This summer, Gretchen worked as a Marketing Intern for Forcome Ltd. in their Shanghai office. Forcome specializes in the manufacture and distribution of premium outdoor tools and equipment. They cater to retail corporations located in North America, Europe, and Australia.
Why did you choose to study/intern abroad and how did you decide on this program?
When entering CSB as a freshman I began taking Chinese courses to count towards my language requirement. Little did I know I would end up becoming fascinated with a language and culture that's a complete 180° from our own. I decided to minor in Chinese and found out about the China Business Internships through one of my professors. Immediately my interest was sparked and (you know what they say) the rest is history...
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your program that made a lasting impression.
What a hard question, how can I choose! Throughout my time in China I was fortunate enough to travel and encounter many places and people. However, some of my "favorite" moments were times of extreme clarity and surreal-ness. One such moment was on a trip to a practicing Buddhist temple in the mountains of Huzhou, Zhejiang, China. We were there to observe the monks and their lifestyle for the weekend and had arrived in the middle of the night. After hiking to get up to the temple we were exhausted and ready for some much-needed sleep. The temple had no running water except for a spigot behind one of the buildings, so I had walked there to brush my teeth. While brushing my teeth I turned around, and in the moonlight was struck by the bamboo forest that confronted me. The combination of that mundane daily task and the mysterious mist of the forest took my breath away and allowed me to fully understand how the monks could be so satisfied with "living simply".
Describe your overall study/internship abroad experience.
Overall China was the most challenging, motivating, and eye-opening experience of my life. It challenged me to question all underlying assumptions I previously had held about basic standards of living and what truly matters to me in life and it motivated me to listen and observe before molding expectations on how things are (or ought to be). Additionally, it opened my eyes to one of the biggest countries on Earth (both population-wise and land-wise) and allowed me to develop a great appreciation for the similarities we all share as human beings. One of my professors shared a phrase with me numerous times and I found it to be a very fitting unofficial motto, "China, where everything is possible...but nothing is easy". This motto proved true time and time again and helped me develop a craving for deeper understanding as well as an empathy for anyone travelling/studying/living away from their home culture; an understanding that I will strive to carry with me for the rest of my life.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester or summer abroad? How has studying/interning abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Spending a summer abroad has left an enormous impact in my life, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. This is not to say it was easy. Learning to be self-reliant in a country that doesn't share a common language can be an incredibly empowering or incredibly terrifying thing. Choosing a positive attitude and embracing challenges, at times, pushed me miles outside of my comfort-zone but showed me the value of accepting those challenges head on. Academically, I've grown as a more inquisitive individual. While in Shanghai I recognized many assumptions I've lived with subconsciously for the majority of my life. Professionally, I have a much better understanding not only of the type of work I will be looking for upon graduation, but also the organizational culture that (in my opinion) is just as important.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study/intern abroad?
My first piece of advice to students is to go abroad, period. Whether it be a semester, a summer, May term, etc. Utilize the opportunities CSB/SJU has to offer! My second piece of advice is to expect a challenge and expect to challenge yourself. Exploring and learning from other cultures is an awe-inspiring occasion but you won't get there unless you are willing to go that extra mile. Specific to my experience and the China Business Internships students should recognize this is a very individualized and personal three months, and very different from a "group study abroad" experience. My final piece of advice for those interested in the China Internships is to take the initiative to explore, travel, and learn all you can within the time you have available. Three months is a short period of time and you'll get out of the experience as much as you put into it. Planning is vital, but all the hard work and stress are paid for in moments and memories.