Are Internships in China Worth It?

My last musing was along the lines of, "Are Americans the new migrant laborers in China?" More than proving a point, I did this to get people to pay attention to what I had to say. This development has accelerated in the last year as a result of the global financial crisis, China's growing economic importance, and the country's rapid modernization. There will be no more hardship bonuses. Young laowai see opportunities for personal and professional growth in China.

There has been a drastic shift in the circumstances. Ten years ago, anybody from outside of this country who ventured to this supposedly "inhospitable" region would have expected to gain financial and other benefits. Younger expats are increasingly venturing abroad on their own in search of employment opportunities. International students are increasingly able to afford to intern in China.

It seems reasonable that this trend would emerge. With more graduates coming out of schools in the United Kingdom and the United States and fewer jobs available in their native country due to the economic crisis, their chances for finding gainful work are dim. According to The Guardian, 22,000 fewer recent college grads will be able to find employment in 2018. That's a boost of around 10% in little over two years, or 4% annually. This figure continues to rise in the United States. Many recent college graduates have come to understand that concrete skills and experiences are just as important as a degree in today's job market. They need to highlight in their resume anything that makes them stand out from the crowd.

An internship in China would be useful. Graduates will get valuable work experience and show potential employers they can think on their feet. They put in time studying Mandarin, but how much they can learn in six months of 9 to 5 employment is up for debate. Taking this into account, internships seem fantastic. The risk of going away for a while (say, a year) isn't that high, is it? The financial repercussions of this circumstance are not ideal.

Recent studies from American Student Assistance show that graduates leave college owing an average of $47,000. Graduates in the United Kingdom this year might be saddled with debts of over £15,000 (about $24,450). With these kinds of figures, many graduates just cannot put off job hunting. Because of this, interning is not cheap.

A select few college grads will have the ability to get internships via personal contacts back home. In all other cases, a third-party service like, Asiainterns, or Match Dragon will be required. The cost of such assistance is high. Typically, the intern foots the bill up front. Agent's charge, airfare to China, and visa costs might add up to $3,000 total.

The interns will have to deal with the high cost of living once they go to China. For each company, this is different. Unpaid internships often last no more than a few weeks or months. There may be compensation or lodging provided for interns who stay for 6 months or a year. The salary is usually between 1500 and 3000 RMB per month, which is not much for a recent college grad saddled with student loans. There is a presumption that most internships will be located in pricey East Coast metropolitan areas.

Expats in their twenties and thirties have the answer. The increasing number of Westerners is evidence of this belief, although internships may be costly. As the present influx of people to the Middle Kingdom is only getting started, its long-term impact is impossible to predict. Over the next year to 18 months, more interns will return from China seeking full-time jobs.

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