To be honest, don’t even form expectations for China before coming here because you’ll only frustrate yourself. The conglomeration of weird tidbits I’ve heard about China from the news, friends, and articles didn’t at all align with the reality of working in Beijing– it’s much more amazing.
The physical conditions of my office are something I would expect from a small American technology company, not one operating in the heart of China. Instead of cubicles, which I half expected, there are lengthy desks resembling the old oak dining tables my grandma used to have but twice as long with a workplace clutter she would have never allowed. A plethora of plants litter the office accompanied by colorful statues standing waist high. The walls aren’t forgotten either; photos and paintings range from black and white to the abstract art I love to pretend to understand. Snacks, tissues, laptop cords, supplies are all shared and seats regularly change. The office is nothing like I thought but everything I had hoped. The people here are casual and friendly, willing to help out, but fiercely driven – just my style.
The social environment isn’t much different, although there are hindrances. We have four native English speakers in the office: my two Australian bosses, an Australian coworker, and me. Three out of these four speak Mandarin as well…guess who doesn’t. Even though my Chinese coworkers struggle with English, they always make sure to include me in conversations the best they can and say good morning to me everyday. Just as my tentative grasp on Mandarin frustrates me, I’m sure it isn’t easy or comfortable for them to speak English for the sake of the Unpaid Intern, but they do it anyway.
The work itself has been surprisingly satisfying and forced me to learn to “just go for it” as cliché as that sounds. Even from my Aussie boss, directions are always vague. I can’t imagine the ambiguity my fellow interns must get from Chinese firms. Right out of the gate, before I was even comfortable in my new swivel chair, my supervisor emailed me a business proposal and told me to edit it or add things to it as I saw fit. Uh, okay. After the business proposal, came the flood. Three days were packed with app development meetings, editing more business proposals, writing an 11-page report on my company’s competitors, and a meeting with the CEO of an international procurement company. Looks like the only coffee fetching I’ll be doing is for myself.