The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
Applying for the summer internship in China wasn’t hard. I did the whole process through my university, the British Council (Generation UK) and the company CRCC Asia, which places students in companies in China for work placements and arranges their accommodation. I had to submit a formal application with my CV and pass an interview (with CRCC Asia), but the latter was more of an informal check about my professional experience, cross-cultural competencies and interest in China. When applying to CRCC, I had to choose three sectors where I’d like to work and a particular Chinese city. I chose Green Technology, Logistics and NGOs/Charities as sectors. My city choice was Shenzhen, in Southern China, mainly due to its closeness to Hong Kong and a desire to meet a friend who lives there (I couldn’t in the end due to visa issues, though I didn’t regret at all choosing Shenzhen!).
After applying and being told I had been successful, the long stage of preparation came. I had to learn some Mandarin Chinese, check my vaccinations, get familiar with the Chinese messaging app WeChat (equivalent to Whatsapp), and deal with a visa application. Fortunately, everything went smoothly, except for my ongoing irregular health, which prevented me from attending Chinese lessons ran by my university and, at some point, even made me rethink my decision to carry out the work placement in China. Nevertheless, knowing my health issue was a long-term one, its symptoms not very severe, and that was an opportunity I might never have again, I decided to go ahead. And, I still managed to learn some Chinese through a phone app.
My university and CRCC Asia were very helpful through the whole process, the only issue being a lack of information on where I was going to be placed for my internship. I received the information later than expected, and I was only told the name and website of the company: Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL). I guess this should have been enough, but it was confusing because I wasn’t sure about what did the company do or which was its sector, since its name and website weren’t familiar enough. I knew it was technology related, but didn’t know if it acted as a business or as a charity, or exactly which sector it belonged to. However, part of my concerns were promptly addressed by CRCC: I got the chance to speak in WeChat with my supervisor in SZOIL. Her name was Vicky and she was very helpful, answering all my questions and concerns regarding working hours, dress code, role’s task, etc.
Soon, June 21st arrived, and on the early morning of that Wednesday, I found myself taking a bus from Brighton to Heathrow airport, where I met representatives from my university’s Careers and Employability Centre, who were in charge of booking flight tickets, processing the visa and organising the funding for the internship. I also met other students from my university who were headed to intern in Shenzhen too. While I didn’t know any of them beforehand (I’m not exactly a social person and less since I got ill last year), I easily joined the group and found myself comfortable enough to not feel awkward.
The flight was long but it went by fast. Cathay Pacific was a nice airline to fly in. The food was good and though I was unable to sleep, I did entertain myself by watching various movies offered on board. Fortunately, we didn’t have to get off and take a connection flight, unlike when I went to Singapore last year.
In a matter of eleven-twelve hours, we landed in Hong Kong, where we took a ferry (from inside the airport) to a port in Shenzhen, mainland China. There, and after passing the non-troublesome immigration checks, CRCC staff members awaited for us. They welcomed us to China and separated us in groups to take us to our accommodation in a minivan, group by group. I decided to join the last leaving group, since I wanted to buy something to eat because I hadn’t had breakfast in the plane (I was feeling sick). That was the first time I spoke Chinese during the trip: to order takeaway food from a Sushi place and from KFC. I felt proud of myself because the restaurant workers understood me and I understood them. Of course, the conversation was not complicated, but I didn’t wanna have to lazily rely on English to get by, which is not widely spoken in China anyways.
Following the wait, the CRCC staff took us to our accommodation in the district of Shekou, a hotel-like apartment-complex of self-serviced studios called Apartment One. There we met other CRCC interns (our title) which came from all over the world, particularly USA. Most, if not all, interns were university/college students from a variety of fields. Each of us had to fill in forms to be given the keys for our single accommodation (some people shared theirs, I wasn’t one of them). I was very pleased when I opened the door of my studio and saw the inside: it looked very nice, modern and comfy, with enough space to walk around but not having to bother too much to organise it.
After I unpacked part of my stuff, I had a shower and laid in bed to rest till the evening, when I attended an informal welcome dinner in a restaurant in a nearby mall. Other than to meet other interns, the dinner was useful to familiarise myself with my new neighbourhood, particularly the shopping centre and the Walmart besides it. Though I enjoyed the outing, I felt very relieved when the time to sleep came: I was exhausted. In addition, Shenzhen is a hot and humid city, similar to Singapore, the only cool places being indoors with a fan or air conditioner. This type of weather doesn’t help at all with tiredness, if anything, it makes it worse.
The next day was Induction Day, organised by CRCC as a proper introduction to our time as interns in Shenzhen. Following a nice breakfast in Apartment One, the CRCC staff took us to a building 15-20 minutes away for the planned presentations and workshop. That walk was my first proper view of Shenzhen during the daytime (I could barely remember the minivan drive from the day before). My first impression of the city was of it as a nice place where urbanisation and nature meet, with clear signs of economic activity, somehow crowded and a bit suffocating due to the weather, but beautiful and calm (where we lived).
The Induction Day activities organised by CRCC Asia were very helpful to settle in our a new temporary life. There were some Powerpoint presentations about CRCC Asia, Shenzhen, China, Chinese Business Culture and a taste of the Chinese language lessons we could take part in while being in Shenzhen. There we also more interactive workshops, such as an informative quiz about Chinese history and modern China. All these activities took place in the morning. Afterwards, we went for a group lunch to a restaurant close to our accommodation. At that moment, I felt very confident about my stay in Shenzhen and didn’t have any problem to socialise with other interns.”This will go as well as Singapore” I thought, previewing group trips within and out of Shenzhen, as well as social activities like going out at night, not knowing my health had other plans for me.
Around midday, just after lunch, I began to feel ill. I couldn’t join the main afternoon activity, a group ‘treasure-hunt’ across Shenzhen, so after getting help to set up my Chinese mobile card, I went back to my studio in Apartment One to rest. I felt a bit better on the evening, and joined, though late, the formal welcome dinner, spending more time with fellow interns.
However, for the rest of the long weekend, I stayed in my room, while the rest of participants went out and had fun in different CRCC-organised and independent activities. Although this sucked, I couldn’t do much about it. At first, I thought the issue was jetlag, but as I didn’t get much better during the rest of my stay, I realised it was just my health ruining my social life again. Nevertheless, I still carried out the main objective of the trip: experiencing work life in China. And that’s an interesting story for the next post. Stay tuned!
P.S: I’m aware I promised a vlog series about my time in Shenzhen, but after trying recording some videos, I realised it wasn’t for me. Still, I didn’t want to just delete the videos I made during the trip, so I decided to edit them and add them to my written blog posts. Hope you still enjoy the content!