Interning in Shanghai

By Chen Shasha Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/14 18:43:40

Foreigners studying at Shanghai universities gain professional experience through local intern programs

Veselina has participated in four internship programs in Shanghai since leaving her native Bulgaria seven years ago to attend college in China. She is now studying for her master's degree at a Shanghai university while also working as an intern at the Consulate General of the Republic of Bulgaria in Shanghai. But for many foreign students in China, finding an ideal internship opportunity can be quite difficult due to language barriers, cultural and professional differences and a lack of understanding of how the local job market really works.

A Chinese chef teaches a foreign young woman Chinese-style cooking. Photo: VCG

Learning through experience

Several universities in Shanghai have special internship programs to ensure that their foreign students are able to apply what they are learning at the company they intern with and so that they are more prepared to start their career immediately following graduation. However, some foreign students report that this doesn't always go as expected.

"My school program is taught in Chinese, so some of the opportunities provided by my university only suit Chinese students. We have to look for opportunities on our own," Veselina, who found her internship through a platform created by students to promote professional development, told the Global Times.

Yana, a Ukrainian student studying for a master's degree of international politics at a Shanghai university, found her internship by herself. She believes that networking is the key to finding ideal opportunities.

"If you know someone who is in a certain area, it would be much easier. I met my boss at a lecture. He was looking for interns and I was looking for internships, so it was a perfect match. I went to the interview and I got the position immediately," she told the Global Times, adding that she had several friends who found internships via interpersonal relationships as well.

"It is not easy for foreign students to find satisfying internships in China. We don't really have any websites where [Chinese companies] post their internships. The recruitment process on campus doesn't work very well, either," said Yana. "Some companies announce internships on their websites, but the problem is that most are designed for Chinese or people who have strong Chinese language skills."

For Yana, the time spent applying for different internships and then going on all the interviews is also a problem. "It takes a lot of time and it is exhausting to go through many pages of an online application. After that, there will be interview after interview, which is a long process," she explained.

A mutual relationship

For foreign students who don't know the Chinese language or culture well, barriers are a big issue. Vito from Slovenia just finished a one-year exchange program in Shanghai. Working at a local investment bank, he feels fortunate that his team is English speaking. But he has still encountered some problems. "My team speaks English, but our colleagues in other departments often speak only Chinese," he said.

Veselina started to learn Chinese in high school, but that did not make adjusting to life in Shanghai any easier in the very beginning. "There are many cultural differences. Chinese and Westerners are different in the way we work. My Chinese colleagues treated me very well, but sometimes there were communication problems," said Veselina.

For employers, mastering the Chinese language and culture is very necessary. Roald Munoz is an American who is now working as a senior researcher with a local investment company. The firm accepts foreign interns and prefers those interested in - and knowledgeable of - Chinese culture.

"I think that, for all companies, the first thing is the cultural fit. The candidates have to have a competitive cultural background so as to get work immediately inside a Chinese company like us. There are some foreigners who have the ability to easily sit with our culture because they have lived in China for a long time or they have a lot of interest in Chinese culture," Munoz told the Global Times.

"If a foreign student cannot speak Putonghua very well, it is always a problem," Munoz added. "We have had an intern or two before who could not speak any Chinese. They were very smart, but because they didn't speak the local language, it was hard for them to work side by side with their Chinese co-workers."

There are also foreign students who study abroad but come to China specifically for a short-term internship, according to Juliet Li, who manages a company that seeks out local opportunities for foreign students in China.

Li said that some foreign universities have a requirement that their students must gain some international internship experience, from one to six months, as part of their program.

"More overseas students are now interested in China, and this is also a way of learning and experiencing. Besides, the internship will bring them advantages when hunting for full-time jobs in China or back in their home country," Li said.

Making the effort

Compared with those foreign students who have already studied in China, new arrivals encounter more difficulties when it comes to language, food, lifestyle and company culture.

Enara first came to China from Spain in 2015 for a six-month internship on an international program. She told the Global Times that she chose China because she was interested in the culture even though she didn't speak any Putonghua at that time.

"The most difficult thing was the language issue, so I was met with cultural shock every day," she said.

"Employers have concerns as well," Li told the Global Times. "Besides cultural shock, local employers are also worried whether their foreign intern candidates can really commit to the position."

Munoz confirmed this with the Global Times. "I think foreigners who are sent here for an exchange program, or visit China just because of their schools, are not very motivated to adapt to Chinese culture and life. They might only know small facts about China instead of acquiring a deep understanding. People who go to any country can't just read about it in a book; they need to put in the time," he said.

He added that his company prefers foreign interns who received their masters' degree at a Shanghai university, many of which offer programs specifically for foreign students. "It shows that they really wanted to come here and that they made a lot of efforts," he explained.

Attracting foreign talent

Shanghai's famously large international community, its rapid economic growth and favorable conditions for top talents have turned the city into one of the most sought-after destinations for foreign professionals.

According to a media report in April, there are now 140,000 foreign students who are working for or running their own foreign-owned business in Shanghai. The city is also making tremendous efforts to attract foreign students to not only study here but also to stay after they graduate.

This past June, local authorities announced a new deregulated policy that allows foreign students to receive a work visa after graduation from a Shanghai educational institution. Prior to that, foreign students who desired to work in Shanghai had to have two years of overseas work experience or a master's degree or higher.

Yana told the Global Times that she hopes to stay and work in Shanghai after she graduates. "I really like Shanghai, but I heard it is not easy," she said, adding that she was happy to hear that the new policy makes it easier for foreign students to find a job related to their major.

Veselina also said she hopes she will stay in Shanghai to work full time at the consulate or her embassy in Beijing. "But it is not sure though. I am a Bulgarian and I know Shanghai and China very well. I think I can be a bridge between China and Bulgaria," she said.


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