Richard Goodrum - General Business Projects in China
It is funny how I was reading similar stories to this one about 4 months ago, rather nervous and feeling totally under prepared for my forthcoming adventure! I spent 3 months in the epic city of Shanghai or 'Shangers' as we came to call it and to be honest these were the best few months of my life. Shanghai has over 20 million people (officially, probably a fair bit more) and for that reason there is always something happening.
I worked for a small company called 'ThinkSmart', where people were extremely friendly (always giving me Chinese sweets, although they sometimes tasted like plastic), and I would regularly give and receive lessons in English/Chinese. If you get to know Chinese people very well, you will find they are very friendly and eager to please. They treated me to meals out, football matches, heath spa sessions and a banquet (over 35 dishes at least) of all the best fish, eel, frog that Shanghai had to offer. Although my placement was with a small company (which worried me at first), it meant that all my ideas were listened to in depth and I became far more involved in the business than I could ever have imagined.
I still keep in contact with my boss about how the business is doing and he will make a brilliant contact for me in the future. We had meetings once a week at a fancy restaurant to discuss the work I was doing for him and also he would show me an insight into business in China and what was the likely future of China. I learnt a great deal from him and after my three months he wrote me a very impressive reference for prospective future employers. My tip to people going to do work experience is to try your hardest as soon as you start and show your boss you are keen and capable. That way you will become more involved and enjoy your work experience placement much more.
As for the social aspects of living in such a busy city as Shanghai, it is one of THE best places to go out and meet new people. The benefit of Projects Abroad was that because it is such a big organization there were around 30 – 40 people also doing work experience in Shanghai. The night after I arrived, everyone on Projects Abroad placements met up to go bowling, which was a great way to meet everyone. Phone numbers were exchanged and for the next 4/5 days I was out every night enjoying various different clubs, pubs and Tappenaki's, where you can eat/drink all you want for a £10! I found that in Shanghai there would be something happening pretty much most nights, whether it was ladies night (free drinks for girls) or whether we would go out to welcome new-comers etc. You forget that the people you meet have all gone through the same thought process as you, and are, like you, looking to have a great time in China, making it very welcoming and a great laugh.
You usually stay with 2 or 3 other people in your flat and I found my flat mates to be the best you could ask for with them helping me with cooking or doing it for me! They also made me pancakes (my favorite) for one of my last breakfast's in China. We had everything we needed in our flat (apart from a dishwasher!) and it quickly became our home. Living with other students in your own flat, meant you were very much living your own life, but you have the support of Projects Abroad and your new friends, when you need them. I am really looking forward to University this year and feel much more confident about taking control of my life after my experience in China.
If you reading this before you go to China, you're in for a real treat. I went to many different places over China and it's an epic country. A few tips, when you're out there, buy a phone, because you will need it to communicate with all the new people you meet! Also take enough money; it's an experience of a lifetime, one that you may never do again, so enjoy yourself. Thirdly, try to adapt and get fully involved, for example, I did martial arts with some friends I had made there, for the three months. The more you get involved the more you will love it.
I haven't really mentioned Projects Abroad much, but without them I wouldn't have been able to do this trip. I am really grateful to Kay and Elaine who worked hard to keep me happy. They provided all the support I needed, helping organize and sort out any problems quickly. I thought the introduction was very good, making me feel safe and happy as soon as I stepped off the plane into China. The Projects Abroad person was waiting for me and took me around the local area answering any questions I had. The Projects Abroad staff became more like my friends that I could rely on, giving me advice on traveling and helping to book my trips around China.
I couldn't really find anything to be negative about living in Shanghai. I did find myself homesick once or twice over the three months missing my own bed and some of my home comforts, but most of the time I was just too busy having a good time to think about home and by the end I didn't want to leave. I know several people who stayed on for a few months as they loved Shanghai so much.
In summary, my 3 month project in Shanghai was an absolute blast and something I will never forget for as long as I live. Sure there were times that I felt out of my comfort zone but I surprised myself how quickly I adapted to things, and these learning experiences will stand me in good stead for the future. Of course Projects Abroad, the organization and staff are there to support you, which is a great sense of security and without whom the trip wouldn't have been possible.