The author at the Great Wall. (photo by Rebecca Shapiro)
Finishing university for me, like many others, brought with it employment worries and life dilemmas, alongside the obligatory cheesy graduation shots. My parents had just moved from North London to West Vancouver, post father’s mid-life crisis. I had no idea where I was now based, let alone what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, thanks to that cross-continent move and an unspectacular arts degree.
This led to my spur of the moment application to intern in Shanghai through CRCC Asia, the biggest provider of work experience placements in China. My family was confused, my friends intrigued, but knowing that the company had organized more than 5,000 internships for students and graduates worldwide, I felt secure. That was, until I arrived. The journey from Pudong’s sprawling airport taught me plenty: the vast majority of people in China don’t speak English, nor do they follow traffic rules of any sort or bother to hide their gawping at your Western appearance.
Thankfully, everyone on other internship placements was lovely, as was the media production company I worked at. The city itself was beautiful, buzzing and completely bonkers. I demolished street food daily and consumed glitzy clubs’ free alcohol almost as often, resulting in a lot of hungover sightseeing. In between weekends away hiking the Yellow Mountains and evenings making dumplings, my lifelong hobby of writing became a solid career aspiration. I set up a blog, nabbed some work experience at an ex-pat magazine and eventually bagged a coveted internship at ELLE Canada.
Aside from job gains, a more curious side effect of this trip, for me, was a renewed pride in my religion. As the only practising Jew on the internship scheme, I felt a duty to explain festivities and traditions and set a good example. This resulted in my British friend calling me “the keenest Jew” he had ever met, a title I promptly failed to live up to when Yom Kippur was spent guzzling water after a heavy night out.
Keeping kosher also proved a near impossible challenge. Though my only fluent Mandarin sentence was a proud “I don’t eat pork,” being fully vegetarian in China would have meant far too much plain rice for my liking. Sorry, all.
But, there were some success stories for Jewish life in China. After three years spent actively avoiding Chabad in my university city of Leeds in the United Kingdom, I found myself on their home turf during Rosh Hashanah in Shanghai. Back home, I would have spent the Jewish New Year in relative indifference, but in this foreign function room I was touched by how many Jews living in China had made the effort to assemble for prayer and the customary apples and honey. I met people of all ages, listened to their stories, shared mine, and engaged in what all Jews love best – eating good food, and a lot of it.
Pressure from my parents meant that my Jewish duties did not stop there. Having not yet found the financially stable, nice – and most importantly Jewish – lawyer of their dreams, I would at least fit in a dose of Jewish history. And so commenced a trip to the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum. Small, but filled with extremely interesting exhibits, it taught me that Shanghai accepted 30,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, between 1933 and 1941. It also led me through the Tilanqiao historical area, which has preserved the only features of Jewish refugee life inside China during the Second World War. Hardly surprisingly, this experience solidified both my adoration for Shanghai and my love for Judaism.
So, there you have it: the unlikely relationship between interning in China and Jewish pride.
Not convinced to follow my lead? Your resumé will be. If there’s one thing employers like more than work experience, it’s international work experience. In a recent survey of 10,000 employers in 116 countries, 60% of respondents said they would give extra credit to graduate applicants who had worked abroad. In terms of my particular internship program, 89% of students and graduates who intern though CRCC Asia are employed in a graduate-level job within three months of returning home.
Unfortunately, only 3.1% of Canadian university graduates currently participate in study or work abroad program. The comparative stats for those in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia fall between 18% and 38%.
But, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a’ changing. University leaders recently met in Calgary to discuss strategies for globally mobile students; CRCC Asia just announced a partnership with the University of British Columbia to offer internships in several Chinese cities; and graduates are increasingly starting to take the plunge.
I, for one, couldn’t welcome the trend more. Canadian businesses, and diplomatic and trade relations, sure aren’t complaining either. Give it a try and, who knows, you might even rediscover your religious roots.
Rebecca Shapiro is a freelance journalist, amateur photographer and blogger at thethoughtfultraveller.com. A recent politics graduate, she manages to maintain bases in London, Vancouver and Toronto, while focusing a disproportionate amount of time planning new adventures. She has been published in the Times (U.K.), Huffington Post (U.K.), That’s Shanghai (China) and ELLE Canada.