5 Ways to Turn an Internship in China into a Job At Home

Rebecca poses with a local girl during in internship in Shanghai. "I was definitely the more excited party in this interaction," says Shapiro. Rebecca Shapiro

Written by  November 25, 2015

How to leverage an internship overseas for career success at home.

I hoisted myself up, praying silently that my poor mum would never discover that my first time on a motorbike was being attempted sans helmet. However, it would be difficult to hide the evidence—after all, I was being filmed.

Bizarre incidents have a way of worming their way into everyday life in China. But how does one turn hilarious happenings into resume-worthy bullet points?

As an intern at a media production company in Shanghai, I never thought I’d be starring in a documentary on educational contrasts, but bizarre incidents have a way of worming their way into everyday life in China. So, it only stood to reason that, post-filming, I’d be invited to a celebratory banquet with the school’s principal and his two sets of twins—despite the fact that they spoke no English and I spoke barely any Mandarin.

If you’ve ever worked abroad in China, anecdotes like these aren’t hard to come by. But how does one turn hilarious happenings into resume-worthy bullet points?

Using your time overseas effectively will ensure that you leave with the skills and experience necessary for the job hunt back home. Here are five of the best ways to capitalize on your time abroad:

1. Get blogging regularly

Blogging is not just for wannabe journalists (guilty); it’s useful for any jobs that demand creativity, research skills and expertise in a given field. This means that it doesn’t even matter what you blog about. From culture shock, to food, to adventures abroad, simply setting up your own website and posting regularly demonstrates initiative and commitment—both of which are valuable traits to employers.

Blogging allows you to hone in-demand skills, such as managing WordPress, understanding SEO and monitoring Google Analytics. The more you blog, the more you write—and being a great writer will never not be useful.

Plus, did you know that nine in 10 companies look through your social media and online profiles before hiring? Beat them at their own game and control your online identity.

2. Get business networking

Working abroad in China is the perfect time to make as many connections as possible. Thankfully, there are a vast array of organizations and websites to help you socialize, network and feel more at home. Two of the best are InterNations and Travel Massive; you’d be a fool not to sign up, use and abuse. The former focuses more on networking for expats in 390 cities, while the latter puts on free events, including talks and parties, for travellers in 116 cities.

The obvious advantage of joining networking groups is expanding your personal and business contacts, both in China and at home. But you’ll likely learn too, from developing cultural awareness to discovering hidden gems in your city. Your LinkedIn page will also thank you.

In my case, I found networking to be frustrating at first. You don’t know if that career coffee will be a waste of time or whether follow-up, upon follow-up, is even worth it. One word: persevere. For me, doggedly chasing up contacts led to a rewarding internship in Toronto, the chance to return to Shanghai, and the opportunity to write for TimeOut Beijing. For you? The sky’s the limit.

3. Get learning languages

There’s much to be said for knowing more than one language in today’s increasingly globalized world. And you don’t even have to be completely fluent. According to the Confederation of British Industry, 74 per cent of employers recruit applicants with conversational ability, as opposed to those who are word perfect.

Why is this? Being conversational can increase cultural understanding and break the ice in opening business to new markets.

So, with this in mind, brush up on your Mandarin. One option is to choose an internship program that offers Chinese lessons (such as CRCC Asia or InternChina) and dive in at the deep end. Even if you think you sound stupid, give it a go. The enthusiasm will be appreciated, even if the pronunciation is not.

4. Get travelling widely

It's easy to stick to the expat bubble, but immersing yourself in a new culture and country pays dividends. Travel clichés exist for a reason—exploring the world really does broaden your mind. In fact, researchers at Columbia Business School have linked creativity to international travel.

Of course, there’s the Great Wall, but there’s so much more. From the Gobi Desert, to the Yangtze, to Tiger Leaping Gorge, China provides something for every traveller. And having the bravery to travel in such a culturally different country hones your flexibility, patience and practicality too. Ta-da! You’ve got a ton of different examples to make you standout in any competency-based interview.

5. Get out of your comfort zone

In China, everything is different. Forget about your own ideas of “health and safety,” “politeness” and “planning.” Use daily absurdities to your advantage. The more you challenge yourself, the more life experience you’ll have. I found—and you will, too—that whenever I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, my confidence really increased.

I never thought I’d find myself volunteering at a migrant school or working at a traditional riverside teahouse, but experiences such as these that provide the standout memories. This newfound confidence also translated directly in job interviews.

Ultimately, remember this: if you can deal with constant spitting in the streets and doorless squatter toilets, then a desk job in the West should be no problem at all.

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Published in Work Abroad
Rebecca Shapiro

Rebecca Shapiro is a British freelance journalist, adventure aficionado and travel blogger. She currently flits between London and Vancouver and has been published in publications such as The Guardian, Elle Canada and The Huffington Post.

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