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Building a Network Outside the Classroom: Interning Abroad

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work abroad? Many students are interested in the concept of working in a foreign country, but might be uneasy about the idea, as they have never had exposure to a foreign office environment. Well, IFSA students studying in Shanghai have the best of both worlds- they are not only able to experience the Chinese classroom culture, but also have the opportunity to gain exposure to office culture in China. Instead of taking a fourth class, students can choose to gain real work experience by doing an internship for course credit. The internship options have a wide range, from venture capital firms to environmental non-profits, coding internships to ones in market intelligence. Oscar Dayan is a Bentley University finance and global perspectives major from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He works at Wellingate Capital, a Chinese investment banking boutique that raises capital for clients, establishes relationships with funds and investors, and performs due diligence, meaning they complete research for companies considering merging or buying out another company. “At Wellingate Capital, I conduct research on whether industries, such as the ready-to-eat food markets, are profitable. Wellingate then uses my recommendations, along with other factors, to advise clients,” says Oscar. With the exception of another IFSA student intern, Oscar’s office is made up entirely of Chinese employees. By working in a Chinese office environment, he has been able to learn about aspects of Chinese culture most study abroad students don’t experience. “This summer, I worked at a private equity firm in New York City, and have noticed a few differences in the office cultures. In China, most of my work is individualized, as opposed to in New York, where most of my work was on a team. I’ve also noticed that my office environment in China is less cut-throat than in New York,” says Oscar. Additionally, in Shanghai, Oscar has been able to first- handedly witnessed the importance of a Chinese concept called guanxi, meaning relationships. By the way that the employees talk and interact with each other, Oscar has observed that the employees at Wellingate are actually friends, and this is a central aspect of their business relationship. Understanding the concept of guanxi is critical to doing business in China, as Chinese people are more likely to work with people and companies with whom they have a relationship.

Veronique Similien, a sociology major at Centre College is interning in the education industry, teaching English for a non-profit called Stepping Stones. Stepping Stones strives to close the achievement gap between migrant children in Shanghai and their non-migrant counterparts by providing free services to teach them English. This work is vital, because due to the house registration system in China (called the hukou), children are only allowed to go to school in the region where their family is originally from, so if rural children move to Shanghai because of their parent’s job opportunities, many are unable to enroll in regular Shanghai public schools, and thus, must attend migrant schools. Veronique teaches English to 3 rd , 4 th , and 5 th graders twice a week. Most of the schools Stepping Stones works with are underfunded and under-resourced, and the ability to learn English fromnative speakers has been shown to have a major effect on the students’ English test scores. “It is amazing to see my students progress over the weeks and gain confidence in their English-speaking abilities. Also, since many of my students have very limited access to interactions with foreigners, I think that being able to see a black woman in a leadership position can give them a new perspective, differing from what they might see in the popular media,” says Veronique. These internships not only give IFSA students resume boosters, but also are vital in helping the students decide what they would like to pursue after college. Oscar is looking to work in investment banking, and to be able to have investment banking experience in a major market like China and develop a cultural understanding of how Chinese banks work will make him an asset to companies looking to expand into China. Veronique has always been interested in teaching abroad, and this experience has not only catalyzed her interest in this career field, but given her the necessary exposure and tools to be a successful teacher. “I’ve always been interested in teaching abroad, so I am grateful that I am able to test it and see that it truly is the right choice for me,” she says.
Bridget Duru is a student at Brown University and studied abroad with IFSA on the International Business in China program. She served as an international correspondent through the Work-to-Study Program.