Ambitious Asia – why students should go East for internships

“A structured, short-term employment experience in Asia enables students to be exposed to Asian optimism whilst also providing an unrivalled opportunity to work in a diverse workplace environment”


One of the most common employability skills required by top global employers is the ability to ‘adapt in a diverse workplace environment’. Although many have the ability to gain these skills through paid-for internships in economic hubs such as China, Japan and Vietnam, those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds are increasingly missing out. Shaun Butcher of CRCC Asia looks at why Asia is the perfect place for young people to develop key employability skills, and the benefits to all students this opportunity presents.

Why Asia in particular?

During a time where young people in Europe are surrounded by uncertainty, those in Asia have a positive vision to aspire to. The ASEAN nations are ambitious and optimistic. Determined to pursue unprecedented economic growth, these countries want to become ‘RICH’ (That’s Resilient, Inclusive, Competitive and Harmonious) by 2030.

“First-hand experience of interning in China exposes students to a workplace culture that is aligned with their worldview”

Asian nations are filled with increasingly engaged millennials who are more optimistic than their counterparts in developed nations. Whatever the merits of the ambition, the positivity and optimism are infectious. Those who actively engage in work experience in Asia return with a myriad of relevant, interesting, unique and truly transformative experiences that can be discussed with passion and excitement in any interview. Young people should go East and be immersed in this atmosphere – they have lots to learn.

We all know the statistics: the more engaged the student, the more they earn after graduation. This statistic increases further when we factor in global mobility. Interestingly, those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are mobile during their degree are more likely to be employed in graduate level jobs than their non-mobile peers. We must therefore find the right experiences to enable all of our students to thrive and we should ensure that all students, whatever their background, have the ability to experience this.

A structured, short-term employment experience in Asia, designed to maximize learning outcomes whilst also empowering students to strengthen essential hard and soft skill sets, enables students to be exposed to Asian optimism whilst also providing an unrivalled opportunity to learn how to adapt in a diverse workplace environment. The experience is unique to each individual – everyone’s story is different. The challenge for the student is how to translate this experience into a language that employers understand.

First-hand experience of interning in China, for example, exposes students to a workplace culture that is aligned with their worldview. In China, it is ok, even essential, to use social messaging apps to communicate with colleagues about important work-related issues. This new approach to communication in the workplace is aligned with the realities of millennialism: email is dead. More modern, relevant and engaging ways to communicate key messages should be explored.

I’m also amazed, as are many, about the ubiquitous status of financial technology in China. Apps such as Alipay and WeChat have truly revolutionised the way daily life is conducted. The ability to complete a range of things from purchasing street food to managing investments, all in one app, is fascinating. Engaging with this technology whilst on placement is essential and the exposure to innovative ideas is inspiring. Students return and can see that things need to change. They are the disruptors, and there is excitement in disruption.

“Short-term, high impact experiences seem to be the most transformative and the most logical”

So, what’s stopping students?

Finding valuable work experience opportunities in Asia isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. Flights can be expensive and the price of accommodation is increasing every year. These are huge barriers, and an unfortunate chasm is emerging between those who can afford to be globally mobile during their degree and those who cannot.

The progress made to encourage students from widening participation backgrounds to go to university in the first place is being undermined by developments in the globalised job market. Nonetheless, universities are well placed to ensure those with overlapping disadvantages are exposed to the same opportunities as their more advantaged peers.

Although the debate about what kind of experiences correlate to positive employment outcomes rages on, early, embedded and sustained engagement is essential and fruitful. Short-term, high impact experiences seem to be the most transformative and the least intrusive. They also are the most logical.

We need to whet students’ appetites in their first year, facilitate, prepare and deliver mobility in the second year, and then work with students to reflect on their experience in the third year in preparation for entering the increasingly competitive and globalised graduate job market. We need to empower students during the re-entry phase to merge the unforgettable personal experience in Asia with the valuable employability skills developed, in order to and transform the short-term burst of engagement into tangible results (and a return on investment).

Although the experience itself is not a ticket to a job – and we must be cautious to manage expectations here – the provision of the opportunity and the support upon re-entry is enough. Allowing students to be exposed to unfamiliarity whilst also having the safeguards that a structured program provides means students are empowered.

Asia is the best place for this to happen, and universities should encourage more students to engage.