This summer, I will be interning for an international sales and marketing company in Shanghai, China through a fellowship program known as the USC Global Fellows Program (formerly Freeman Fellows). In total, 32 students from my university will work abroad in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Last week, at a pre-trip mixer for the 32 students joining me on this program, an old friend of mine, Associate Director of the USC U.S.-China Institute Clayton Dube, and I were discussing topics for an article or blog about my travels and he suggested I document the surprises that I encounter. The best way to do so, of course, is to first document what I expect.
My impression of Shanghai is that its the ‘London of the East’ (or maybe the ‘Hong Kong of a bit farther West’). I expect that most of the people I will meet will be multilingual expats who did not grow up in Shanghai but moved there seeking great opportunity. I assume most will work for banks and consulting companies. I don’t expect good scientific conversation but I do expect to encounter minds eager to probe global economic trends. I expect that a growing city like Shanghai also won’t foster an active community of social entrepreneurs. I therefore don’t expect much conversation on social entrepreneurship either.
I expect to find a large socioeconomic divide. I expect to encounter many disenchanted villagers from outside the city who came seeking livlihoods but are either unemployed or subsisting on lower wages than expected. At the same time, I expect to meet many extremely wealthy young Chinese who see Shanghai as a dream city.
I expect those in the middle and upper classes to view China as the inevitable successor to the United States’ sole superpower throne. I expect that they’ll focus on China’s economic growth rather than its human rights violations, mistreatment of journalists, and lack of democracy and that I’ll be hard pressed to find any signs of dissatisfaction with the government. Among the lower class though, I expect to encounter complaints that the gov’t ignores them and focuses only on courting international companies and catering to the rich.
I expect that, inside Shanghai, the Chinese won’t blink twice at an American college student. They may, however, harbor a bit of resentment. I expect that our reputation abroad is one of laziness and undue wealth. Still, I expect that the people of Shanghai will be very hospitable and often treat us to dinners, karoake nights, and toasts. Outside Shanghai, I expect that similar hospitality, no such harbored feelings of resentment, and a heavy dose of admiration. I expect that our reputation here is one of great intelligence, wealth, and generosity.
First, as one of the fastest growing cities in world history, I expect to find little Chinese culture and history in Shanghai. I expect that the government is far more focused on fostering economic growth than preserving local culture.
Second, I expect the first few weeks to spend the first two weeks on a traveler’s high - overcome by the sensory blitz induced by the brights lights of the skyline, the olfactory clash of wet markets, and the constant chatter of street vendors. After the first two weeks though, I expect the ever-present crowds and concrete to begin to impinge upon my sense of freedom.
At this point, I’ll solve both the above problems by staging weekly treks to the quiter, more culturally rich cities of Hanzhou, Suzhou, and Nanjing among others. I expect this will keep me energized for the remainder of my stay.
I don’t expect home sickness or culture shock, as I’ve previously spent a month backpacking across western Europe and a week in Hong Kong.
I expect to jog around the city every morning and to not run out of places to explore in the 8 weeks that I’m there. I’ve heard the Bund is fall of Chinese practicing tai-chi every morning and I expect to run slalom among them.
This is perhaps the most hazy part of my journey. I know the name of my company and the name of my boss and that’s it. I haven’t been told my position, hours, dress code, or anything else. That said, copious amounts of speculation follow.
Despite the fact that he earned an MBA in the States, I expect that my boss will expect little of an American college student. I expect not to receive many responsibilites during my first week, but I’ll press for a challenge and I expect my boss will respond well. I expect to have my own project that I’m responsible to see through to completion. I expect that it will involve traveling around Shanghai and visiting clients.
I could never study business. I’m a double major in Electrical Engineering and Physics and dropped the only business class I ever took because I found it intensely boring. Nevertheless, I expect to thoroughly enjoy this internship. I expect to be challenged, to learn the subtle differences between the way Chinese and Americans conduct business, and to make lifelong friends of my boss and co-workers (considering that they’ll be my main link to the people of the city in a place in which I have no contacts).
I expect to encounter the variety of restaurants and cuisines characteristic of a wealthy, international city. As my fellowship stipend includes meals, I expect to experience this full range of cuisines. Since our apartment has a kitchen, I also expect moderate success in replicating these dishes at home (yet, when you’ve got a food stipend, I can’t expect much cooking to happen).
Six other USC students will be traveling with me; sophomore economics major Brian Tenenbaum, junior business major Emma Browne, junior entrepreneurship major Chris Mora, sophomore business major Aven Wright, and sophomore business major Mike Gawlik.
I expect that we’ll all grow extremely close by the end of the trip. I expect Chris and Brian to search out every networking opportunity they can find. I expect to spend Friday nights with Brian, schmoozing the Jewish community of Shanghai at the local Chabad house. I expect that each of them will join me for at least one weekend foray out of the city.
I leave this post open to revision for the next two weeks, but on May 29, the day I leave, I’m foregoing further edits and leaving this as a relic of my naivity.
Note: Much of my time back at university is spent working on international water projects in Honduras and India with Engineers Without Borders and the Deshpande Foundation, respectively. ↩