Kristen Howell is a student at the Sam Walton College of Business within the University of Arkansas. She did an accounting internship in Beijing during the summer of 2011 through the CRCC Asia China Internship Program.
What made you decide to spend your summer interning in China?
I had been searching around for summer intern opportunities for months trying to figure out how I would spend my summer. I had always known that I wanted to study abroad, but I figured that would come at a later point in my college career. When I heard about my business college at the University of Arkansas partnering with CRCC Asia I took an interest in the program. I applied and received funding for the program from the university. After a little more research and weighing the pros and cons I realized I had made a fantastic decision for my summer.
What were some of the biggest culture shocks you encountered?
I think the biggest initial culture shock came when I started my first day of work. The people that know me best would say that I am pretty talkative and personable, but the language barrier initially hindered how well I could get to know my coworkers. I did not really prepare myself for how much the language barrier separated me from my coworkers, but my mentor was great about including me in the conversation as much as possible, and language began to be a minor obstacle. I realized that non verbal communication would be key in conveying my friendly personality and I feel that at the end of my internship that they all understood what kind of person I was.
Another shock that came to me was the food situation. I went to China an extremely picky eater, but I came to Beijing with the attitude to try anything once. Initially, that was a very difficult motto to live by, and I found the food to be too difficult to manage. I then realized that it was simply because I had not truly given the food a chance. I actually grew to enjoy the food in China, and I came back to the states completely open to trying new things and enjoying the food I had never thought I liked before.
How is the Chinese work environment different from a Western work environment?
There were a few differences that I noticed between working in China and my time working in the states. The first thing I noticed was a very prevalent hierarchy displayed in the Chinese office – more so than in the West. The partner of my firm created a different atmosphere around the office. My colleagues became a lot quieter and more productive, and they treated him with a completely different level of respect. A more professional respect was displayed as opposed to a more friendly environment that existed among my coworkers. I also noticed the team environment was very prevalent throughout my time in China. We always went out to lunch together, there was consistent communication – both business and non business related – and they often gathered after work hours to bond as a team. I think it allowed for a more comfortable work atmosphere that allows them to be that much more productive. I am aware that the Western work environment displays some of the same qualities, but I think the degree to which I noticed them in China really stood out throughout my experience.
How would you expect your time spent interning in China to impact your future career?
“Ever since my internship one year ago I have worked for two Fortune 100 companies and will be working for a Big Four accounting firm as an audit intern next summer, and I owe much of what I learned in China to my current successes.”
My time in China has already impacted my career in many ways. Not only does going abroad set an applicant apart from the bunch, but when you add an internship and language experience the opportunities become endless. Experiencing all of these amazing opportunities in one of the fastest growing economic forces in the world and an employer cannot help but show an extreme interest. It has been the main topic of the majority of my interviews and a fantastic way to convey to potential employers how much you are able to thrive in unfamiliar and often times uncomfortable situations. Being able to communicate in an environment where speaking was one of the most difficult tasks can tell an employer a lot about how well you work with others. Ever since my internship one year ago I have worked for two Fortune 100 companies and will be working for a Big Four accounting firm as an audit intern next summer, and I owe much of what I learned in China to my current successes.
What were the benefits of utilizing an internship program?
This program specifically appealed to me because I would be doing more than studying abroad. Utilizing the internship aspect of the program made me immerse myself into China completely. I worked with a completey Chinese staff, the majority of whom did not speak but a handful of English words, and that opportunity helped me to really learn about the daily life of the Chinese. I rode the subway, ate out with my coworkers, worked from 8-5, and contributed to the firm I was working for daily just like any other Beijinger. There were only a few organized events so it was our job after work and on the weekends as interns to find our own fun, which did not prove to be too difficult. I really felt like I lived in Beijing for a month as opposed to visiting as a tourist. Sure, we visited all of the great sites, but doing the normal day-to-day activities really set it apart from any other program.
What advice would you give to a student considering working in China?
A piece of advice that I have given and swear by is use every second given to you in this experience. An opportunity to travel like this only comes around once in a lifetime for many people, but you cannot forget how limited your time really is. A month flew by for me, and when I realized how much I still wanted to do, I wish I could have stayed for the entire summer. Working 40 hours a week was new for me, so naturally I was exhausted after work and wanted to use the weekends to rest. Fortunately, I had friends that were motivated to have the time of their lives and I fed off that energy to use every evening and weekend to my advantage. Get to know tons of new interns and try things that you would never think of to do. There is an entire country around you that is so easily accessible with so many memories waiting at your fingertips. As long as you take advantage of every moment of this summer you will leave with an entirely new group of friends, too many pictures to count, even more memories that will never fade, and absolutely no regrets.
Which country would you want to head to for an internship?