Starting International Careers in China: An Interview with Two Former Commerce Interns
In the coming weeks many students at Wisconsin’s colleges and universities will be receiving their degrees and embarking upon careers in international business. Two former interns at the Bureau of Export Development, Kevin Bartel and Benjamin Voss, have spent the last year since graduation in China teaching English – Kevin is in Nanjing and Ben is in Beijing. We caught up with them after their first year working internationally.
Q: What do you think Wisconsin business people need to know about China today?
Bartel: It is particularly important to understand that China is not “Westernizing.” China has its own set of business customs and social norms that are firmly rooted in Chinese culture. Learning about these differences is crucial to marketing products here and building successful partnerships. What works in the West probably will not work in China.
Voss: If you do anything, do it to help China. Most of us will come here for our own reasons, but their viewpoint is that China is for the Chinese – “Why should we allow you here?” So come up with a good way to help China, and you’ll find favorable responses from most people.
Q: What advice would you offer to students thinking about living abroad after graduation?
Bartel: Go for it. Graduating during the worst recession since the Great Depression was a blessing in disguise. I was panic-stricken about finding employment before I graduated until I received some much-needed advice from an executive I met on a flight. His advice was to look at the recession as an opportunity to do something different and experience the world. The jobs will be there when I get back. Now that I am here, I am glad that things worked out this way, and I would recommend living abroad after graduation, regardless of the condition of the job market. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be. Gaining a global perspective by immersing yourself in a foreign culture by either working or volunteering is an exceptional opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Voss: I would say to do it if it scares you. If you want to go somewhere because you aren’t scared to go there — just for the “experience” — you’re missing the point. The experience is the growth and you won’t grow unless you put yourself in situations where you’re challenged and need to adapt. But choose well.
Kevin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Economics. Ben’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison was in Chinese, International Studies, and East Asian Studies.