For me, the China experience was more than merely gaining some unique work experience to embellish my CV. It was more about being exposed to a different, broader and less routinised way of thinking. In my two months in Shanghai, I had the chance to meet with interns from countries like England, Brazil, Argentina, Greece, Uganda, Mexico, Australia and the USA. This internationalisation was definitely one of the highlights during my two month internship in Shanghai.
The company in which I was placed for my internship was Costa Coffee. Now, for someone who holds an economics degree, to be in placed in a division that is responsible for managing this iconic brand, did not align with my skillset at all. I was more accustomed to a structured, factual-based and analytical way of thinking. So in addition to arriving in a foreign country, I also entered an industry which I knew zero to none about, and this added a bit of spice to my internship experience. Before I knew it, I was part of a conference call discussing issues like website configuration costing and ‘Google Analytics’. I think that treading on these uncharted waters did a great deal for my confidence in terms of increasing my inclination to learn new things on a regular basis.
Besides adaptability, there were a number of other key take-aways from my internship. The first was that you are responsible for guiding your own internship experience. If I was interested in something, or wanted to be part of a meeting, I simply had to ask. I had also tried to speak to individuals from different departments within the organisation to gain a more holistic experience and to understand how the different functions interconnect. Furthermore, I began to understand the importance of nurturing a brand. ‘Branding’ always seemed like a nebulous concept to me, and to be introduced to a very distinct corporate culture where ‘brand integrity’ and ‘staying true to a brand’ was emphasised added that practicality to an abstract concept. Outside work, I tried to maximise the number of tourist and non-tourist sites I visited, and tried to do things I would not have the opportunity of doing back home. I also realised that what was important was not the work I was doing (since I was there only for a brief time), but rather what I was being exposed to in terms of the new environment and different people. One of the key insights from my time at Costa was the significance of using tailored approaches, or an ‘unstandardised template’, in catering to different people and to different situations.
After hearing about China being the universal ‘growth miracle’, it was great to actually experience it and to see how things work there. Be ready for a huge culture shock and try make the most from your time in China.
And one other piece of advice: try not to overindulge in Pizza Hut, McDonalds and KFC.