Matthew Christian: An internship in China
Matthew Christian interned in a factory in
A factory internship became a lesson in cultural communication
Interview by Kiné Camara, University Communications Intern
Global experience: Internships are required with my major, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. I sourced an internship in at Dextra Building Products Ltd. in China through my own contacts. I lead the design and implementation of multiple shop floor and production control systems and improved health and safety conditions in the factory workshops.
Living arrangements: I lived in a downtown apartment with two French engineering students that the company paid for. We all worked for the same company.
Meeting people: I mainly met people through work and on weekend trips I took to Hong Kong.
Favorite place in Guangzhou: The riverfront five minutes from apartment displayed beautiful neon lights along the river. It was a major social center for all kinds of people.
Newly learned cultural norm: Respecting your elders and caring for your parents is extremely important in Chinese culture, more so than in the U.S.
Meet more globe-trotting students:
Most memorable experience: Seeing the Lions Gate Bridge in Hong Kong.
Greatest challenges while interning abroad:
- Being perceived as "rich" because I am American.
- Being culturally isolated: I was a minority in my perceptions, language, and culture.
- Having a language barrier: It was hard to train employees without speaking the same language. I learned to get creative with communication and found that email was effective as well as investing time in the communication process.
Cultural differences: After implementing my first project, several significant problems arose and I spent the next six weeks making constant changes. The root of the issue was my lack of understanding cultural communication differences. After a co-worker mentioned how important saving face is to the Chinese culture I realized that employees and managers were afraid that if they asked questions that I would think they were not smart, or if they pointed out something that I missed that I would be embarrassed or upset. Being sensitive to these issues helped me implement projects more efficiently.
Advice to a student looking to study abroad:
- Contact the IPE office with any questions about international internships.
- Be brave! If you have an opportunity, go for it. It differentiates you from other students.
- Regularly communicate with your family.
- Keep an open mind.
Paying for an international internship: I paid for my plane ticket, visa, and full tuition at Western, but my living expenses were paid for by the internship.
What advice would you give to families of students?
- To reduce fear about travel, learn about the country the student is traveling to.
- Visit the student if possible.
- Send the student a care package!
How did your study abroad experience change your future plans? Now I know that there are opportunities everywhere, and not as many barriers to working overseas as I had thought before interning abroad. I encourage all students to do an international internship!