Written by Lucy Billington
Going to university at any stage in life can be a difficult transition, but starting your studies as a mature student can be even more of a challenge, worrying if you will fit in with your younger peers. I didn’t let this hinder my decision to enroll onto my course at Liverpool John Moores University and taking this bold step ten years after being in full time education, with a bit more life experience under my belt, absolutely had its advantages. I had a clear plan of what I wanted to achieve each stage in my academic development, including gaining as much relevant work experience as possible. Hence, I applied for the CRCC Asia Internship Program. I wanted to get a head start with relevant work experience early on in my degree and I knew CRCC Asia specialized in these type of programs. I went to a talk at my university hosted by Jason from CRCC Asia, and I felt that they were committed to fostering a community of multi-cultural graduates rather than simply offering work placements – I wasn’t wrong!
Interning is the best way to build confidence, develop skills and network – to be able to achieve all this while embracing a different culture is invaluable. Last year I was extremely fortunate to have been selected for the CRCC Asia Shanghai Internship Program. The idea of working and travelling around Shanghai was initially quite daunting, but my confidence and self-efficacy drastically developed whilst there and since returning. The ability to overcome language barriers and cultural differences is an important skill to possess as this reflects your capabilities to adapt in difficult situations.
“The weekly check-ins with our Program Managers were really helpful and I knew I had someone to go and talk to if needed.”
Before I even got to Shanghai, the entire team were there to support me. Jason met me at London Heathrow to make sure everything was in order and as soon as I landed in Shanghai, Cat was there to greet me with a friendly smile. Without Cat I don’t know how I would have survived navigating myself around such a busy city, she was there to answer my questions or direct me when I got lost and nothing was ever too much trouble. The weekly check-ins with our Program Managers were really helpful and I knew I had someone to go and talk to if needed. I couldn’t fault the team, they made the transition seamless and straightforward, while planning cultural activities to make sure we felt part of a team and we were all integrating into this sometimes difficult culture well.
My typical day interning at a non-profit for the education of disadvantaged children usually started around 9am. I would take the metro to my office in the Changning District of Shanghai, which usually took around 30/40 mins. Here I spent an hour or so planning my lesson for the afternoon. After lunch I would travel to one of the four teaching destinations, usually community centres allocated for the migrant community, and spend a couple of hours teaching with my co-teacher, Quinn. After that I would return home and my two flat mates and I would talk about how our days had been, then we would either cook some food or go to a nearby restaurant. Since there was a large group of us from university, we would usually visit each other’s flats and either plan our next weekend adventure or take our weekly visit to Perry’s bar – popular with us Brits!
“Living and working in another country allowed me to experience new cultures and beliefs, consequently, the greatest benefit of all was the brand-new sense of self I discovered over the two months.”
There was always something to do, whether it be embracing the Chinese culture down at the markets or making their famous dumplings, to doing some retail therapy in the exclusive shopping districts. My favourite weekend was visiting Beijing – what an unforgettable experience! We camped on the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City and strolled around Summer Palace. My ultimate highlight has to be KTV whilst we were camping on the Great Wall – I don’t know many people who can say they sang their hearts out to Kings of Leon, Sex on Fire, on the Great Wall! And when I felt slightly home sick and wanted some home comforts I took a trip to the chic Kerry Center in the Jing’an District and enjoyed some retail therapy, albeit window shopping, or indulged in a burrito bowl at Charlie’s burger restaurant.
Living and working in another country allowed me to experience new cultures and beliefs, consequently, the greatest benefit of all was the brand-new sense of self I discovered over the two months. What made this experience even more unique was being able to develop this self-concept clarity with other like-minded young professionals.
My accommodation was fantastic! It was easy to commute around the city and to work given the metro stations were close by. Living in a typical modern Shanghai complex really gave an authentic community feel. I got to know my neighbours and there were many bars, restaurants and malls within walking distance.
“Good or bad, diary entries are a good way of reflecting on ways to improve for the future or recognising any achievements you might have forgotten.”
Everything about China fascinated me; the intricate Chinese symbols on street and road signs, the weird and wonderful foods, the streets, the super-efficient public transport, the language (so much so that I enrolled onto a Mandarin course when I returned), the list goes on. If I could do it all over again I would definitely keep a diary, so much happens in two months and after a few weeks returning to normality in your home country it can be difficult to remember everything that happened. Good or bad, diary entries are a good way of reflecting on ways to improve for the future or recognising any achievements you might have forgotten. Whether it be personally or professionally, they can be good fun to read back years later.
For anyone thinking of working abroad for any given period, my advice is to fully embrace this incredible opportunity and realize how truly fortunate you are. If you want to grow, personally and professionally, while making global connections, then immersing yourself into a different culture, country and working environment will definitely allow for this.
“I am more able to adapt and act in new situations and I have a drive to participate more actively in social and political life of my own community.”
Now that I am home, I am definitely more aware of social and political concepts like democracy, justice and civil rights. I am more open minded and curious about new challenges, so much so that I have recently returned from another two-month human rights internship in Malta. I am more able to adapt and act in new situations and I have a drive to participate more actively in social and political life of my own community.
“I can confidently say my internship in China has opened so many doors to gaining work experience.”
I can confidently say my internship in China has opened so many doors to gaining work experience. As most students will know applying for any type of work experience can be monotonous and often to no avail, but having international experience means I can apply confidently knowing my CV stands out. Since interning in China I have shadowed a District Judge, attended advocacy days in Gray’s Inn London, gained experience in the clinical negligence department at a local law firm, shadowed barristers in both chambers and court, and as mentioned previously, recently returned from a two month human rights internship in Malta.
Whether it was exploring the many temples Shanghai had to offer, hanging off the 88th floor of Jin Mao Tower or camping on the Great Wall in Beijing, my China experience was unforgettable, made even more unforgettable by CRCC Asia’s commitment to helping me out there. I acquired so many important life skills and made friends for life all while enhancing my CV – by far the most memorable two months of my life.