Company culture shock

Sept. 20, 2011, 1:01 a.m.

The precious time when students indulge in the stupor of warm weather and drink the ambrosia of relaxation–the lull of summertime, for many, is a chance to wind down, an escape from the hectic pace of problem sets, papers and exams.

Some students, however, choose to walk the path less traveled–a summer immersed in Asia’s corporate culture.

The Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) offers summer internship opportunities in Asia open to all Stanford undergraduates. The internships allow students a chance for a deeper immersion in the local language and culture while working in a corporate environment.

Since many of the internships either require participants to possess a certain level of foreign language proficiency or are located in English-speaking workplaces, the language barrier is minimized. For many students, it was not so much the language that was a challenge but adjusting to the local culture and brisk professionalism of the workplace.

“The subway culture [in Beijing] was something to get used to,” said Katie Zhou ’13, who worked as a graphic designer at Leyou, a specialty retailer for maternity and baby products in China. “People aren’t as friendly. You don’t say hi or acknowledge them. You had to push and shove, and be more aggressive to get to where you had to be.”

There is no time for slacking off or procrastination at work, which typically starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Student interns are assigned large and demanding projects that not only put their skills to the test, but often force them to learn new ones.

Ethan Saeta ’13 and Grace Kwan ’14, interns at True Run Media, were given the daunting task of creating a running Chinese school-finder website completely from scratch in 10 weeks.

“We were supposed to make it so that it would have all the international schools in China, both in English and Chinese, so you could compare these schools in terms of money, location, that kind of thing,” Saeta said. “The problem was that neither of us had ever done anything web development wise. So we were trying to make and learn at the same time.”

Although the two ended up moving on to a different project in the second half of the internship–visiting local restaurants, clubs and bars and writing reviews on them–Saeta emphasized the value of the opportunity to tackle a difficult project.

“It definitely highlighted how much I needed to learn,” Saeta said, who anticipates taking four computer science classes this fall. “It made me realize how crazy those services like Google are. The implementation of something that seems so simple–making a clickable button, for example–was astoundingly difficult.”

Adapting to a work culture that places a strong emphasis on hierarchy was another skill that students had to add to their repertoire.

“One challenge I had was adjusting to Korean work culture, which puts much emphasis on hierarchy; whereas I am more familiar with American work notions like meritocracy and pragmatism,” Haiy Le ’12 wrote in an email to The Daily.

Le interned at the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding (UNESCO-APCEIU).

“There [were] some moments when I had to keep my frustration in check when dealing with the bureaucracy and a lot of red tape that comes with working in an intergovernmental organization.”

“But then again, there are some benefits, like when my boss usually offered to pay for my meals,” Le added.

Many felt the satisfaction of finishing a project is well worth the frenetic, headache-inducing tempo of work.

“It was very furious,” Zhou said. “My department was under a lot of pressure, but I will miss opportunities to contribute to a company and to see my work as something tangible.”

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