University of Southern California

First-Year Gets Real World Experience in China
Summer Internship Program Immerses Freshmen in Chinese Business Practices and Culture
November 29, 2009 • by Anne Bergman

USC Marshall student Sarah Barrett, 18, knows firsthand what it's like to do business in China, because she's been there…twice.

As part of the Global Leadership Program (GLP), Barrett first traveled to China last spring break, while she was a freshman, on an experiential business trip to Beijing. It was quite the culture shock, Barrett recalls, as it was the first time she’d ever been out of the country.

"I was surprised by how much the Chinese lifestyle differed from my expectations, since I thought I felt pretty familiar with Chinese culture going into the trip," recalls Barrett, whose mother was born in Hong Kong. Her father also spent two years in Taiwan while he was in graduate school. "I anticipated the language barrier, the traffic and the pollution, but none of those things were real until we stepped off the plane in Beijing."

The summer internships are for selected undergraduates in the Global Leadership Program seminar. The eight-week internships provide students with opportunities to learn about Chinese business practices, as well as Chinese culture, simply by living and working in Shanghai and Beijing. But what makes the program one-of-a-kind is that it’s focused on freshmen.

"I can't think of another university program like this," says Shing-Wu Wang, an associate professor of Accounting at Marshall. Wang guides the interns and secures the companies eager to offer internships through the program, which just finished up its fourth year.

Funds are provided by the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) to finance the living expenses of the interns, who are on their own once they arrive in China. Center for International Business Education and Research director Richard L. Drobnick launched the program, shepherded it through its first year, secured the funding and set up the initial trips to China.

“The companies have to be pretty flexible,” says Wang, who each year recruits companies and government agencies to host 18-20 interns. “They know the students are freshmen.”

The rigorous internship application was due the day Barrett returned from her spring trip in March. “We had to turn in three essays and go through an interview process. From there it was a waiting game to see which companies picked us,” she says.

Including Barrett, the 18 Global Leadership Program interns for summer 2009 were: Jin Woo Chang, Hank Chen, Patricia Craig, Krishen Kotecha, Christina Lee, Brian Leung, Ann Liang, Cathy Liu, Thomas Pan, Adriana Rodriguez, Anna Sergeeva, Hannah Tomlin, Rick Vranish, Olivia Yang, Zi Ye, Jenny Young and Christina Zhong.

By June, Barrett found herself in Shanghai. “It was the first time on my own, my first time getting an apartment,” says Barrett, who’s from Chicago. Global Leadership Program  arranged temporary housing in Beijing and Shanghai upon the interns' arrivals to allow them time to find permanent housing near their respective internship locations. Barrett found an apartment with four other women from the program and ended up in the same building and the same floor as seven other Global Leadership Program  students. “We always joked that it was ‘The Real World Shanghai,’” Barrett recalls with a laugh.

Barrett was matched up for her internship with Lotus, a subsidiary of Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group (CP Group) headquartered in Shanghai, which operates 75 hypermarkets in China with greater presence in China than Wal-mart and Carrefour. It was her first time working in a corporate environment.

“Our boss was very open to treating it as a learning experience, rather than typical intern work,” Barrett says. Overall, she adds, it was a very “international experience,” given that she was working for a Thai company and both Thai and Shanghaiese supervisors.

Field trips are also an essential part of the program and are arranged by Professor Wang. Barrett’s group went to Zhenjiang, a manufacturing town an hour and a half from Shanghai. The group met a British-American factory owner who “gave us the lowdown” on doing business in China and his own experiences in successfully creating a cross-cultural business. He also took Barrett and her cohort to dinner with five local government officials. Fortunately, the students had been schooled in formal Chinese etiquette for business dinners and knew how to navigate the lazy Susan among other customs. “There were all these plates coming out,” Barrett recalls. “You have to try everything and you have to toast someone back who toasts you. It’s important to have these dinners, as you develop a personal relationship with people as well as a business relationship --even though we weren’t speaking the same language.”

Barrett and her cohort also took advantage of being in China, making Chinese friends and traveling almost every weekend to places such as the Great Wall, Yangtze River Delta city Hangzhou, Hong Kong and the Yellow Mountain region.

Now back on campus for her sophomore year at USC Marshall, Barrett’s had some time to reflect. “Before the internship I thought it would be nice to live overseas,” she says. “Now I can’t imagine a career where I don’t work internationally. A lot of us in the program felt the same way. It gave us a taste of what’s out there.”

Her next destination? South America.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.