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5 Things to know If you want to be an intern in China

From the outside looking in, a lot of people think that China is the land of opportunity and that if you want to make money, China’s the place to be. That might still be true, but now that China's economy is basically fully developed. Big opportunities are few and far in between. However, because of this image, hundreds of thousands of interns and expats apply to work in China. I was one of them 2 years ago and I want to share with you 5 things you need to know if you want to intern in China.

1) Don’t expect to be living like a millionaire

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If you’re planning to get an internship in China, don’t expect to make any money. In fact, have money saved to cover all your living expenses and more. China may seem like a cheap place to live, but unless you're really friendly with a local, all the major cities are just as expensive to live in as Toronto or New York. Unless you’re working in a global corporation, the pay you’re going to receive isn’t even going to cover your rent. In fact, if you receive any kind of pay/subsidies consider yourself lucky. With all the interns looking to come to China not only do you normally have to pay an agent to help you find an internship, but you are expected to work for free because of the high demand for these internships. I found that most internships offer either 100 yuan per day or cover your transportation cost to commute to work. So don’t expect your internship to pay for all the cost associated with going to China, just take the value of the experience.

2) Expect to be working overtime even as an intern

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In certain industries, overtime is expected because of the workload, but in China, there is a somewhat unspoken rule that if your boss hasn’t gone home yet you shouldn’t go home yet. Depending on the company it could vary, but in some companies, it’s just so awkward to leave early when no one else even seems to have the inkling to get up at 5pm. I wouldn’t say interns are expected to do crazy overtime, but from my experience working in a medium size company, expect to leave more than 30mins later than when you’re supposed to each day. Or you can play the foreigner card and just feign ignorance.

3) There is a huge spectrum in the quality of internships

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Not all internships in China are made equal. Although China's economy is world class, it's still relatively new. Standards and laws around the workplace have not really been enforced or created, therefore internships are not as strictly defined as those in Canada or the United States. As an intern you could be asked to do anything which can be from making coffee, proofreading translating, to actually working on projects. It all depends on the company you work for. If you’re working for a big name company that also offers internships worldwide, you’re more likely to get a higher quality experience. If you’re working for a small local company, or a company that isn’t well developed in China yet, you could end up doing a lot of small routine tasks. When I was in China I got kind of lucky by working for a small advertising agency, but the founder was from Europe so the quality of the internship was still great and I got to work on more projects because it was a small team. Make sure to do your research before you accept your offer.

4) Travel as much as you can

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The internship is just gonna to be 1 part of the whole experience of working in China. If you’re working in a major city like Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai. There are a lot of weekend trips you can take! Take advantage of your time in China and see as much as you can. With China’s well-developed high-speed trains you can explore quite a bit of China just over a few weekends. If you're hesitant about leaving the major cities because of language barriers, consider going on private or group tours! They can be customized to match your schedule and you’ll have a translator to guide you to all the right places.

5) Socialize as much as you can

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The major cities in China are the places to be if you want to meet like-minded individuals from all over the world! Meeting locals here might be harder than meeting foreigners. The nightlife scene is huge and there are tons of online communities for foreigners coming to China and looking to meet new people. You can check out websites and forums like Internations, shanghaiexpat, and thebeijinger.

Overall taking an internship or job in another country is a rare experience. Whether you make money or not, the experience you will gain at not only your job but the local culture and people will be what makes the trip worth it!

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About the author

Monica is a Canadian-Chinese travel blogger and marketer that has spent time in Beijing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou,and Xitang, Shanghai. When she isn't watching YouTube videos, you can find her writing or creating videos.

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