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Interning Abroad in Shanghai

By Myles Tryder

International internships have tremendous potential as a learning experience in today's global economy. My Boston-based global contract manufacturing firm took me to China.

In May, 2006, I started an internship with a Boston-based global contract manufacturing firm. One of the major drawing points of this company was that the actual production occurred in Shanghai, and, as a result, I found myself there for most of the month of June. The experience was hugely beneficial to me in a number of ways (which I will list in just a moment), to the point that I would absolutely urge any student who hopes to work abroad at any point in life to consider an internship which includes international travel. The reasons why are quite possibly endless, but what follows are a couple that stood out for me, in particular.

Long term feasibility

Prior to my internship, I had no doubt that my time in China would be fantastic; I would work hard, enhance my resume, and broaden my cultural understanding. I was right, as it turns out, although there were some unforeseen complications which, in the long run, were definitely good to experience. For example, if you're anything like me, you will miss America, and far more than you think. You will feel homesick?even over things that might not have occurred to you before: a good burger, local news channels, or even the ability to converse with someone on the street. It is important to go through this, and, for me, it led to a far deeper consideration of whether I could work in an entirely different culture for a long period of time. In the end, I concluded that it was a sacrifice that I was willing to make, but that only underscores how important it is to realize exactly what kind of a sacrifice it will be. It is necessary for you to make an informed decision on whether or not it is worth it to you to uproot yourself in the future.    

What requires further study

Nothing highlights your shortcomings quite like experiencing them, and it is in this spirit that an internship abroad can serve as a perfect test run for showing you what you need to improve. You will quickly learn what is expected of you in a number of situations, from lunches with clients, to negotiations and presentations, and even to simple interaction in the office with coworkers. These standards oftentimes vary from culture to culture, and, through experience, you will not only learn many of the conventions which will apply to you later, but also realize how much is still left to learn and who can help you learn it.

Networking opportunities galore

As it just so happened, the 2006 World Cup coincided with my trip. As a result, on the night that the United States squared off with Italy, I found myself with two coworkers at a bar in the city, decked out in full Team USA and Red Sox regalia (what can I say? We love the Sox in Boston). It quickly became apparent, however, that this may not have been terribly smart, as pretty much every other table in the establishment was filled with face-painted, jersey-wearing, flag-carrying Italian superfans. We were outnumbered, to say the least, and just a little desperate, when, much to our relief, we spotted another table of Americans across the way. We pegged them as Americans, however, due to their Yankees caps. On one hand, as a Red Sox fan, I adamantly maintain that Yankees fans are a subhuman life form. On the other, however, we weren't really in a position to be picky, so we walked right over, buried the hatchet, and agreed to cheer for Team USA together, feeling a little more secure from the increased numbers.

This anecdote, of course, illustrates a larger point. If networking is all about finding and forging connections, then, in work abroad, simply being a fellow American is oftentimes itself sufficient to serve as a starting point.  While interning, then, it can be greatly beneficial to get out, experience the nightlife, and get to know other Americans, making connections in the process that will serve you well in the future.

Great for the resume

Internships, fundamentally, serve not only to teach you skills in the workplace, but also to show potential employers that you have these practical skills. Along similar lines, if you hope to work abroad, it can be extremely helpful just to be able to say that you've been and worked there before. It shows the employer not only that your interest is genuine, but also that you are, indeed, wiling to make the move and, in making that decision, you have a solid idea of what you're getting into. More simply, however, it just differentiates you, and getting that second look at your resume can be half the battle.

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