Internships in Asia can be a significant investment of time and money, and especially if you go through scrupulous internship providers charging you for the experience!
However, internships don’t always turn out to be as educational and meaningful as one would hope for. I know first-hand the disappointment of shuffling papers, uploading business cards to a database and counting down the hours. But I’ve also had a couple of exceptional internship experiences where I worked on meaningful projects while significantly improving my professional competencies, confidence and network.
There is definitely a chasm of difference between an awesome and mediocre internship, and to help others find the best internships available I will share a few tips on finding the right internships in Asia. My tips are based on my experience of interning in China and Korea. These tips are for students wanting to maximise the return on their internship in regards to experience and the capacity to develop their professional skills. The advice below may therefore not apply to students who value the reputation of an organisation (i.e. an Embassy internship) over the richness of the internship experience.
1) Look for an internship with an organisation that has an Australian GM or internship supervisor
I have found that Australian managers are more likely to allocate a higher level of responsibility to interns and provide better support; especially career advice and personal introductions. An American or British manager I guess would also be better to work under compared to say a Korean or Chinese manager. Due to the strict hierarchy of power in Asian business culture, interns are usually relegated to the bottom of the pecking order and as a foreign intern, your abilities might be further underestimated by a local manager.
2) Look for an internship with an organisation with an established internship program
If the company has experience managing interns you’re hopefully likely to receive proper training and the manager will have a better idea of how to utilise your skills. Also, if the company has a regular and integrated internship program as part of their business model you should receive a more healthy workload.
3) Look for an internship with a non-for-profit organisation
This is not a guarantee, but non-for-profits are often under-staffed and you may find you will be delegated more engaging and important tasks than if you were interning with a huge Korean conglomerate like Samsung. Working for big companies though does have other benefits.
4) Talk to previous interns
Going back to No 2, I think the best internship programs are established internship programs and the best way to gauge the quality of an internship program is by talking to previous interns. Unfortunately, there’s no directory for finding old interns but by asking around and especially through platforms such as the Australia China Youth Association Facebook page or the ANU Asia Pacific Studies Students Facebook page you should be able to track down the right people.
While I hope these tips help you in weighing up your internship options, you will also need some good luck and the right attitude. If you do find yourself stuck with menial jobs or nothing to do, try to be proactive and with the support of your internship supervisor develop your own tasks to help add value to the organisation and keep yourself engaged!
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