Black in China part 4! The internship!
As stated in “Black in China part 3,” teaching English isn’t my bowl of rice, but I still wanted to do something to make sure I was still competitive in this day and age. I felt, there’s no reason why I have been to China twice already and I don’t have any professional development.
In Shanghai, or China in general, networking and relationships play such a huge part in everyday life. There was once a guy I met in China, who told me, making 10,000 RMB a month as a salary was way too low.
When I asked why, he told me how, in one month, 5,000 was just for the networking, and social meetings that he participated in, in order to keep walking up the ladder; it’s a long climb so I hear.
This theme of networking and constantly meeting people was a trend and I kept hearing it. So I decided to plant myself inside one of these secret meetings.
It was an American Chamber of Commerce, Youth Professionals Mixer event. Which was a department of the Chamber and this group is made up of young professionals under 40.
So after meeting a bunch of people with my friend, and after making a bunch of wechat friends, we left. I decided to contact some of these people and say I was looking for an internship; volunteer and “unpaid” of course because to work as a student in China is illegal and that is bad.
After one girl told me her company has internships and can hire expats, but it was full time, so that was a no-go, but she asked her friend, and her friend asked her friend, and some friend down the line, said yes, they want to hire an expat.
Now, let’s admit this here. I think they only hired me because I’m an expat. This company, is a total Chinese company, and my entire department, in fact the entire wing of the building was all Chinese, and one black guy (me). To make me even more of a minority, only 3 people in the entire area, spoke some degree of English, so that means?
Yup, Chinese all day, every day and company dinners!
These company dinners… I wish we had this type of culture back in the US. Perhaps we do, but I’m too young to work in a very professional environment and therefore I haven’t experienced it, but, this was almost every night. The bosses were serious during the day, but after work, were the friendliest individuals. And the best part, Company Dinners: This, makes all the cons, null and void. I wish back in the US, we had this type of culture. Perhaps we do, but I’m too young to work in a very professional environment therefore I haven’t experienced it, but, this was almost every night. The bosses were serious during the day, but after work, was the friendliest person.
! It is this teambuilding, which is why people in China, stay in their jobs longer. You really know the people you are working with, it’s not, go home after work and hate everyone. This type of environment is very inspiring.
But, interning at my company was great and horrible at the same time.
It was tough, hard, and annoying for a few reasons such as:
Work: It’s hard enough to do internship level grunt work, but scrambling around confused because of all the Chinese and a workload is stressful, but somewhat funny. Since I was the *star* employee and foreign face, I had to go to a lot of events, social gatherings, and meet a lot of high profile Foreign companies. –Disclaimer- many Chinese companies, like to hire an expat, white or black, and show them off as a sign of status for the company. “Our company is prosperous, and we can afford to hire expats too, who can speak Chinese.” Most of these people didn’t know I was a poor student lol.
School: At the time of the internship, I was taking intensive Chinese courses, which meant, my courses were Monday – Friday 8:30am to 11:45 pm, then I run to the subway, take 2 trains to go out to the boondocks (it was a nice area, just, somewhat industrial). I ate lunch every day at the same 7 – eleven where the staff all knew me, and would pre-heat my spaghetti or chicken rice, while I was getting settled. From there, I would take the bus, 2 stops then I’m there. And I did this every day, Monday – Friday.
Running: Well, I said in an earlier post that running is seen as very awkward in Chinese culture. They usually take out running in primary school, because the schools are worried that when a kid gets hurt, the school would get sued. So as a result, when people run, it’s awkward. As expats, we love to run; it’s our basic exercise routines. It’s because of this culture difference that Nike had and still has a lot of problems in China, because their slogans, products, and company involve running and exercising, which they don’t really do. My Chinese friends usually explained that because of this cultural difference, when foreigners are running, people think it’s because they stole something and are getting away. So, if I’m in a suit, and running each day, what does that make me? (I don’t think the stereotype that black people are thieves and criminals apply here as much) since all foreigners are lumped together from the same country in a traditional Chinese person’s mindset). (Kidding)
Environment: Ah, the sweet taste of yellow pollution. When it’s a heavy pollution day in China, you’re warned about doing physically exerting activities. So running to the train station, in a hot suit, after class, probably falls into that category. What would I do without my daily dose of pollution though?
But, there were many positives as well:
Chinese: working with my co-workers helped my Chinese fly through the roof. I improved so fast, maybe 3 times as fast, as when I was studying (not) for my classes. Plus, when I was working with them, I was learning Business Chinese, which I always wanted to learn (not by choice). I learned more realistic Chinese, and learned a bunch of slang, and was able to shorten my sentences.
Justice: My co-workers really liked me (more than necessary) so they always fought for my justice lol. Whenever we went for company dinners, which were every night, they were always overly hospitable to me. Whenever were out, and I was getting my daily dose of “everyone stare at the outsider,” they would say to people “what are you looking at, why are you staring at him” lol. Even the boss, had said to someone “have you never seen a black person.” They always wanted to know if I was being mistreated, and always wanted to make sure I loved China, and were determined to make sure, I saw the best of their country.
Trips and Social Events: A lot of people think that I’m an introverted person, but in reality, I feel people out, and I love professional people. I want to go places where I can either feel challenged, or inspired. And I’m the type of person who wants to bring my friends places with me, to all rise to a high place together. As my roommate puts it quite well, “if you lookout for the cookout, the cookout looks out for you” lol. But my company would always send me and some other people to represent them at social gatherings. In order to meet people, find new clients, find new hires, scout talent etc. And these were always free! For me at least, let’s call it a perk for speaking Chinese. The company really took care of me, sent me into places I had no business being at, meet people that I could never have reached etc.
And Finally, the job: Even though I have one more year of my undergraduate degree, the dark cloud of “what are you going to do after school” hangs over my head. Of course, it should be find a good job, maybe somewhere close to where you went to school; something like that. My company told me before I left, that they want me to comeback after graduation and work with them again. Even to this day, I still maintain contact with all my co-workers and bosses. The contacts I made because of the company are enormous and had an impact on my experience.
Overall, interning in China was one of the most life-changing events I ever seen. I originally told the boss during the interview, that I wanted to know what it was like to work in a Chinese company, what it like is to do business in China from the other side of the fence. Many people know what it’s like to do business with China in a western perspective, but I was curious from a Chinese perspective.
Also, the resume boost, the internship gave me was a huge help.
I gained a lot of time management skills, multi-tasking skills, small talk skills, mingling skills, and even lost weight from running to the subway each day lol. But I wouldn’t take back any of it. I would do it all again with even more enthusiasm. Because, doing an internship in China, will completely flip your outlook of China; just make sure to wear your mask!
Thanks for reading, next article: Black in China Part 5, The bomb date (Dating in China, from my perspectives).