Well it’s finally over, my internship is complete. It’s hard to think that I was there for an entire month, it seemed to have flown by so quickly. From waking up in the morning, going straight to work, finishing, meeting up with the rest of my CRCC colleagues for dinner and the occasional drink, everyday seemed like one new exciting experience after the next. By the end of the month, it seemed autonomous, that within that short period of time I had already sunk so deep into the work and culture that it was second nature. I mean, I already had developed local eating spots, eating so regularly, that though they didn’t speak English they knew my order and was already in the wok cooking by the time I had sat down.
I won’t forget my time in Shanghai too quickly that’s for sure. Everyday had new and exciting opportunities whether it be trying to decipher a menu, a new project at work, or simply just making from location to the next. There wasn’t a day that went by that not a single memorable thing had occurred.
Don’t get me wrong though, there was a definite “culture shock” as they say. It took a bit getting used to going from a city of 200,000 to a city of millions. It seemed like the area was even smaller. But as you see from the size of the buildings, it’s not hard to tell how they fit so many people into one city. It was just the simple things that I found that were hardest to get used to. In particular being able to drink clean water from the tap. I’ve never bought so many bottles of water before in my life, I was going through 5-8 bottles a day. And another was the traffic. Not only people driving on the opposite side of the road, but on the sidewalks also. I queried how there wasn’t as many car crashes as I thought there would be, but as I was explained “it’s quite hard to crash when you’re only going 30 kilometres an hour”, which now makes a lot of sense. For those who stereotypically think Asians are bad at driving, I would now have to argue quite wholeheartedly, considering the conditions they drive unremarkably well.
But it’s been sensational diving in head first into the culture that Shanghai had to offer. As I’ve mentioned before, the food and the nightlife are something that just has to be taken with an opened mind to gain the full experience. Another major aspect that seemed to quite enjoy was the shopping. For one who has fully embraced the online shopping world and can’t quite remember the last time I set foot into a shopping centre, it was quite exhilarating. And of course I am talking about the markets, and bargaining. The only part of the Chinese language I managed to successfully learn, and with that the game was on. Whether it worked or not, or whether it was going to last, it didn’t matter, with an arsenal of tactics I always felt like I came out on top. It was fun comparing to see what each of us interns would be able to get the price down too, and I even managed to surprise some of the locals.
But the most valuable would definitely have to be working and gaining some firsthand experience, not only in a design type marketing environment but in an international one also. I remember my first day as vividly as my last. Without even sitting down or a full introduction to my other colleagues I was whisked away to my first meeting with one of their major clients, a fashion company currently in the process of expanding into a showroom. I remember sitting their doe eyed as I sat in a meeting completely spoken in Chinese. I thought then that I really should have done some more preparation, however I did feel a little better as my boss didn’t know a word either and had a translator (another intern at the organization) with us. A couple hours later we had come for what we needed, which ended up being my first project.
From then on out it was like clockwork. Each day working on a project, and then when one finished, it was on to the next one. It was exciting to see the different types of projects that the company was responsible for. Not only were they a marketing company but they did interior, landscape, product and company image/logo design. A few of my colleagues were designing the interiors of schools and libraries whilst others were designing watches and toys.
My work colleagues were great to work with, and it was important building that guanxi and network of work friends. We would help each other in completing the task and ensuring that we met the required deadlines, go to our local eateries and have fun experiencing the unusual culture of Shanghai. Half of the work place was of some form of Asian heritage whilst there was also people from Russia, France, Italy and more. I was the only Australian, which it was fun explaining what Australia day was all about, something I was quite happy to celebrate whilst over there.
With such a diverse workplace it made working there go really quickly, it was fun hearing how different cultures viewed different things and so forth. And while it was funny hearing the broken English I’ve come to realise that was probably my biggest downfall. Being the only non-bilingual person in the workplace made some simple tasks harder. It did not help that there was 5 different languages being spoken out of 8 workers. If and when I move back for work, I will definitely make sure that I am a little more fluent and I have continued to learn mandarin as I feel it would be a great tool to have regardless. My main goal for this however would be being able to read and write also. Not only with Mandarin but If I was to travel to other countries, I think I would put a little more effort into learning the language.
Besides the distinct language barrier, there was not many issues that I had with the work they provided. I was happy and I hope they were too, with my current level of knowledge and was able to successfully complete each task. Like most things there is always different ways of tackling the same task and I was able to learn a few new skills and in return was able to show them a few too. In one instance when having to design a site map and graphical diagrams for one of the mobile applications I was unfamiliar with the software that they were using. Instead I used one that I was taught in my courses and for that project they continued to use it. I was quite happy to be able to contribute in this way, for a company to take on a method in this way is quite remarkable.
Working overseas has provided me with the most invaluable experience to my career. It has definitely given me the edge when competing with others in the workforce. Personally I feel comfortable in being able to work and settle quite quickly into any work environment or significantly better then prior to my internship. I will have to give my resume a serious look over when I get back into Newcastle.
One thing I am definitely going to miss is my guanxi, my work family. Both from the company I worked with and the internship group. Firstly my colleagues in the workforce was one of the most diverse group I have ever had the privilege to work with. I have never been so confused in my life, but we all had the same presence of mind, to make good design and to get the work done. They say people live to work and others work to live, and this workplace had both. I don’t really know which one I side with but there is a definite difference within different cultures.
Finally the family that I grew up with from the internship. We would have gone through all of it. Both the good and bad, and every day with them was a new learning day like nothing else. It was like learning in the streets, and not like Sesame Street where you learnt a new number and there was a letter of the day. You had to learn more than a word, a couple of sentences or two just to get from one place to another. But it was a battle that we all shared together, whether it be from the myriad of scams we were forewarned about, to figuring out what we were eating was what was written in the menu.
It was not all bad however. If you were open minded and willing to uncover the hidden secrets that Shanghai had to offer then you could be provided the world. If you could understand that was what you were being given. My attitude to continue trying new things was what I believe lead me to getting the most out of my trip. I would always say “I didn’t come here to eat something I can get at home” or “try something that I could do at home. ” I truly became addicted to the eye-opening experiences that I encountered each day and by the end of it, nothing could surprise me. Definitely surpass my intrigue and broaden my idea of the possible but never fully surprise me.
It will be these quick learning sessions that will stand out the most in my mind and what I feel I will take out of this experience the most. An extraordinary culture, unparalleled experiences, and a second family to go exploring with.