“Interning in one of the BRICS is particularly compelling; people are intrigued by my experience in an ‘edgier’ destination than most traditional European study abroad countries”
Marie Lefebvre is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley currently interning at CRCC Asia in San Francisco. She returned to the US in July from a year abroad in Brazil, where she interned at the BRICS-Policy center in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO) and a start-up accelerator called Outsource Brazil. Here she writes about her experiences and why people shouldn’t be too quick to write off the BRICS as study destinations.
While career prospects for the hordes of college graduates in Europe and the United States grow slimmer year by year, the inverse is true in the BRICS. By now a household name since Goldman-Sachs reported in 2011 that the original four countries would overtake the world’s economic powers by 2050, the BRICS acronym represents the so-called emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and, as of 2012, the newest member: South Africa. This group of economies, that accounts for the majority of the world’s economic growth and has come together on a variety of initiatives, makes up a powerful bloc that counters US and EU dominance in world affairs.
As a former intern in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I have seen and experienced first-hand the vast opportunities available in the BRICS for students seeking meaningful work experience. During my year studying there, I completed three internships. Although they varied in sector – from an environmental NGO to a research think-tank to a start-up accelerator – across the board I noticed that companies valued fluent English-speakers in order to gain and maintain global relevance. Furthermore, since I have returned to the US, I have noticed in my own job search that my experience abroad makes my resume stand out. The fact that I have internship experience abroad makes people curious, and it shows I am willing to step outside my comfort zone. Interning in one of the BRICS is particularly compelling; people are intrigued by my experience in an “edgier” destination than most traditional European study abroad countries.
“Across the board I noticed that companies valued fluent English-speakers in order to gain and maintain global relevance”
If nothing else, it’s a great conversation starter: talking about travel is a great way to break the ice at an interview. Commuting to work from a beach-side bus stop, just a day in my life as an intern abroad in Brazil!
Each of the BRICS countries has unique factors that make them attractive to potential interns from abroad. Brazil has a relaxed work culture compared to most countries. On the other hand, South Africa is one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. Russia is Europe’s energy giant and gearing up to host the next World Cup. India is one of the largest countries in not only the BRICS, but the world. Lastly, China’s appeal cannot be ignored, as it is home to the world’s most spoken language, and stands out for being the world’s largest trading partner. China’s GDP is expected to surpass the United States’ around 2020 and become the world’s next superpower. Overall, all of the countries are exciting places to be given their economic growth.
“China’s GDP is expected to surpass the United States’ around 2020. Overall, all of the BRICS are exciting places to be given their economic growth”
It’s true that the various barriers to entry can be intimidating. Visas, paperwork, lack of contacts, not to mention the language – the list goes on. Luckily, there are resources and agencies that can help you navigate the foreign work culture and red tape. Studying abroad in a BRICS country will also help you tap into resources not readily available to others as doing so already entails completing a lot of the paperwork and provides you with a network in your given country. In my case, I looked at bulletin boards at my university in Rio for internship openings, and my UC Education Abroad Program adviser in Brazil helped me get an internship by tapping into her own network to help me find one. For those unable to study abroad, or for those perhaps lacking foreign language skills, agencies such as CRCC Asia place students or recent graduates into one to three-month English-language internships in their chosen sector, providing support before and during the program. Programs like CRCC Asia’s China Internship Program provide support and services like visa processing, accommodations, internship placement, orientation, language classes, and networking events.
CRCC Asia alum Shuwen Zhang is a Chinese national originally from Shanghai. Zhang, despite being a full-time student at NYU, chose to return to China as a summer intern to increase his future career prospects. He is not alone; many Chinese citizens choose to return to China in a professional capacity, and CRCC Asia enables them to tap into the program’s well-established network in the country. This is particularly helpful because it lets students find an internship in a sector where they may not have any contacts. Zhang says his improved communication skills in particular will stay with him well after his internship: “The internship was beneficial to my future career goals. There is a big chance that I’ll choose to work in Shanghai after graduation. Knowing how it [business in China] actually works, especially the relationships among colleagues, prepares me better work life in Shanghai.”
“Knowing how business in China actually works, especially the relationships among colleagues, prepares me better work life in Shanghai”
UPenn student Melusine Boon Falleur recalls her time interning in China as a chance to have an authentic experience abroad while improving her Chinese, an invaluable asset considering she hopes to work with China in the future. Melusine, who did mainly research and translations for Beijing’s Design week, reflected that “interning abroad is overall an amazing experience because whatever your work is, you will learn a lot about the company, your co-workers but also the culture and business practices of the country.”
Among other linguistic and cultural motivations, she was drawn to China for the main reason the BRICS are so appealing to live and work in: its thriving economy and business culture. Thanks to her one-month internship in Beijing, she has now has more networking opportunities in China and a better understanding of the work environment there: “For example, I learned that I really need to improve my Mandarin and gain more work experience in the United States or Europe if I want to be competitive in the Chinese job market.”
Interning in one of the BRICS will help your résumé stand out in an increasingly globalized world, giving you cultural experiences and fluency that would be an asset to any company aiming to be globally competitive. Although it may be difficult at first adjusting to a completely new country and work culture, you will be challenged in new ways and you will come back with valuable work experience, new friends, and perhaps even some new language skills.