Destination: Winternship (China Edition)

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HNC students take advantage of their long winter break on the Chinese academic calendar to get professional experience in the Asian powerhouse.

Per company tradition, Quinn Campbell (far left) and fellow HNC interns celebrate the end of a successful internship by go-kart racing with their supervisor at a track on the field of Beijing Workers’ Stadium (Photo Courtesy: Quinn Campbell)


NANJING — After spending the holiday season away from home and finishing a tough fall semester in Nanjing, most U.S. and international students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center would opt to spend their much deserved six-week Chinese New Year vacation relaxing on a beach in Southeast Asia or backpacking through rural China. Others, however, are eager for new challenges. One brave bunch of international students at the HNC decided to boost their résumés with winter break internships.

Hailing from Hotlanta, five-semester student Quinn Campbell (Georgia Tech, ’15) came to the HNC looking to improve his Mandarin and get an insider’s look into business, consulting and finance in China. A participant on the fall break Asia Career Trek through Shanghai and Hong Kong, Campbell, along with a few other HNC students, interned with KPMG in Beijing. Their main assignment involved advising KPMG’s five largest U.S. client corporations on their China strategies and monitoring China’s 13th new political-economic Five-Year Plan and what it means for U.S. multinational corporations in China. From day one, Campbell and his co-interns were hard at work, driving in the fast lane with the other personnel, submitting deliverables the direct impact of which they would later see implemented.

A proud Jamaican, Certificate student Gabrielle Barnett (Mt. Holyoke College, ’15) found her internship through the HNC’s weekly career services newsletter. As an intern at Tractus Asia, a boutique consultancy specializing in economic development in the Greater China region and Southeast Asia, Barnett conducted primary research with Chinese sources, interfaced with Chinese clients, and even participated in a business trip to nearby Suzhou. The only person of Afro-Caribbean descent in the office, Barnett was especially grateful that her Mandarin skills broke the language and cultural barrier, facilitating friendly interactions with the local staff.

Driven by an urgency to gain a breadth of work experience in China, second-year master’s student Thomas Holt (Pennsylvania State University, ’14) spent both of his winter breaks interning in Shanghai, last year at China Solutions (a legal company) and this year at Red Pulse (a market research firm). Holt was able to apply knowledge from the HNC’s Chinese legal studies courses at the former and use his experience conducting research for his thesis at the latter company.

Though spending six continuous weeks on a full-time schedule was taxing, all students were excited and grateful for the opportunity to exercise their Chinese language abilities outside the classroom and in a professional work environment. The chance to apply their studies to a project and build hard, practical skills over the course of their internships made up for any lost opportunities to relax.

At the first of their bi-weekly bonding events for summer interns, Barnett (center, seated) toasts with her co-workers and supervisors after a Chinese gourmet dinner in Shanghai (Photo Courtesy: Gabrielle Barnett)

By interning in Beijing and Shanghai, students at the HNC also got a taste of professional life in these sprawling, modern metropolises. Though Nanjing is the capital of the affluent Jiangsu province, students enjoyed the urban rhythm of their daily commute and taking advantage of the plethora of recreational options and career opportunities these dynamic cities have to offer.

Apart from exposure and experience, the students agreed that a major highlight of their internships was the opportunity to build professional relationships and personal friendships with their Chinese co-workers as well as develop their own perspectives on corporate culture in modern China.

Overall, these internships provided students with a valuable lens through which they could reevaluate their goals, capabilities, interests and their standards, helping them better understand themselves and where they hope to “fit” in their career and chosen fields. Some students discovered a new prospective career they had not considered before; others abandoned an industry, while still others were reassured of their chosen path. In any case, the time immersed in these industries, exploring individual firms and their cultures, especially in China, was ultimately enlightening and rewarding.

Though interns are stereotypically relegated to menial tasks and unwanted labor, HNC students were deeply engaged with their supervisors, coworkers and clients. In order to make the most of an internship, Barnett stresses that interns must “keep an open mind and an open personality, but more importantly, never be afraid to ask for work and responsibility” because flexibility and proactive determination will maximize the potential for excellence.

Campbell hopes future HNC students will not shrink away from the opportunity to intern in China out of fear, though he warns that they will need to have a “thick skin, [expect to be] held to perfection, exceed expectations and be ready to learn.” If they do, the sacrifice of their mojitos in Phuket for late nights at the office will be a glorious battle scar on their CVs.

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