Given China’s dramatic and evolving role in the global economy, many undergraduate business students are skipping summers on the beach for an internship in Beijing or Shanghai. The goal: to gain valuable international work experience that they hope will help them land a job.
“Knowing how to do business there and understanding the culture there will help me get the job I want,” says Alyssa Thomas, a senior at Quinnipiac University School of Business, who is majoring in marketing and international business and spent last summer interning in Shanghai for the advertising company Noveler. Thomas hopes to land an overseas job in management consulting when she graduates.
Companies that place college students in business internships for a fee are reporting that their China business is booming. Absolute Internship, which places students in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, says it’s receiving five times the number of applications it received in 2012, and is set to place 600 students in internships this summer. The company has placed more than 900 students since it started four years ago, says Fredrik van Huynh, the company’s co-founder and director.
A similar organization, CRCC Asia, which placed Thomas at Noveler, found internships for 385 American students in Beijing and Shanghai in 2012, up from 293 in 2011. In the first three months of 2013, interest from American students in China-based internships is running 40 percent to 50 percent higher than last year at the same time, co-director Edward Holroyd Pearce says, adding that he expects a total of 1,500 students will be placed by CRCC in 2013. Intrax Global Internships is also reporting a more than 50 percent uptick in students interested in working in China in the last two years.
“Demand is keeping up better in China than other places,” says Jim Key, senior director of Intrax Global Internships. “There’s no question that this is where the future is going.”
American students usually pay to work as interns in China in a similar fashion as they would for a study-abroad program. For example, Absolute charges $2,899 to $4,899 for internships in Beijing and Shanghai, depending on the length of the program. For that, students get the internship—the company says most are unpaid—plus visas, housing, travel, and meals. CRCC charges are virtually identical, while Intrax charges $2,395 for placement and $5,950 for a two-month internship that includes housing and other benefits. Financial aid is available through some of the companies, schools, and other organizations.
Business is booming for these third-party internship organizers because students anticipate that China will be an economic leader. “I wanted the most dynamic business environment I could find, and all roads led to Shanghai,” says CRCC program participant Mitchell Van Dyke, a senior accounting major and economics minor at the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business, who interned at Boardroom LSC China, a professional services firm. “It is one of the most fast-paced, dynamic business environments in the world, and the growth opportunities are immense.”
For ambitious young students like Van Dyke, summers spent on the beach don’t cut it anymore, and this trend will continue, says CRCC’s Pearce. “Students can’t take a summer vacation or get a job at the local bar,” he adds. “They have to make themselves global citizens.”
William Gant, who found his marketing internship with Shanghai’s SMH International through Absolute, hopes to get a full-time job in China after he graduates. A senior majoring in international affairs with an Asian concentration and minoring in Asian studies, Chinese language, and Chinese business at James Madison University, Gant says he felt like a part of the team at SMH. He helped to implement the marketing strategies for American products and to create the company’s new website.
“Chinese employers want American students, they know our universities are good, and they are willing to pay for that [for full-time employees],” says Gant.
That doesn’t make adjusting to life as an employee in China any easier for most Americans. Thomas says one must be careful not to offend supervisors—and definitely don’t offer your opinions about how to do things in a different way. The language barrier is also difficult to overcome, even though having English speakers on staff is advantageous to the hiring companies.
Regardless, when in China, do as the Chinese. To fit in, you also have to spend time outside the office with your Chinese colleagues, which Thomas says she enjoyed. A former vegetarian, Thomas drew the line at eating scorpions on a stick, but she did taste chicken hearts and livers.
“You have to be open-minded while you’re there,” she says. “You’re going to see really crazy things and try really crazy food.”