I never expected to find myself living and working in China. I, like most Westerners, held the stereotypical image of a foreign land, overpopulated to the point of suffocation, whose people subsist solely on rice and canine fare. However, after spending three months in Shanghai, I’m happy to say that my viewpoint has drastically changed.
Having been a recent university graduate in the tough American economy, I found myself faced with an unfortunate lack of available job opportunities. Wanting to put my newly acquired degree to use, I began exploring my options and eventually decided on pursuing an internship abroad in favour of gaining some international experience in the field of marketing.
With its booming economy and constantly evolving business structure, China seemed to be the obvious choice of location to exercise my skills and gain a little knowledge along the way. And as luck would have it I found myself placed in the exciting world of fashion at Mary Ching, a luxury shoes and accessories brand based in the city of Shanghai.
Working for a luxury brand fashion designer proved to be both interesting and exciting, as I was instantly welcomed with open arms and handed a fair amount of responsibility in an office where everyone was expected to pull their weight. Any concerns I had about spending three months fetching coffee and photocopying immediately disappeared and I was happy to find myself performing a variety of tasks ranging from sales pitches at five star hotels to organising promotional events for the brand. Going to work never felt like a chore and I often made the decision to spend my down time with the Mary Ching girls at a variety of special events and fashion shows. Of course, the free flowing champagne was a rather large incentive!
It is undeniable that this internship gave me access to a side of Shanghai that I never would have been privy to without it. I don’t know many people who have had a Backstreet Boy casually stroll into their office, or who have gotten the chance to sit opposite Eva Mendes at the Calvin Klein fashion show.
In between these little perks, I had the opportunity to gain insight into the workings of an international business, the running of a website and the building of a brand, all the while in an environment that was conducive to creative thinking and personal expression. And upon completion of my internship I was able to take with me a network of contacts that will be incredibly useful in the future in addition to a newfound, and rather intriguing, sense of style.
Of course, it bears mention that the Projects Abroad staff were fantastic in ensuring that myself and the other volunteers had everything that we needed and went out of their way to notify us of local events taking place each week. Their kind and entertaining personalities made me feel welcomed into a ready-made family in a city where I initially knew no one. Without them, the experience would surely not have been as fulfilling.
To say that Shanghai is a great city simply doesn’t do it justice. Somehow it manages to balance perfectly between Eastern tradition and Western modernity and its 20 million citizens bear a jovial sense of humour and a welcoming demeanour. Within my first two weeks, I was able to meet a multitude of people whom I not only still keep in touch with, but actually consider to be among my good friends. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to my next trip back to the “Paris of the East”.