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.
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.