Internships are a two way street

It’s logical to assume that the vast majority of young expats in Beijing fall into one of the following three categories: 1. English teachers, whether affiliated with a school or freelance; 2. interns with Chinese companies, in any number of fields; or 3. students, usually of the Chinese language. The second category in particular has come under enhanced scrutiny recently, as the summer intern recruitment season is well underway and demand – from both the interns for positions and the companies for the interns – has never been greater (see Wednesday’s Front Page).

It goes without saying that injecting a bit of international flavor into any monochromatic workplace – as most Chinese offices tend to be – isn’t usually a bad thing. But the cases seem to be mounting of so-called “failed” internships – ones in which the intern is little more than a token foreign face around the office, a dust-gatherer with a pulse. Such situations can arise for a number of reasons, including language barriers, poor organization on the part of the company or a poor work ethic on the part of the intern.

Yet even the most well-oiled corporate machine and the most enthusiastic, go-go intern might result in the internship failing, and for the simplest of reasons: mismatch of interests. China is a “hot” destination for Western young people these days, and they’ll often take any role given to them, by any company, for any amount of money, just to have an excuse to be here (and not have to teach English).

I, in particular, should know – I was once one of those interns. Having studied here previously and desperate for a chance to come back, I took a position as an intern at a tiny Chinese start-up that organizes model United Nations conferences for high-school students. As most of my friends told me at the time, it was something of a left-turn, considering that most of my past interests were of a more writerly, journalistic bent. But I was impatient and pounced on the first opportunity I got. And besides – model UNs? Maybe it’d be fun.

Now, I consider myself someone with a pretty strong work ethic, and it’d be mean-spirited of me to fault the start-up for its growing pains (however formidable), but that post was like the work-world equivalent of oil and water – it just didn’t mix right. It’s not that I was simply “foreign-facing” it over there; after all, as a model-UN organizer, the company banked its reputation on its international outreach, and I was always given plenty to do. I just never liked the work all that much.

To be fair, this kind of situation can arise in any industry anywhere; it’s hardly China-specific. At the end of the day, the old advice to do what you love, regardless of whether it’s in China or Kalamazoo, holds true, for interns of all stripes.

Source: Global Times

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