MeetUGo. The company is a social media platform that compiles events around Shanghai, specifically for expats. My duties include developing their social media presence, increasing user engagement, and organizing events. I was lucky in the sense that a fellow CIEE student, Kaitlin, is also interning with MeetUGo. It was really nice to have someone to take that first metro ride to work with since I hardly understood how to get to the office. The featured image for this post is Kaitlin and I with one of our bosses at our first event of the semester.
While my coworker and I are getting to be good friends, I definitely have had a bit of a tough time adjusting to working with my bosses, and in a Chinese business environment. The largest hurdle is communication. First and foremost, there is a language barrier. We conduct all conversations in English, but there are times when my coworker or I ask questions and the answers don’t really fulfill what we’re trying to find out. I have some background in Mandarin Chinese but my bosses are both Taiwanese and speak Cantonese Chinese as their native language. Furthermore, communication style itself between the US and China is very different. While Americans are known to be low-context, very open, and blunt, the Chinese are much more high-context, passive, and nonverbal. This has led to a few misunderstandings. For example, when given a task to work on, I received very little direction or guidelines, which led me to believe I had much creative freedom in my work. This ended up not quite being the case and I had to completely redesign a flyer in the style my boss preferred.
Going off of my last point, my biggest piece of advice for anyone planning to do an international internship is to not be afraid of asking questions. Ask ten in a row if necessary. It might make you feel dumb or self-conscious but it’ll save you time in the long run if it helps you overcome a miscommunication or language barrier. Otherwise, you may get the wrong impression of what is being asked of you (which let me tell you, that’s not super fun).
Despite some struggles, I’m beginning to bond more with my bosses. Every Friday, they take my coworker and I out for lunch to try a different type of cuisine. This past week, we had “mala cai”, which translates to “tingling and spicy food”, so I can say with confidence that my tolerance for spice is rising! Another week, we went to a small Korean restaurant where a cute old man kept serving us free dishes of different Korean food to try. We’re currently all trying to coordinate a day-trip in May together somewhere outside of Shanghai, which I’m excited for!
All in all, interning with a Chinese company, while sometimes frustrating, feels very beneficial to my professional development. Gaining experience in the foreign marketplace that I’m interested in basing my career has been an invaluable experience and I’m excited to see where the rest of the semester takes me with MeetUGo!