CRCC Asia Internship in Shenzhen: Part 2. Welcome to SZOIL and Commuting 

(If you haven’t, check the first part of my latest blog series ‘CRCC Asia Internship in China’ before reading this one:

After a long three-day weekend of being ill and trying to recover, my first day of work as an intern in China came. I had to wake-up early and meet the rest of CRCC Asia interns in the lobby of Apartment One, to take a group picture before heading to our internships. Most, if not all, interns worked for companies which weren’t near our accommodation. Fortunately, for the first day of work, CRCC staff members took us by minivan to our workplaces. I was not the only CRCC intern working in SZOIL, my assigned company, there were three others CRCC participants coming with me: a student from a university in Northern England, a student from an American university, and a fellow Sussex student. I had only spoken briefly to two of them before the start of the internship, so I didn’t know much about any of them, but hoped for the best, as they would be my co-workers for a month.

The minivan drive was neither nerve-wracking nor calming. I was excited to begin working, I was slightly concerned about making a good first impression, but I wasn’t feeling anxious at all. Apart from SZOIL interns, there were other interns in the vehicle, who worked in the same district as us (Futian) but for other companies, such as law firms. The first workplace we stopped for was ours, so we got off and got directed by the CRCC staff member to a dark grey building in a modern building-complex. We entered the place, passed by reception and took an elevator up. Soon, we were at the doors of SZOIL’s office, greeted by our new SZOIL colleagues and saying goodbye to the CRCC worker that took us there.

My first impression of SZOIL was that it resembled a technology workshop, rather than a common company office, which I liked, because it made the place look less rigorous and strict, more flexible and creative, while still maintaining a professional image. In fact, while CRCC advised us to wear professional office clothing (suit and tie) to work, we soon found out that SZOIL didn’t have a strict dress code and casual clothing was accepted (phewww! I don’t like professional office clothing). Space-wise, SZOIL had two floors, an upper one for scientific laboratory work, and a lower one with two parts: an area for administrative work, and an area for presentations / group meetings with a small kitchenette. Both lower-floor zones had tools, tables and machinery for a variety of activities, from 3D printing to a laser engraving.

Our first day in SZOIL was mainly a comprehensive introduction to the company and its projects. SZOIL is a three-years-old Fablab that operates as a public space for makers from around the world to come together and collaborate. Its main activities are research, innovation, product development and education, focusing greatly on cross-sector partnerships. The company runs a variety of projects at a given time, and as interns, we could join any. My CRCC co-workers got progressively assigned to projects matching their expertise (e.g. engineering), while I was concerned about not finding something suitable because my degree wasn’t technology, business or design related. Fortunately, my worries weren’t materialised, as I was later introduced to two key projects I would focus on during my internship: The Open Village and the Global Humanitarian Lab (GHL).

The Open Village was presented as part of our induction, and as an International Development student, I offered myself to work on it, as the project involved community participation and sustainable development. SZOIL, in partnership with another company known as FuturePlus, was running the initiative in a village next to Shenzhen, Xingguang, focusing on reusing empty spaces in the rural community and aiding in current efforts to develop its economic potential. One of the main objectives was building a small FabLab in the area to help villagers with their livelihoods.

The second project, GHL, is a United Nations’ initiative which focuses on accelerating humanitarian innovation. I came across it by chance, when I was invited to join a Skype meeting with the co-founder of the GHL and a GHL analysist, and after some discussion, they asked if there was someone in SZOIL with knowledge on anthropology or ethnography matters. As, almost certainly, the only one person present with such background, I put myself forward for it without hesitation. The GHL needed advice on matters of inclusion and monitoring & learning (M&E) for the FabLabs and FabKits they were deploying in poor communities and humanitarian contexts, such as refugee camps.

Soon, and after a day of getting used to a new working environment, the first shift was over, and I headed back to Apartment One with my co-workers. Unlike on the morning, we had to make our way back home alone, though it wasn’t hard. We simply had to take a couple of buses and a couple of tube rides. After that experience, I expected commuting to be easy and smooth. However, the next morning, I woke up late, missed the early shuttle bus to a nearby tube station, and had to work out on my own how to get to work. It was particularly hard because most information in China was in Chinese and I wasn’t fluent enough in Mandarin to ask for questions.

Instinctively, I walked to the nearest bus stop and jumped on the first bus that came, hoping that it would take me to a tube station. I was lucky enough to meet an English-speaking bus inspector, who noticed my confusion and gave me advice on how to get to work. Fortunately, that bus did stop next to a tube station, which wasn’t hard to find. From there, the journey went smoothly, as I could remember the tube stations from the day before, as well as the bus that would take me to work after my tube rides ended. Though I arrived late to work, thanks to the morning mishap, my CRCC co-workers and I found an easier way to get to work, as their journey on the morning was significantly longer and required taking a taxi.

Commuting became a core part of my work life in China, which I normally did with my CRCC co-workers. Every morning was the same: walking to a stop, taking a bus, getting off, walking to a tube station, riding a tube, getting off, riding another tube, getting off, walking out of the station, boarding a bus, getting off after two stops, and walking for 10 minutes to our work building. Yes, the journey was as tiring as it sounds. The heat didn’t help, nor did the overcrowding in the tube. While, at first, I believed taking the tube would be great, I ended up hating it, wondering if there was a bus-only way to get to work, but not finding out about it till I learnt how to properly use an English website with Shenzhen’s bus times and routes. It turned out that not only there was a bus-only commute to work, but it was cheaper and shorter, requiring only one bus change. Unfortunately, I found out about it when my internship was nearly over. At least I could enjoy it for a few days, avoiding the asphyxiating tube.

While commuting for nearly an hour was a tiring activity I loathed (nonetheless ended up adapting to), working in SZOIL made it very much worth it. The positive impression I got from the lab from the first day remained for the full duration of my placement. And you will know why in the following post.


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