At the time of writing this blog, I have been in Chengdu for just five days. This is my third day as an intern in the InternChina office but I am already getting into the swing of life here. Having spent my year abroad as part of my degree studying at a university in Taiwan, I was eager to get a taste of living and working in mainland China. Chengdu appealed to me as it is a more manageable size and less international than the huge metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, but still with lots to explore within the city and surrounding areas!
I chose to start my time in Chengdu staying in a homestay with a family and their seven-year-old son. While living in Taiwan and briefly travelling in China certainly broadened my understanding of certain aspects of Chinese culture and life, I had not developed an insight into Chinese family and home life. My family have been extremely hospitable and gone out of their way to help me get accustomed to life in Chengdu. Even in this short time, I have got an insight into their daily routine, met their family and colleagues, and tried a huge variety of delicious home-cooked meals. In Taiwan, I found that it was easy to learn what you liked on the menu and then stick with what you knew to avoid translating the menu every time. However staying with a family has led me to try new dishes, fruits and vegetables almost every meal, including foods that I would not usually have ordered myself, such as 美蛙鱼头火锅 (frog and fish head hotpot)!
Difference and Similarities to the UK
Whilst there are many similarities between family life in the UK and China, there are also some striking differences, most noticeably the pressure on young children to study. However, what particularly surprised me on my arrival, is that my family also have an 18-month-old son who is being raised by his grandparents almost 3000km away from Chengdu until he is old enough to attend kindergarten. While I had read about the phenomenon of parents living in urban areas sending their children back to their hometown to be raised by other family members, I had not grasped how common this was among Chinese families. Only seeing your parents once or twice during your first few years of life seems almost incomprehensible to me, and 3000km away from my hometown of London would mean crossing multiple countries ending up in Turkey, for example. However, the pressures of Chinese working life and the lack of affordable childcare options in urban areas, mean that this is a necessity for millions of Chinese parents who have to instead make do with video calling their child.
Communicating in Chengdu
Although I have been studying Mandarin for over four years, the language barrier with my family can still be a challenge. While I generally understand what is being said on a one-to-one basis, group conversations at mealtimes are definitely more difficult, especially with my host dad often switching into Sichuan dialect! However, I am definitely becoming more confident to say to the family when I don’t understand, and, with the help of Pleco (a Chinese dictionary app), I am learning lots of new words and phrases so, as is said in Chinese, 慢慢来 (it will come slowly)!
Last week, people all over China came together with their families to celebrate the annual Mid-Autumn festival. This is a festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year and is often associated with a type of pastry known as a “moon cake”. Moon cakes, or 月饼, are extremely popular across China; they are given to relatives, friends, and colleagues during this festival and are seen as a luxurious gift. However, if you are unfamiliar with Chinese culture and traditions, this may be the first time you have heard of the delicacy. The cake is surrounded with deep history and folklore and is available with several different fillings cased in intricately designed pastry. Here is an introduction to the roots and relation of the dessert to mid-autumn festival, the most popular types of mooncake, and the modern development of mooncakes around the world.
History of Mooncakes
Mooncakes are an extremely traditional delicacy that have existed throughout many Chinese dynasties. One of the most commonly told stories about the history of mooncakes is the role they played in the Ming uprising against the Mongol rule during the Yuan dynasty. Ming revolutionaries used the intricate design of these cakes to their advantage. Cakes were decorated with a design which contained a secret message when pieced together indicating an uprising on the 15th day of the 8th month. Once these instructions were understood the cake could be eaten to destroy any evidence of the plan. Ever since this uprising, the mooncake has been heavily associated with the mid-autumn festival which occurs on the same day as this uprising.
Unlike soft, light sponge cakes often eaten as dessert in the West, these mooncakes are extremely dense and heavy. For this reason, the circular cakes are sliced up and eaten in small pieces, often accompanied by Chinese tea. The most traditional mooncakes are encased in a shiny, thick pastry (imagine chewy shortcrust pastry with a shiny finish), and the three most popular fillings are red bean, lotus seed paste, and mixed nuts.
Red bean paste and lotus seed paste are both very popular fillings of mooncakes. Red bean is a common ingredient in many Asian desserts. Be careful not to confuse this bean paste with chocolate; the similar colour of the two ingredients has been known to confuse tourists around China. Lotus seed paste is thought to be one of the most luxurious fillings for mooncakes and is popular in southern China, especially in Cantonese regions. Both pastes create a smooth, sweet, dense filling. As well as plain red bean and lotus seed paste, some cakes also contain a salted egg yolk in the centre. Cakes which contain egg yolk are thought to be the most lavish mooncakes around and are highly favoured in China.
Although this pastry is known as a “cake”, not all fillings are sweet. Another popular filling is mixed nuts, which sometimes also contains roasted pork. This type of filling is known as “5 kernel” mooncake because it contains a mix of five different nuts inside. This filling differs to the smooth texture and sweet taste of the red bean and lotus seed pastes.
Although mooncakes have been eaten in China for centuries, new flavours are constantly being created around the world today. From seafood to cream cheese, innovative new fillings are constantly being tested not just in China but in many other countries also. Some new fillings which have caught on include ice cream, jellied fruit, and green tea. A new pastry made from glutinous rice has also been used to make “snow skin” mooncakes which are sweet and chewy. The development of new flavours is popular in foreign countries where the traditional fillings are not commonly eaten, so mooncakes can be adapted to better suit the preferred flavours of that country.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of the most traditional and popular mooncakes found in China, go out and try some for yourself to properly understand the flavour and texture of this rich and historical cake.
When I first mentioned to my friends and family that I will go to China for my year abroad, their first reaction was: “China? Why China? What are you going to do there? Why not Australia or America like everyone else? Is China even safe?” I’m sure everyone in the same situation as me, went through the same experience. But the question is why is everyone’s reaction like this about China?
Shouldn’t it actually be the other way around? Considering how rapid Chinas economic growth is, it’s a land full of opportunities! After being here for five months I keep asking myself, “why don’t we have the things they have here in China? Life here is so convenient and a lot of big business ideas could be brought back to Germany.”Not to mention how attractive your CV will look with ‘Accomplished an Internship in China’ written on it. Behind these written words lays a wide range of professional skills achieved while working in China. Skills such as flexibility, strong mentality, adaptability, high stress tolerance etc. It’s definitely not easy coming to China to work – especially when you’re alone and coming from a Western country. This means that getting through the day can be difficult sometimes.However, this shows just how much self-improvement that I’ve gained since working in China, and I’ve kept a few things in mind when things haven’t worked out the way I want them to:
“Keep trying and don’t give up”
Even if things don’t work out the first time, you learn from what went wrong and you try again and succeed from the second, or even third time.
“Every day is a challenge that you will overcome and grow”
Especially when coming to China for the first time, as many things are different. However, slowly and surely you will figure out the system. Just simple things like learning how to use the metro/bus the taxi, or even ordering food for the first time. It seems hard at first but when you’ve done it, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and one day you may even be as good as the locals!
Coming to China is challenging but coming out of your comfort-zone really isn’t as hard as you think. You just need to take the first step, because after that there is only self-improvement and growth!
Besides all of this, I fell in love with Chengdu. It’s a really fun and exciting city to live in. With lovely food and endless options to spend your spare time, even after being here for five months I’m still not tired of seeing parts of the city where elements of traditional and modern China clash together.Even though Chengdu is one of the bigger cities, it doesn’t lack nature as the city tries to be a green city with numerous parks. Not to mention how affordable everything is – you could live like a King/Queen here and it’s still cheaper than in most western countries!
Ciao! My name is Ferdinando and I am one of the office interns here in Chengdu. I come from Torino, a lovely city just a short drive away from the Italian Alps. I have now been in Chengdu for almost a month, but it honestly feels like I have been here an entire lifetime! The atmosphere and energy of this laid-back metropolis have completely won me over, and I could definitely imagine myself living here one day.As the days have passed, I have found myself more and more at ease in this new environment. I’ve started asking myself a simple question: Why? Why is it so easy for me to dive into and settle in this very different and complex culture, while with so many others I have a more challenging time? After some pondering over many hot bowls of dandan noodles, I have realised that the reason for my rapid acclimatization was that Chinese culture is, in fact, not so distant from my own Italian culture after all.The obvious starting point of this comparison is food: both Italians and Chinese are passionate about their food and possess very complex and proud eating cultures. Due to its abundance of strong flavours and “exotic” ingredients (such as chicken feet and pig brains!), traditional Chinese cuisine can seem threatening to Western palates. However, after a few days of rumbling stomachs, foreigners will get to know and appreciate the incredible richness of this wonderful culinary tradition. I am a great fan of Chinese food myself, and I believe that, upon my departure, the thing I will miss the most of Chengdu will be its succulent chuanchuan houses and its authentic noodle corner-shops.Another main point of contact between our two cultures is the paramount importance we both give to family and tradition. While strolling by Chengdu’s People Park, it is possible to see old grandparents practising Taichi with their young nephews, just as my grandparents used to play football with a young me in Torino’s parks. In addition, in the numerous large family gatherings I have seen in Chengdu’s hotpot restaurants I see the reflection of my own “extended family” lunches, that could last anywhere between three to six hours. I am of the opinion that this strong sense of community and belonging, typical of both Italian and Chinese families, not only creates deeper family and friendship ties, but also enhances your sense of cultural awareness. Thus making it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide at hand.A third similarity I have observed between Italy and China, especially in regards to Chengdu, is their common relaxed, “dolce far niente” approach to life. I have surprisingly found that the concept of being on time is exceptionally similar both in Italy and China, so that my canonical five-minute lateness is not only accepted (unlike in England), but almost encouraged! Although Chengdu still is a bustling, work-oriented metropolis, somehow its citizens manage to maintain a hands-off approach to both their professional and personal lives. This makes this city the perfect spot to jumpstart an ambitious, yet stress-free career.
I believe many other cultural analogies can be found between Italy and China, but that is not the point of this post. The point is, in my opinion, more important to underline and point out the existence of such similarities – as comparison brings recognition, recognition brings acceptance, and acceptance brings friendship. In other words, the purpose of this post is to highlight that, no matter where you are from and where you go, as long as you seek similarities and avoid division, you will find it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide and feel at home anywhere around the world. Therefore, this is the main advice I can give to new interns coming to China: seek the familiar in the foreign and the foreign will look familiar.
Bonjour! I’m Valentine. I am one of the office interns here in Zhuhai and I come from France. For the last three months, I have lived in Zhuhai and I am in love with this beautiful place. One of the things that I enjoy the most in China is the lifestyle here; simplicity and generosity spring to mind.If you love food, China is the best place in the world. I spend most of my time eating and trying new types of food. I hope you will like spicy food, because it is everywhere here! But there are also options that are not spicy, yet equally as tasty, so don’t worry if your spice tolerance levels aren’t so high. The Chinese cuisine allows you to discover a variety of flavours and tastes and eating with chopsticks can be a lot of fun. You can’t get bored of the food here and you can also eat so cheaply. Most of the time for less than five euros. You are likely to come across some different types of food you aren’t used to, like insects and chicken feet. Personally, I enjoyed it!
In China, you will get to experience a “busy lifestyle”. You can find corner shops open all through the night. It is also possible to order food in the middle of the night and get it delivered. Whilst wondering around the city, you will find people on the streets doing sports or some shopping. It’s very cheap to take a taxi to explore the city, but it might be quite intimidating at first because it feels like going around on a race circuit! But the drivers do drive quite slowly, so you are very safe here.Choosing to come with InternChina in Zhuhai for an internship was the best way to be immersed in the Chinese culture. Even if interactions with Chinese people are intimidating, I encourage you to speak Chinese, even just to order food or speak to a taxi driver. It can be very useful to learn some basic phrases here, and Chinese people are kind and cheerful with Westerners. It’s always fun to speak Chinese with the incorrect pronunciation and hand gestures because after all, that is how we learn and become better.
The “expat life” is very enjoyable and even though people look at you as though you are an alien, it is still an incredible experience. In Zhuhai, the people are not used to seeing Western people, especially someone like me with blonde hair and blue eyes.Everything seems so beautiful in Zhuhai, and I spend a lot of my time analysing what is going on around me. When I think about it, maybe that is the reason why I still can’t remember how to get from my apartment to the office, because I am constantly in awe of what is going on around me. Zhuhai is supposedly a tiny city in Chinese terms, but it is a heavenly city with a lot going on.
Reflecting on my experience, it has been fascinating because it has taken me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to become more open-minded. It has taught me to enjoy each moment and I have met some extraordinary people. I believe that common stereotypes of China are totally wrong. It is a beautiful country which is welcoming of foreigners. This fascinating experience takes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to become more open-minded, to enjoy each moment abroad and to meet extraordinary people. Actually, stereotypes about China are totally wrong. China is a beautiful country, welcoming and cheerful with foreigners.If I could summarize this amazing opportunity, I would choose a famous French quotation, that I’m sure you will be able to understand; “Choisissez un travail que vous aimez et vous n’aurez pas à travailler un seul jour de votre vie”. In English, the translation sounds like this; “Choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. And it is true, because in just three months, I have learnt so much about myself and I think I have improved my work abilities and developed many skills. I have become better with my English also, thanks to spending my time working in a multi-cultural office with many nationalities, such as Chinese, Irish, English, Italian and Romanian.
I would recommend to any student who is looking for an internship experience to apply for InternChina, because this experience truly has been “Beyond Work Experience” for me. Always remember, three months is a short period of your life and you might only have this one opportunity to do something so amazing.
Firstly, I would like thank InternChina for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dream of visiting China. This was something I never thought I’d be able to afford due to the financial barriers. With the funding from the British Council it helped make my dreams a reality.
I decided to apply for the programme for many reasons. I wanted to visit China, I was keen to broaden my cultural intelligence, I wanted to meet people from all over the world and I was keen to work in an environment different to what I was used to in the UK. The Generation UK programme offered all of this in one experience. Initially I thought applying for the programme would be like a holiday. I also thought it would look good on my CV. But after reading reviews and information on the programme I knew I would gain so much more than that.
I have always been independent. I moved out at 18 and had two jobs from as far back as I can remember. With this it is has been difficult to commit to extracurricular activities that help me towards my career goals. I always went were the money was to live a comfortable life. Applying for this programme allowed me to put my busy life on hold for a few months and focus on me.
Arrival in China and the Internship Experience
When I arrived in China I was extremely nervous. I was instantly put at ease by the staff at my programme who ensured all my worries and queries were dealt with. There was definitely an equal balance of work and leisure which made going to work more enjoyable.
My internship was in a tourist complex which was in the process of opening a new model train museum. I was responsible for the marketing. This allowed me to use my core skills learned from my university degree in a practical setting. It also allowed me to see what it is like to work in a Chinese company and how that differs to the UK. The majority of staff in my workplace could not speak English which made work challenging on occasions. But I made some lifelong friends.
Challenges in China
There were some minor challenges I found when living and working in China. Missing my family was definitely one. And being in a country where you cannot speak the language can be lonely. However, having the other interns around me who were going through the same thing helped. Communicating with the locals was sometimes a little difficult. But I was able to use a translation application and learnt some basic Chinese from my colleagues in work.
I was surprised at how “ahead” the Chinese are. The technology blew my mind and made me excited for what the future holds for the rest of the world. I was also pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the Chinese were to westerners. They were keen to learn from me. I was also super keen to learn from them, in terms of their working practices and from their culture.
Reflections on My Time in China
Since returning home from China, it is safe to say I have the China blues. I reflect on the experience daily and since returning to university I feel more mature and in control of my studies and my future.
I’ve learned a lot from my time in China and I am eager to return to explore more of the country. I now know that I am keen to move out of the UK when I graduate, spending my summer in China made me realise I can do that. Again, I cannot thank InternChina and the Generation UK programme enough for helping me follow one of my dreams and meet some fantastic people.
Previous interns had nothing but positive things to say about this programme. Further research into InternChina had drawn me to apply for the programme. I felt that they were passionate about integrating individuals from the West into China. This was exactly what I was yearning for.
After living in the U.K. for all my life, I wanted to experience a culture that was completely different from my own. What better way to do it than an internship in China? Not only would I be able to gain invaluable work experience, but I could also meet my goal and expand the perimeter of my comfort zone.
The experience communicating with InternChina staff made me even more at ease about flying 7000+ miles away from home. In particular, Ali Hashemi and Liam Dempsey were noteworthy. They were professional and caring members of staff who were pivotal in my final decision to apply.
Ali and Liam were prompt in reply to emails in regards to a small complication I had with my visa application. They alleviated fears about the accommodation, the flights and any other worries I may have experienced. With their support, I had a smooth pre-departure process that ensured me a pleasant arrival.
The Internship Experience and InternChina Support
My initial internship company aimed to interactively teach young children coding. (Python, Java, and Script). Being one of the few pioneering companies to take such an approach with programming, we agreed to use the skills from my degree to develop the psychological literature around the effects of coding from a young age. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to continue as planned. My overall goal was to not only experience China, but also gain work experience applicable to my future career. Therefore, I had to find a more suitable place.
Again, this is an instance whereby Liam demonstrated his ability to be understanding. He reassured me and found another placement that met my requirements very quickly. This led me to my new internship. Similar to the first one, the second was an innovative and expanding company with a passionate team that integrated various techniques (from the west as well as China). Such techniques were successfully employed to make functional fitness fun for adults as well as children from as young as 3 years old.
A Fresh Start
With a background dominated by physical activity and future prospects of going into Sports Psychology, this seemed like the perfect company for me. I had various tasks during my internship. These included making warm-up music or the staff to use with the children, international comparison with western fitness and suggesting exercises for staff and children.
Despite few English speakers, it was clear the team worked hard to ensure that I was involved. When there was overlap with InternChina weekend trips (e.g. TaGong, Four Sisters Mountains) and dinner meetups, my company was understanding and allowed me to tailor my working hours to ensure I was able to attend. Overall, my working hours allowed me to see the city and experience China as I had planned.
In My Spare Time
Outside of work I also took the time to visit some of the tourist sights. But I was more interested in having an authentic experience and understanding of the culture. In light of this, I took to the back streets and side alleys. Despite the language barrier, which I was able to overcome with the use of technology, I found myself not only learning the language but also teaching others about myself. Alongside the etiquette around eating, one of the things I refuse to forget is how to use chopsticks! Especially as it was so difficult to learn.
One of the highlights and surprises of my time in China is understanding that despite the obvious differences in culture and society, I could relate to similarly aged individuals. It seemed to me that these individuals were going through the same things as myself; we had more in common than we initially considered. This turned out to be a pleasant surprised which lead to considerable bond and international friendships.
Reflections on the Programme
I am from a low socio-economic background. Without this opportunity, this experience would have taken a much longer time to acquire. I am fortunate and honoured to have been a part of the Generation UK programme as I was able to come to China, meet like-minded people, develop business ideas, understand the business environment, gain experience, experience the culture and expand my comfort zone at a pivotal age.
I can happily say that it was a pleasure to be an intern in Chengdu. Also, InternChina facilitated my great experience and allowed me to meet my aims/goals in China. However, given the vastness of China and being on just a two months placement, I have plans to return to China and explore more. Instead of being an intern, next time I hope to have a business in China that is taking on interns.
My name is Rebekah Kane and I study Computer Science at Queen’s University in Belfast. When I applied for my IT internship in China at the beginning of the year, I didn’t think I would get an interview, never mind accepted.
I’d applied after seeing advertisements across the internet. Having read a few of the stories on the blog, I decided to go for it. I knew that having experience in my industry abroad would look amazing on my CV and set me apart from other applicants, but I didn’t realise just how much I would enjoy my time in China.
Choosing My City
The interview process was smooth. Everyone I was in contact with from InternChina and my company was full of information and quick to respond to every one of my questions – and I had a lot.
Out of the cities on offer, I decided to go to Zhuhai. Zhuhai is nestled between Hong Kong and Macau and considered ‘small’ for a city in China. Even though there are 1.7 million people who live and work there, Zhuhai isn’t as overwhelming as the other cities in China and in spite of the constant construction, it does give off a small city vibe.
My Internship and the Culture Shock
I worked in the IT department of an Asian-based western company who specialise in the design, development and distribution of silicone-based products. My daily tasks ranged from working on company databases to exploring the warehouse. Every day was different, and I was exposed to so much more than just the office walls.
There are a lot of culture shocks when you arrive in China. ButI think for me the most prominent misconception I had is that the Chinese work culture would be so intense it would burn me out. The Chinese people work hard, but not in the way that most westerners are used to. From their lunch time office naps (which I am 100% going to make a thing in the UK – or at least try my best) to the casual office wear and constant snacking (this may have just been my company, but again, I’m bringing it home) the work environment in China is, at least in my experience, very relaxed. People get their work done but don’t let it stress them out. Any stresses they do have, they leave in the office before they go home.
Outside of Work
I’ve had some of the best adventures of my life and met some of the most amazing people. On my first weekend in Zhuhai, a few of us headed to Yangshuo by train. We wanted to explore the countryside and escape Typhoon Mangkhut. We expected the typhoon wreak havoc on the city. Thankfully Zhuhai missed the worst of it!
Yangshuo was incredible. We hiked Moonhill, went bamboo rafting, and cycled through rural China. Here we met two Irish lecturers who had also cycled past the road we were all looking for. We also made friends with the hostel kitten, Cino (as in cappuccino). The following weekend we went camping on Wai Lingding island. We set up tents on the beach here and played traditional Chinese games well into the night.
Golden Week in China
During Golden Week, six of us travelled to Guangzhou for two nights. Golden Week in China is a week of Chinese national holidays. When you go to Guangzhou, China’s third largest city, you start to understand why Zhuhai is considered small.
Guangzhou is filled with massive sky scrapers which dance with multi coloured lights all night long. If you ride the metro a few stops outside of the business district you’ll find traditional Chinese temples, streets strung with red lanterns, lined with stalls selling jade and precious stones. It’s the perfect depiction of China – deep-rooted tradition meets cutting-edge modernity.
The Entire Experience
Stepping off the plane at Hong Kong airport, I didn’t know what to expect from my time in China. I figured I’d meet a few cool people and we would go on an adventure or two. Knowing my internship was going to be a great learning curve but thinking that I’d be exhausted every day after coming back from work.
I wish I could go back and tell myself to stop imagining the worst. To embrace every single moment because it goes by so quickly. I can honestly say that in my eight weeks, my professional skills developed massively. I’ve made amazing friends and eaten so much incredible Chinese food that a curry from the local just won’t make the cut anymore. Participating in this programme has enriched my CV and helped me figure out which direction I want my career to take upon graduating.
Before taking part in this internship I thought I would go back to Belfast having had my fill of China, but the experience has convinced me to come back once I graduate. Whether it be teaching English, working with a Chinese company or just travelling through and taking every day as it comes, I know that I’ll be back and I have InternChina and the Generation UK programme to thank for that.