More foreign interns seek work in China

Posted 2020/3/15

 More foreign interns seek work in China

Lauren Russell, 21, is one of four interns from the United States who work at She is a senior at the University of North Carolina.

 More foreign interns seek work in China

Audrey Broadway, 21, is a senior studying public relations and hospitality and tourism management at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. She has a two-month internship in the website.

Lauren Ratcliffe wasted no time. She graduated in North Carolina on May 8 and landed in Beijing on May 26 to start her internship.

Not knowing a word of Mandarin before she arrived, she's excited that she has now published stories outside her home country after adjusting to the first week of ubiquitous spitting in public and unstoppable car honking.

Ratcliffe, who majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one of four US interns at, a multi-language Web portal founded by the State Council Information Office and China International Publishing Group.

The number of foreign interns increases yearly. There are no official numbers, because many come to China on tourist or student visas, depending on the length of the internship. However, a global organization that helps students find internships reports that the number of applicants for China has risen from no more than 50 in 2002 to 1,000 this year.

AIESEC, which is based in the Netherlands, describes itself as the world's largest student-run organization, with a presence in 107 countries and regions and more than 50,000 members. The acronym represents Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (International Association of Students in Economic and Business Science).

Students fly to China from all over the world for two-month to one-year internships with AIESEC's business partners, said Luo Min, vice-president of communications at AIESEC's China headquarters in Beijing. About 200 organizations, institutions and corporations including IBM and Microsoft participate in the program, he said.

"The number was always paltry, no more than 50 a year," Luo said. However it began to edge up in late 2007, partly because of the daunting prospect of global financial crisis. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Shanghai Expo, China has claimed the largest share of foreign students, Luo said.

"They (foreign students) are all calling it 'crazy craving China'. Everything here is appealing for them, and some of them have chosen to stay and work here for a long term after the internship."

'Fresh and unique'

Ratcliffe's daily job includes editing other people's stories and reporting on her own. Editing English stories written by Chinese colleagues is relatively easy for her with her college news background at home. Ratcliffe, 22, wanted to do more reporting during her stay, and right now she is working on a second story.

She has been to press conferences and has visited Beijing's northeast suburb of Miyun to write a travel story, with her Chinese colleagues interpreting during interviews.

"It could've been much harder," Ratcliffe said. "Not speaking or reading the language, getting things done could be impossible, but it wasn't that at all."

AIESEC's Luo said that in addition to traditional language-related jobs (teaching English, translating and editing), the most popular fields among foreign students are finance, consulting and business management.

Multinational companies see a benefit in having some real foreign employees - versus "white faces" just for show - because their staff members are largely Chinese, Luo said.

"The way foreign graduates think and work is fresh and unique. They help create a truly globalized environment that both the company's Chinese staff and foreign executives are longing for."

Luo's association charges corporations "a small fee" - he declined to say how much - to recommend international interns, but the service is free for students.

Making it work

Even so, internships abroad cost more than those at home. Most are unpaid, although some foreign interns receive an allowance of about $800 to $1,000 a month, higher than their Chinese counterparts.

Ratcliffe's internship provides no such allowance, yet she considers it an investment. "I find it's worthwhile. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

When her internship is over after five more weeks, Ratcliffe will return to the United States to start job-hunting. As for future job opportunities in China, "I'm open to them, but right now they are not on my radar."

Overseas experience is attractive not only for fresh graduates without working experience. Andrea Albright, 30, who had worked full time for five years, came to China in May when her husband's employer transferred him.

She talked with her network in the US before leaving and got an internship at the Beijing office of Dewey & LeBoeuf, a US-based law firm. Just graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota in May, Albright said the internship adds a unique experience to her resume.

Her internship is unpaid, but Albright has her own way to make it through. "I teach English on the weekend, for 200 yuan every 1 hours."

That gives her a monthly income of 1,600 yuan, which pays for food and transportation. Her husband's job covers their housing, which is a major expense.

'Global citizens'

Foreign government offices have introduced similar programs. One is the Global Fellowship Program, a six-week summer project funded by the United Kingdom.

Tailored for high school graduates 18 and 19 years old, the program was designed to be a comprehensive journey, covering three phases: Chinese language, school placement and work placement, the most challenging part. Participants in China intern with such UK-based enterprises as B&Q, a furniture company; KPMG, accounting; and HSBC, banking.

The program, which was started in 2008, each year sends 100 students selected from across the UK to one of three rising countries - China, India and Brazil. The largest number of students, 40, come to China every year.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Zhang Liting, an education project officer of the British Council in Shanghai, the partner to the UK government in delivering the program.

"During the first year, the applicants barely outnumbered the actual participants. But in the second year, the number soon climbed to 400. And last year, more than 800 students applied for it," Zhang said.

In addition to different corporate cultures and possible job opportunities as benefits, Zhang suggested that such a program allows students to better see themselves as "global citizens" and to learn firsthand about the social, economic and environmental impacts of globalization.

"Many students who have come here acclaimed it as a life-changing experience," Zhang said. "It will not only be a highlight on their resume, but more in their life history."

Maybe they'll stay

Chinese companies, both State-owned and private, also are interested in foreign interns. Zhao Hongwei, head of communications at ChinaHR, a leading online recruitment service, told China Daily that many State-owned enterprises are consulting with his service about interns.

Zhao mentioned finance and banking, but declined to give a number or identify any companies. However, he said the number has risen every year, especially since the international financial crisis in 2008, because Chinese State-owned companies are basically free from layoffs.

"These companies are still in a booming stage and are in dire need of talent. Therefore, they are very happy to have some internationally high-end people, like those from MIT, Harvard and Cambridge, or some prestigious business schools like Wharton, even for a short time," he said.

"And they are usually very serious about such internships, more thoughtful in reviewing resumes and providing training, because in most cases they want to keep these interns as full-time employees."

Some industry insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cautioned that some Chinese companies are simply "buying" these students' exotic names and faces to diversify their personnel and make their international businesses seem more international.

Easier would help

Ratcliffe and her fellow interns at came to China through their school programs and the support of the Chinese company. With help from their Chinese colleagues, they say, they have adjusted to living in Beijing rather easily.

But there's nothing easy about renewing a tourist visa, a "painful" process full of paperwork that includes setting up a Bank of China account with a $3,000 deposit. It's an inevitable process that many foreign interns must endure, sometimes twice.

Ask Audrey Broadway, 21, a senior student in public relations and hospitality and tourism management at Appalachian State University. Although her internship lasts just two months, Broadway was granted only 30 days' stay on her tourist visa. She will spend more than two months in Beijing and other Chinese cities, so must renew her visa twice, each time at a cost of about 940 yuan ($145).

Buying travel tickets within China also can be difficult for US tourists with American credit cards, she said. Chinese airlines often offer cheaper domestic flights compared with those from American airlines, but they won't accept credit cards from US tourists in China. Broadway needed a Chinese friend's help to buy the tickets.

"I feel that China is going to be a major part of a tourism industry that's going to be more international," she said.

"The Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City - people (in the US) know these places. I think eventually they are going to make their way over here and see it."

It could be easier for them, Broadway said. "Maybe the Chinese airlines can accept American credit cards too, so that could increase travel and profit."

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