International internships can teach you numerous career and soft skills, making them a great addition to your CV and enhancing your employment potential. We caught up with alumna Melissa Petty to discuss her experience of taking part in the Generation UK Chinese Internship Programme and working in Chengdu, China.
From an early age, I wanted to do work which helps and advocates the rights of people. When I was four, my mother started a charity called Make a Difference UK, now called Mama Melissa Foundation, which works with disadvantaged people in rural Kenya. After being involved in the charity and visiting Kenya from a young age, I knew I wanted to do something involved with human rights and campaigning to protect them.
I first started thinking about a career in law when I was about 15; my main reasoning was that I wanted a career that would help people. After doing research and finding out that I could study human rights as part of a degree at ULaw, I was completely sold. I also chose law because of the versatility of the subject and the transferable skills I would learn.
After achieving second place in the University of Hull’s client interviewing competition in my second year of my LLB, I made the decision that I wanted to be a solicitor and that I wanted to study the LPC. I enjoyed the direct contact with the client and, after attending a few ULaw events, I was very attracted to the University.
I chose ULaw predominately because of the employability promise provided to LPC students but also because of the pro-bono opportunities and careers advice the University offers its students. Before becoming a student at ULaw, my legal experience was limited, but once I completed my LPC,DANCE I left with a vast amount of legal experience from a variety of different pro-bono schemes. This allowed me to gain more of an understanding in different legal sectors and also helped me to decide on my desired practice area. I also obtained a lot of support with my CV and help on several applications from the ULaw Careers team.
I found my internship with Sinostage while looking at opportunities provided by the British Council. I have a strong desire to learn and I wanted to embrace living and working in a new culture and environment. The Generation UK Chinese Internship Programme allowed me to build my connections and develop my global understanding.
I looked at the internships available and decided upon a marketing and communication internship with Sinostage. Sinostage is an urban dance brand based in China and comprises of five studios in Chengdu alone a video content app, an international dance competition and its own line of apparel and merchandise. As an individual with a passion for dance, I felt this was the perfect internship to develop knowledge in another sector.
I chose this internship because marketing is a useful skill to develop no matter what employment sector you specialise in. Most businesses, no matter the sector, will have a website or social media platforms, therefore, to develop skills in this area is useful. Communication is a vital skill to develop, especially in the legal profession where you will have to communicate with clients and other professionals.
Before coming to China, the language barrier was one of my biggest worries. Although I have travelled before, this was the first time I was going to be living and working in a new country with a different language for an extended period of time. The only previous experience I had with learning a language was GCSE German; I loved this experience so much I participated in a German exchange, so the thought of learning a new language really excited me.
As part of the Generation UK programme, I was able to engage in weekly Mandarin classes. I always enjoyed attending these classes and found them very engaging and fun. The lessons were always packed and we were set homework of practicing what we had learnt during the week in time for the next lesson. Although our lessons were limited due to our internship duration, the classes allowed us to carry out day to day tasks, which gave me more confidence during my time in Chengdu. Especially useful was the phrase ‘tài guile’, which means too expensive.
Originally, I wanted to complete a legal internship however this was not possible, so I did an 8-week internship in marketing and communications. I used this as a way to explore a different career path, learn new skills and to take a bit of a break after studying the past few years.
To gain a place in the programme I had to have a thorough understanding of the UK/China relationship. The UK is now one of the top destinations for Chinese investment and China is the UK’s largest export market outside of Europe and Northern America. The UK works closely with China to strengthen their financial and economic links. China looks to the UK as a nation of thinkers and one which supports the exchange of ideas for global good.
I also researched Chinese business etiquette before my placement started. It is very important to be prepared for the Chinese business culture before starting a placement, in order to make sure you are respecting their traditions and are managing business appropriately.
My day-to-day tasks during my internships were to write descriptions and captions for my host company’s social media posts, particularly Instagram. I learnt that, as a brand based in China, it was important to use and take advantage of Chinese based platforms such as MeiPai video-sharing app. However, in order to gain recognition globally they had to use platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Although Chinese and other global platforms have a lot of similarities, they have to use both to build their audience. I found this did not only apply to my internship company but also to other services such as Didi v Uber, or WeChat v Facebook. The experience opened my eyes to how a platform such as Facebook or Instagram, something I use on a daily basis, is not really accessible in China. However it is important for Chinese companies to use these platforms to gain international recognition.
I also often checked the accuracy of Chinese to English translations as well as giving them detailed feedback on my thoughts and experiences using their services.
One thing that surprised me was before arriving, I never could have determined the scale of work that went on behind the scenes at a dance company. I spent my day-to-day work in their offices which was filled with employees from many departments from legal, to content creators, to accountants. It made me appreciate the work that went on and how from just starting with one small dance studio in Chengdu they were able to develop into a global brand.
During my internship I also got the opportunity to take part in lots of dance classes. To start with, I was very nervous going to a dance class and not knowing the language but dance really is universal and understood by all. The moment I walked into a studio I was able to communicate.
I never could have imagined that I would be able to speak even a little bit of Mandarin, so this is a big achievement for meI have also gained more confidence in working and interacting with people from different backgrounds and countries.
The Generation UK Chinese Internship has also opened my eyes to the possibility of searching for paid employment in China and aboard. It has given me confidence and the international skills required in looking for employment aboard.
Having the opportunity to intern abroad is a memory you will cherish forever. Not only will you gain valuable work experience but you will also be able to build on your global network, improve communication skills and learn about a new country. I found that I was able to engage myself in so many activities, from trying new food to exploring the Chinese preserved culture. You can also use this as an opportunity to travel. During the weekends I was able to go on many trips to different locations; Xian, Beijing and Four Sisters Mountains just to name a few.
If you apply for an internship abroad, I would advise that you engage in the full experience. Countries such as China often had different events for expats, which I always found engaging and a chance to network
My career has been inspired by Lady Hale. As the first woman President of the UK Supreme Court, I admire how she has smashed the glass ceiling again and again. She has championed all types of diversity in the legal profession and has changed the face of the legal profession. From an early age I became aware that I was not seeing many women or people from ethnic minorities, like myself, work in the legal industry. Lady Hale inspires me as a woman in the profession, showcasing that, with hard work, you can achieve great things. She has inspired me to push boundaries and to keep championing what I believe in, which is equality in the legal sector.
After coming back from China I accepted a role as a Mental Health Paralegal and I have really enjoyed it from day one. I have found working in a legal sector which works to protect human rights very exciting and rewarding. In five years, I would like to have completed my training contract and be a practicing solicitor. I also have ambitions to become a solicitor advocate.
The most important thing I learnt during my placement is to not doubt myself. It is very easy to become overwhelmed by the thought of being in a different country or starting a job in a sector where you do not have lots of experience in. But if you engage in the experience and put 100% into every aspect of it you will be able to learn new skills and also develop as a person.
Discover more about the pro bono and work placement schemes available to our students through our Employability Team.