Benjamin Wood Evans, a 23-year-old British law student, dreamed of being an international lawyer who could speak fluent Mandarin to his Chinese clients one day.
His internship last year in China helped him win the first passport for his dream - a training contract, which is a necessity for obtaining a British lawyer license.
"I was fascinated by the career opportunities in China," said Evans, who worked in Shanghai for three months last summer.
"The diversity of legal cases I was involved in during my internship in Shanghai far exceeded that of most small UK firms' senior lawyers who tend to do the same type of work over and over again for several decades," he said.
Evans is one of an increasing numbers of foreign students who seek unpaid internships in China in the face of the dismal market for college summer internships caused by the global economic downturn.
He got his foot in the door in China by paying $4,999 to CIIC-Exp China, a division of the leading human resources service provider in China - CIIC (China International Intellectech Corporation). For that fee, the company worked to get him the internship.
"The CIIC-Exp was set up in the wave of the roaring market demand for foreign interns in China," Tracy Cheng, the managing director of the CIIC-Exp China, told China Daily.
Founded in 1987 and headquartered in Beijing, CIIC has 79 subsidiaries offering a wide range of technology and talent exchange services covering 76 countries and regions around the world.
"What we are seeing is a different kind of brain drain. Students or aspiring professionals in developed nations come to China to be part of projects that they have no chance to participate in their home countries," she said.
"According to our market research, many Fortune 500 companies had reduced budgets for human resources, but their business in China was immune to the global downturn and they still needed a talent pool with international backgrounds," she said.
"That's why unpaid foreign interns become their ideal choice," she said.
Elizabeth Newton, assistant director of the Global Management Program (GMIX) at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said their students have been showing a growing interest in Chinese business for the past few years.
"The GMIX program at Stanford Business School encourages students to gain international work experience by spending part of their summer in China," she told China Daily in an e-mail interview.
"This holds true despite the financial crisis, as these fields of work in China are popular among our student body," she said.
Eric Hu, a human resources assistant of Drager Medical Equipment, said foreign interns are becoming more popular as more international companies are coming into China.
"As a German company in China, we need Western interns who could adapt to our company culture very fast," he said.
A lawyer surnamed Liu, of the Beijing-based Longan Law Firm, said foreign interns can make a Chinese company more diverse.
"Foreign interns bring broader minds to my work team to make strategic plans for international markets," he said.
"China had been the third largest economy (after US and Japan) in 2008, and the country needs more international diversity to develop further," he said.
However, the language barrier is one of the problems the foreign interns must tackle.
"I found it relatively easy to navigate outside of the office without knowledge of Cantonese or Putonghua. Inside the office, I found it would be a large advantage in the long run to be proficient in one of these languages," Lydia B. Jett, 28, an American MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, told China Daily.
She worked in financial posts in Hong Kong and Shanghai as an intern the past few months.
"As the economy in the US was heading downwards, I thought China would be an interesting place to continue to see growth, though somewhat moderated," she said.
"As I applied for full-time jobs after graduation, my working experience in China helped me to better understand the dynamics of the economy and real estate development there, as well as to understand the important cultural differences between our countries," she said.
Shanghai and Beijing are the most popular choices for foreign workers, and they also show interest in internships in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, according to a research of CIIC-Exp China.
The research also indicates that 77 percent of foreign students prefer a 10- to 12-week internship program.
(China Daily July 21, 2009)