Doing an Internship in China

by | August 6, 2019

Doing an Internship in China

August 6, 2019

This article was written by Hanqing Zhao & Benôit Renéry, who contributed as Interns at our Shenzhen and Beijing offices.


Whether it is to fulfill a school requirement or simply to explore career opportunities, more and more Western students are choosing China when it comes to a place to do an internship. To the prospective applicant, an internship in China can offer a rich and meaningful cultural experience, vast opportunities to build on one’s existing skillset, and a chance expand one’s professional network. At the same time an increasing number of Western companies in China are looking for interns who can bring their knowledge, experiences, and enthusiasm into the workplace.

At 1421 Consulting Group, we currently have two interns who are working with us in China for the summer. Benoît is our intern in the Beijing office who joined us here from Belgium. This is his first internship in China. Hanqing, our intern in Shenzhen, joined our team from the United States. He is a Chinese American who grew up in the United States, and this is his second internship in China. In this article, they will share their experiences of doing internships in China and highlight three pieces of advice which may be useful to prospective China interns.


Embrace the Difference

One of the great values of doing an internship in China is the opportunity of cultural immersion. As a country on the other side of the globe, China is intrinsically different than the West in terms of the food, the people, and the pace of life among other things. Rather than going to China with the expectation that these things will be the same or up to same the standards as those of countries in the Western hemisphere, the intern should look to embrace and fully experience these differences. By doing so, he or she will develop a cultural literacy that is increasingly sought after by companies in their new hires.

Hanqing: When I first arrived in Shenzhen, I was surprised to find that a lot of the websites and services I used in America, such as Google, Facebook, and YouTube, were blocked by the Chinese state firewall. I saw this as an opportunity to learn about the different websites and apps used in China for similar functions. I installed WeChat on my phone and learned to use it not only to rent bikes and pay vendors in day-to-day life, but also to reach out to the manufacturing suppliers on Alibaba and build relationships with them on both a personal and professional level.

Benoît: Likewise, when I arrived in Beijing, the first major difference I noticed was the amount of people living there. Adapting to such a fast pace of life can be somewhat difficult for a new intern coming from a less-populated place. Moreover, I also had to adapt to the new ways of communication. With time and with help from my newfound friends, I now find myself at home in the seventh most populous city in the world.


Embrace the Work Culture

In addition to the difference in culture between China and the West, most Western companies in China have unique blends of nationalities among their employees. Individuals with the experience of navigating cultural barriers and promoting a successful, multicultural work culture are also highly employable in today’s job market.

Benoît: At 1421, we are a multicultural family with staff from China as well as the Netherlands and other Western countries. Initially, I found the language barrier to be a challenge in the office. I noticed that sometimes my coworkers felt inadequate with their English levels to comfortably communicate with me. But as time went by, I learned to build meaningful friendships with them despite cultural and linguistic challenges. In the end, I not only built up the confidence level of my coworkers with their English abilities, but I also gained a skill for cross-cultural relationship building that will help propel me in my future career.

Hanqing: I also find it a unique opportunity to work in the Shenzhen office at 1421. In the office, I interact with my manager (who is also an American), Chinese coworkers, and European clients. The daily interaction with these coworkers and clients has given me an accelerated learning experience on the cultural differences between these groups in a professional setting, and how to effectively manage and bridge these cultural gaps when conducting business. This, I think, will give me a head start in adapting to a multicultural environment that is becoming increasingly common in the globalizing workplace of today.


Look for Needs

In general terms, Chinese workers tend to be very serious and dedicated to their work. They start working on their projects right from the start of each day and do not hesitate to work extra hours. That being said, this does not discount the fact that there are often needs still left to be met, especially in Western companies operating in China. These needs present lots of opportunities for interns to make a huge impact. These are the experiences which can make an applicant stand out in the eyes of a recruiter, but they often require the intern to be proactive in seeking these experiences.

Hanqing: When I began my internship the previous summer, my main role was in supply chain sourcing. Early in that internship I learned from a coworker that there was a market research project that the company was doing which peaked my interest. After speaking with the company owner and expressing my desire to contribute to this project, he gave me the opportunity to research the luxury travel industry in China. As part of this project, I traveled to Shanghai and met with travel agencies there to learn more about this market segment. In addition to my role as a supply chain analyst that summer, I gained greatly from this additional work experience.

Benoît: This is my first internship in China. My main role is to assist the project team in 1421. I understood from the beginning that I will need to do a lot of online research and collaborate with my Chinese colleagues since not every piece of information can be found in English. One of the most important things for an intern in China to do is to communicate often and effectively with Chinese colleagues. By communicating, I not only learn a lot about China, but gain insight into areas of need where I can make the most impact for the ideal internship experience.


Final Words of Advice

Benoît: As challenging as it sounds, doing an internship in China is mostly an incredible cultural experience that you can’t find anywhere else. The number of new things that you can learn will help you to surpass yourself when going back to your home country. Most importantly, it will allow you to become a more open-minded person which will help you in your future work relations if you work in a multicultural environment. The best advice I can give you is to come and experience it by yourself and do not listen to prejudges that people who have never been to China can make.

Hanqing: Working in a China and experiencing the different culture can be a challenging experience, especially if you have not been to China before. While this may be a challenge, it may help to view these differences not as obstacles, but as opportunities to learn and gain valuable experience. By doing so, it can make a huge difference for you not only in your internship and but also in your future career. Embracing the difference, the personalities, and opportunities to offer suitable skills at work are ways that have helped me in my internships. Above all, it is important to establish good communications and proper expectations from the very start.

From the both of us, if you are interested in doing an internship in China and if you are looking for a company who will help you from the start to get used to the culture, we recommend you 1421 Consulting Group. Feel free to send an email to: if you are interested.

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