Mairead

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Nanshan Mountain, Shenzhen
Zhuhai Blogs

Why China is the Best Place for French People to Work and Travel

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.

Teri Rooney
Generation UK, Zhuhai Blogs

Teri Rooney In Zhuhai

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.

Dashen Allen
Chengdu Blogs, Generation UK

Dashen Allen in Chengdu

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.

Pre-Departure

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.

Rebekah Kane
Generation UK, Zhuhai Blogs

Rebekah Kane in Zhuhai

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.

Generation UK - China
Generation UK

Generation UK – Class of 2018

The Generation UK – China programme was launched by the British Council in 2013, aiming to help 80,000 students from the UK to boost their employability, enhance their long-term job prospects and develop a global mindset through study and work experiences in China.

The programme offers students and graduates the chance to complete a 2-month internship in one of three cities in China; Chengdu, Qingdao and Zhuhai.

By encouraging UK students to engage with China, Generation UK aims to bring young people from both countries closer together, increase mutual understanding, and pave the way to lasting links and partnerships between the UK and China.

Since 2013, InternChina has sent hundreds of students and graduates to China on the Generation UK funded programme, and below are some of our alumni from the 2018 cohort.

KATIE TRIPPETT

Katie Trippett of Lancaster University worked in an International Trading Company in Zhuhai in summer 2018. She learnt a lot about the cultural differences in China, both in day-to-day life, as well as in the work place. Find out more about her experience here.

SARAH GUMUSH

Sarah Gumush of Birmingham City University completed a Digital Marketing internship in Chengdu in the summer of 2018. Sarah has given us an insight in to her thoughts about the Generation UK programme before, during and after. Check out her experience here.

NIAMH McNULTY

Niamh McNulty of Aberystwyth University spent two months in Qingdao in summer 2018 as a Logistics intern. She wrote about her experience of living in Qingdao as a foreigner, as well as her experience in her internship and the differing cultural norms in China.

REBEKAH KANE

Rebekah Kane of Queen’s University, Belfast, completed a 2-month IT internship in Zhuhai in Autumn 2018. Rebekah told us about her experience in Zhuhai, and her advice to other people thinking about doing the Generation UK programme.

DASHEN ALLEN

Dashen Allen of Birmingham City University spent 2-months in Chengdu in 2018. He had a unique experience in China after things didn’t work out at his first internship, but he was determined to make a success of his time there. Find out here about how the Chengdu team supported him.

TERI ROONEY

Teri Rooney of the University of Strathclyde spent 2-months in Zhuhai over summer 2018. She completed her internship in a Marketing and Tourism company. She told us about how the internship in China allowed her expand her horizons and follow her dreams.

Sarah Gumush
Chengdu Blogs, Generation UK

Sarah Gumush in Chengdu

Ever since I was a child (around the age 3), Mulan was my favourite Disney princess. She was a great inspiration on the love I developed for China. Throughout the following years, I started to love Chinese culture, food, clothes and history.

Coming across the Generation UK programme immediately caught my interest. It pushed me to research more about InternChina, the opportunities they offer and feedback from previous interns. After reading the positive feedback about the Generation UK programme, I knew to take this opportunity. I decided to apply to the programme for an internship in the marketing field.

Pre-Departure

Staff such as Ali Hashemi and Liam Dempsey were very helpful and quick to respond to my emails. This was very helpful and helped me build trust with InternChina and the services. This lessened my worries, as I would always get fast replies and answers for any questions I had regarding visa application, my apartment and life in China.

I have a background in psychology and want to study an international MBA for my masters. So I thought that doing an internship within the business field would be a bridge between my transition from psychology to business. I was hoping to familiarise myself with key terminology in marketing, broaden my network and surround myself with the business environment.

The Master’s course I will undertake is international. Thus, doing an internship in a foreign country would make me understand more about the different procedures required for businesses in a country outside of the UK and Europe which I am familiar with.

During the Programme

Landing in China and realising that I made it so far made me feel like I’ve accomplished a big part of my goal. It was a sunny day and I could not stop smiling when I was walking from the airport, all the way to the compound I lived in. My departure and arrival in China were very smooth. Liam picked me up from the airport with a warm welcome. He made me feel like I was ready for an adventure.

Throughout my time in Chengdu, all I had to do was throw myself out there and adapt to the environment I was in. I would use sign language and mime. And lastly, I would use a translation application to get a Chinese person to understand what I was trying to say. I always loved relying on myself before using translation applications. The language barrier was never an issue for me. I would see it as a fun challenge where I could learn a Chinese word from.

The weekly Chinese classes that I received were very helpful.  I would use a lot of the words that I learnt in class in my everyday life in Chengdu. The Chinese classes were great fun with the other interns.  I am still learning more Chinese now, as the languages and characters were very interesting.

The Internship Experience

Doing the internship and working with the best team was great fun.  I would look forward to going to work every day and learn more about digital marketing in China and the Chinese way of doing business. My boss was a very cool person, and I made great connections with the team. I was so surprised that I could take a nap (my lazy hobby) at work during the break. The normality of it surprised me.

Having the opportunity to work in my internship familiarised me with business models and key terms that will be useful in my postgraduate degree. Broadening my network and making connections with businesses in China via work will be beneficial for me in the future.

Outside of Work

After work, I would always visit the bubble tea shop under my apartment. I became friendly with the people who worked there. Also, there was a little noodle shop that was me and my friend’s favourite place to visit. Building a little community for myself in the area I lived in was very important. It made me feel more like I was at home.

Tourism in the city never ends! From my experience, walking down the market and going inside a little restaurant to eat fried rice and dumplings with chopsticks was some sort of tourism. The trips organised were great fun, and I enjoyed visiting the Chengdu panda research base. Seeing the Jinlong Great Wall in Luodai was an amazing experience which motivated me further to take another trip to China and visit the Great Wall in Beijing. The Thursday dinners were also exciting because it allowed me to try lots and delicate traditional Chinese dishes and give me the perfect time to catch up with other interns.

After the Programme

I appreciate the opportunity for me to do an internship and reach my main goal. It makes me proud to inspire other minority women, such as those from a Muslim background. I hope to inspire them to push themselves out of their comfort zone and do an internship or travel to different countries. I did have doubts and second thoughts about doing an internship in China sometimes. However, I managed to live 5000+ miles away from home, whilst still being able to be myself. This experience taught me to express your values comfortably. And will never feel like you need to fit in because others will accept you for accepting yourself.

This trip to China is an unforgettable chapter of my life. It is the beginning of my travelling journeys. It was a break that I needed from my average daily life. I am very thankful to InternChina and the Generation UK programme for giving me this chance to accomplish my goals. My advice to anyone thinking about this internship would be, take the opportunity and just be comfortable with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone!

Katie Trippitt
Generation UK, Zhuhai Blogs

Katie Trippitt In Zhuhai

As my last year at university was quickly ticking away, I was still undecided as to what I wanted to do after I graduated. With a family member working for the British Council, I decided to look on their website to gain an insight to the kind of careers they offer. This was where I found the Generation UK – China internship opportunity.

I had mentioned the programme to my career mentor, who had previously completed a one-month internship herself. She highly recommended it to me as I was in a place where I wanted to gain some work experience as well as travel experience –  so it was the ideal combination!

Coming from a business background, China was incredibly appealing. It’s booming economy, fast growing consumer market and flourishing business base, to name a few aspects. I thought that this opportunity would be incredibly beneficial. Not only for my work experience, but also for my personal growth as an individual.

Living in China

Living in China has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life so far. From day one, I found myself out of my comfort zone. Instantly having to adapt to all aspects of everyday life. You soon become an expert using chop sticks! Talking of food, this has to be one of my favourite things about Chinese culture. Ordering multiple dishes to share at lunch/dinner time is something foodies like me certainly take a liking to straight away.

Not only this, but Chinese people are unbelievably friendly. They would go the extra mile for you once you form a friendship with them. A couple of us had a small restaurant we ate at regularly. One evening we asked if they did an aubergine dish, they said yes of course. We then saw them run to the shop to buy aubergine and cooked us the most delicious dish from scratch off their own backs! It truly is all about networking in China. Whilst in work, even when my supervisor was out in meetings, the office would always include me in their lunch plans and make me feel so welcome and at home.

Working in China

Working in the office was very different to working in an office back in the UK. To begin with, it is perfectly acceptable to get your head down and nap in the middle of the day! Arriving to work late and shouting over each other across the room was also never questioned.

As I was working in an International Trading Company, owned by a Danish man, sometimes there was a conflict between the ‘Western’ way to do things and the ‘Chinese’ way. Reaching an agreement that was an acceptable compromise between both was often easier said than done.

It was key to understand each other’s needs in order to find a resolution to the problem that would be acceptable by both cultures. Working life in China was very much similar to their everyday life – very laid back and relaxed, yet incredibly successful.

Cultural Differences

There are some things in China that can be difficult to get used to. As you walk down the streets of Zhuhai, you would often hear the acceptable sound of people spitting. And quite frequently get stared at from the local people. Yet you soon understand that it is pure fascination and you will regularly receive compliments all day long. “So beautiful” is quite a common one.

You also soon get used to locals either trying to get a sneaky photo of you. Or asking you straight up if they can have a photo with you. Again, this is something that made me feel quite uncomfortable at the start, but you soon embrace the attention. The language barrier was a challenge and sometimes a barrier to forming networks.

I was incredibly lucky to have met a friend who spoke fluent Mandarin and therefore not only did it help my time in China, but I also managed to pick up some small phrases to help me get by. Despite being based in a city that is considered ‘small’ in China terms, it was still very busy in my ‘small UK village’ terms! Rush hour on the buses was always great fun as you squeeze onto the tiniest spaces surrounded by quite often sweaty people or rainy umbrellas.

Because of this, bikes were a popular alternative for transport as I soon found out with the bells constantly ringing even if their path was clear – I think some liked making a song as they rode by.

What I Have Learned

Even with the incredible challenges I experienced in China, by the end of my time there I really began to embrace the differences.  And those things that would have affected me when I first arrived wouldn’t affect me so much now.

I feel the Generation UK – China programme has allowed me to grow as an individual. It has allowed me to become more adaptable and resilient. Not only this, but my internship work itself developed my knowledge of business relations between China and other countries in terms of importing goods into their country. I also created a website for my company which was something I never knew I could do!

I still remain in close contact with my supervisor as I manage the website from the UK. During my time completing the programme, I was incredibly lucky to have made the most of my weekends. I visited Guangzhou and Yangshuo, followed by Macau and Hong Kong after my internship. Each destination provided a different aspect of the Chinese culture in their own unique way.Having participated in the Generation UK – China programme, I would most definitely recommend it. Especially to anyone wishing to develop both their business and personal experience. It has been such an incredible opportunity for me. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in it.

Niamh with her work colleagues
Cultural, Internship Experience, Qingdao Blogs

Niamh’s China Chronicles – Internship in Qingdao Experience and Cultural Norms

My internship experience was with a Chinese logistics company. They are responsible for the organisation of shipping hundreds of tons of cargo every year. Work life there is certainly different from the UK way of working.

Every Monday, everyone in the office received a free snack after lunch. One week we got cake, another week a smoothie. A different company would have supplied the food each week. They brought in the food and distributed it in the conference room. My boss told me it was to praise the office for their hard work.

Working Culture

The work hours were 08:30 to 11:30 then a two-hour lunch break, resuming from 13:30 to 17:30. I found myself starting to get a little bored during the lunch break because it was so long. Closer to the end of my stay, I would take the bus to another part of the city or go to the gym during lunch, as I found the lunch break quite long.

On my first day in the office at around 12:45, the office suddenly became very quiet and I looked around and everyone was sleeping! They had brought in small pillows and used these to nap at their desks.

My colleagues were very helpful and mindful of me. If there was anything I didn’t understand, at least three people would appear and rush to help me. When I could not get my laptop charger plug into the socket, a girl two desks away ran over and helped me. And the same when I couldn’t use the kettle (as everything is in Chinese),  two people came running over again.

Most employees (male and female) at my company had teddy bears at their desks and would hold them from time to time.

One thing I noticed during my internship is that people in my office audibly, dramatically, loudly and randomly sighed. I had no idea what about though. Also, when I asked my boss why everyone in the office was speaking so loudly on the office phones, he did not know what I was talking about. It seemed like people were very noisy, but it is not seen as impolite.

I was on the 23rd floor of a 26 storey building. Each floor can hold up to 80 people and everyone started around 08:30 in the morning. This means a lot of waiting for the elevators in the morning. There are so many people at this time that the building employs people just for the early morning rush to help load people into the elevators. If you arrived at the wrong time, you could wait up to 15 minutes just to get to your floor.

Niamh with her work colleagues
Niamh with her work colleagues

Culture Outside of Work

In the evenings after my internship, I would often see old retired Chinese folk “people watching”. They liked to hang around outside and would pull up a chair and sit on the footpath watching people passing by. Many also used to meet their friends on street corners to play “Chinese Chess” or gamble.

Older Chinese people are really into socialising and movement. Every morning I used to see a few people in my apartment complex doing Tai Chi or walking around slapping themselves all over their body. Apparently this is to help increase blood flow.

Many people would meet in the evenings to dance, exercise and stretch together. They would usually play traditional Chinese music or modern remixes of old classics. And you can definitely hear them before you see them!

Cultural Norms that Surprised Me

If you haven’t heard by now, spitting is very common in China. You can find people spitting pretty close to your shoes on the streets. Not intentionally, of course.

There is also a phenomenon called the ‘Beijing Bikini’, where middle-aged men roll up their T-shirt to expose their bellies on hot days. It is considered more polite than removing their entire T-shirt. There is no shame, only pride.

I feel China is a very tactile country. Lots of young girls will hold hands or link arms while walking and I have even seen some old men holding hands too.

Sometimes queuing is non-existent in China, and one of the things I will never fully understand as a Brit. Every time someone jumps in front of me, I try to be chill. In the UK, as a child, you learn to contribute to the greater good of the team. In China though, it seems like every man for himself and children are raised not to cooperate but to compete. The only way to a better life is by defeating other people.

One of the other things that surprised me was people taking pictures. I think I had seen at least 10 people taking pictures of me in the streets. They also tend to stare for a while. But it’s great because at least there is an element of cultural exchange there.

Foreigners standing out in a crowd
Foreigners standing out in a crowd
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