Jason Grant is a student at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok, Thailand, who engaged in an internship in Shanghai during summer 2015. He is sharing his journey below as a self-starter and future entrepreneur.
Shanghai, on the list of one of my dream cities to visit during all of my early days in college. I’ve always pictured Shanghai as a lively, energetic business city along with incredible skyscrapers and neon lights all over the place which for sure makes it sound like a hell of an exciting place to work and to do business. Most of what I saw from Shanghai were through movies to Bloomberg business videos to celebrities of Instagram taking flash photos and to hot ‘Air Asia to Shanghai’ promotion posters. All these different channels caught my eye on why Shanghai really is worth the visit. There is a video on YouTube called ‘China’s Rich & Famous, Rich Lifestyle, Piers Morgan on Shanghai’. Piers Morgan is a well-known British Journalist, News reporter and Television Personality. Piers went to visit shanghai for himself to see why it really is the real deal. In the video he said with his own words: “Within 20 years, China will be the world’s number one superpower, and Shanghai will be the biggest, mightiest, richest and most righteous city on planet earth”. Heck if that really is going to be what it is then why not go out there to see it for myself?! See it here at: Shanghai Internship video
During my 3rd year in college, I had a one solid dream stamped in mind and that dream was to do an internship inside a company in a hot and booming part of Asia. In my view they were clearly China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Shanghai, China was my priority because of all the positive feedback I heard from my friends, the rising economy at that time and my overall feel of excitement for it.
So what happens when you have a dream? You aim and shoot for it right! There was one time where I got the opportunity to attend an international, non-profit youth conference through an organisation called AIESEC, where I was put in a room with over 220 delegates from 22 different countries within the Asia Pacific region, talk about that for a good way of networking! There were a lot of delegates from China and a few of them were from Shanghai. So of course I go up and ask one of them in person: “What do you think for a foreigner like me to do an internship in Shanghai? Do you think it’ll work? It’s on my list and my dream place for an internship so would be good to hear some opinions”. So the reply I got was full of enthusiasm as I heard “Yes! Yes! Yes! Come along! You’ll love it!!” So at this point I just firmly decided that Shanghai will be the one place that I will be soon going to. I dreamt of going to Shanghai at one point, now I am lucky enough to live the memories of what those four weeks in Shanghai did to me and also able keep all of those precious memories with me today. That’s where the saying “You gotta dream it first” comes from.
If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.
Want it? Get it.
A few months later, a man named Jerome Le Carrou, who is currently the Director of an internship agency called Next Step Connections, suddenly showed up at my university to promote his company and his social capital & internship services. Then the words ‘do your internship in Asia, Shanghai’ came up on one of the slides, which immediately caught my eye because I knew that was exactly what I wanted! BANG! Without delay I checked out their website right after his presentation on the same day and applied as soon as I could, because what’s the point of thinking about doing something if you don’t take immediate actions towards doing it right! The process of it the was pretty long and quite challenging though (well applying for anything big is never going to be easy of course) as I filled in all the required documents as well as taking two one-on-one interviews through Skype, one with the team of Next Step Connections and the other with the company that looked into and accepted my Resume, KC Real Estate Advisors (KCRE). KCRE is a real estate company that is headquartered in Hong Kong with offices based in both Shanghai and Beijing. Their job is to sell offices to international companies who are looking for a place to work in Shanghai, their clients ranged from Samsung to Citi Bank to Kia Motors to more. Both of the interviews were actually very brief and straight to the point, questions ranged such as: What languages do you speak? How good is your Chinese? How much experience have you had in this field? How can your skills be at good use for our company? What have you done in the last few years? Surprisingly, there was not one single question regarding to my university studies nor my grades and GPA (I was already thinking up of reasons for why my grades were not as good as they should have been, there was no need to find an answer after all!) I showed both confidence and sharpness towards my answers and also asked a few questions to show my interest back at them. A few days later, they send me a brief email saying “See you in Shanghai!” It was done. By the way the whole internship application process took just two months to be done with everything, the reason being that I was answering emails sharply every day and night because I knew that it was a must for me to be involved with this internship!oH
Action is the most important key to any success.
Shanghai at first sight, living my thoughts.
I’m in a taxi alone on the way to the airport in Bangkok, its 2am and I’m half asleep (grumpy of course when it’s that early) and was having little thoughts in my head saying “Why I am I doing this? Going to China? I can’t even speak fluent Chinese yet! Perhaps a trip to the beach in the south of Thailand would have been a better plan after all”. Those thoughts were small negative thoughts in my head that didn’t lead to anything, they weren’t real. Don’t do that. Once you made a decision optimism is key, 99% of everything that you worry about doesn’t even happen!
I’m on the plane, Eva Airlines, and because you “can’t use electronics while take off” I took out a few magazines on flight to do a bit of reading about where I was flying to: Shanghai. Most of what I saw were luxurious hotels, posh offices in tall skyscrapers, lots and lots of shopping malls, fancy restaurants, xiao long bao dishes etc. It gave me a feel of what kind of places Shanghai has to offer as well as how to get there, it also helped give myself a big pat on the back for saving up some money in advance to make sure I can go to some of these cool places without ending up completely broke!
Touchdown in Shanghai, I get picked up by Next Step Connection’s pickup service with a big car. I’m passing along the long motor way and one of the first sights I saw were, there they were, the three huge iconic towers and the very iconic Oriental Pearl TV tower seen from miles away. Looked like four giant spaceships have just landed in out of nowhere! I’m finally dropped off right in front of my apartment near at a heavily populated street called ‘Zhong Tan Lu’. The driver drove off and I was told to wait for my supervisor to come and pick me up. I felt like I was just dropped onto a different planet at that moment! Everything just felt so different by knowing that I was way out of my comfort zone, hell of a lot different from anything that I’m used to in Bangkok and London (that’s the best joy of traveling, the joy of excitement from the unknown).
Eventually I meet up with Sabrina Jia, the program co-ordinator of Next Step Connections, friendly and enthusiastic lady. After I dropped my bags off and had a shower to freshen up, she took me along to what was meant to be “the most happening part of Shanghai”, Nanjing Road. A very impressive street indeed, I really did have that WOW feeling when I first looked straight down the road. The tall buildings, the big shopping complexes and the amount of people wandering around everywhere. What a crazy place! Beats the quiet countryside life of the UK in my opinion! You walk to the very end of the street and the you get to see one of the best views made by modern Asian architecture at a viewpoint called ‘The Bund’, a port where in history was colonised mainly by both the French and British to implement a hub for trading from Europe to China. No longer than 30 years ago, the view you can currently see from ‘The Bund’ was nothing but rice land. That same space is now a famous business junction called ‘Pudong’ which is made up of many glass skyscrapers, fancy restaurants and the four of some of Asia’s most iconic buildings. It’s a very impressive sight indeed, no wonder why you always have to wait in a crowd for a while to get a decent photo!
I was impressed with Shanghai from the first day. Everything seemed so exciting and welcoming. I met Sabrina who was said to be my supervisor for the rest of my stay, I also got the chance to meet a few friends that I knew who stayed there such as Humberto Rodriguez, my Mexican entrepreneur ‘amigo’ who lives there currently doing business and trades, met up with a friend who I met in the AIESEC conference mentioned above, Lena Lau who showed me around to some of the coolest places in town! And of course I got to meet my two roommates, Jeremy Leroy from France (partners in crime when it came to Friday night partying) and Maria Cepeda from Columbia. Both cool, young and exciting people who were both doing an internship in Shanghai the same as I was. People mean everything to me and I value other people’s positive energy and enthusiasm being around me. This is why I was so grateful to know such good people who were able to give me an overly welcoming start and a sweet introduction to Shanghai.
Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.
The Intern, what life in a company is really like.
Coming home from an exhausting day and having got just two hours sleep the day before arrival, it was time to sleep and wake up tomorrow for work! I’m here for an internship, play times over. I wake up at 7am having got a decent amount of sleep, I’m very excited, not nervous but more pumped up. Everything new you try for the first time is always important, and that’s a good feeling to have, the feeling of new possibility. It’s 8.30am and I am meant to be at the office near at ‘Xin Zha Lu’ station by 9.30am, just four metro stations away. I arrive at the office two minutes early on time and was greeted into the office by the ‘KC Real Estate in Shanghai’ team, along with Kevin Huan the CEO, Karen Shen his Secretary and Sofia Baranovskaya, Head of the Marketing Department along with her Marketing team. Good looking office, good looking people and a warm welcome at first sight, not bad.
I sit down at my desk and all I see is a computer and a mobile phone. Having no idea what to do and forgetting what my role and task of the company was (again don’t do that, always research first both the company culture and system along with your role in advance to fit in well prepared). In that moment I fully got to meet my was-to-be co-worker, Sofia from Russia (great lady being very skilled in in Client Relations and also fluent in Mandarin Chinese) was in charge of delegating the company’s tasks towards me, and you guessed it, she delegated a lot! My emails were constantly filled with a variety of tasks ranging from making attractive PowerPoint slides to customer research through LinkedIn to cold calling upcoming clients for a meeting. It was big wakeup call for me. It was a big “wake up you’re in the real world now where real business happens, not in college just studying about it”. Sadly Sofia had to go to Australia for a visit just a few days later after we met, so meaning I had to rely entirely on emails from her every day for my new daily tasks to show up.
However I really did enjoy half of the work that I did, dealing with the creative side such as Photoshop designs and PowerPoint slides. Why? Because I was already good at it and had the experience to be well skilled. The other half including the cold calling and arranging meetings, I hated it. Why? Because it was the BANG first time exposure to it, making it something that I have never done before and being made to do it on the spot right there. I think I made just three successful calls while not being able to close a deal even once in the whole of those four weeks, out of around twenty! It reminded me of when I told my dad that I couldn’t swim at the age of five, so he pushed me right into the swimming pool and I had no other option but to… of course swim! That’s the reason why I can swim well today. I suddenly learnt that this was the very weak spot of mine, the skill of selling, but because it was my weak spot I knew exactly that it also gave me the golden opportunity to grow and get better from it! It was the time for me to learn practically, not by what books tell you, not by what Hofstede theories and other theories tell you but how real business in real life in real Asia really works. I learnt more about marketing and sales in those four weeks in the internship more than what I learnt in the last three years at my business college. The point is, in a real company, you can’t screw up. You’re dealing with real customers and you’re dealing with real money, not Monopoly money. In university we are still studying and learning, that’s why people call us students. More importantly, it’s a place where you are safe to make mistakes! So while you are still a student at university, make as many mistakes as you can and learn from them because outside in the real world, it’s going to be a hell of a lot harsher than that. Be prepared.
I remember finishing off my last day of work for the first week, it was 4.30pm and I just took the time to take a break, looking out of the window into the grey, gloomy sky just thinking to myself “Damn, how I am going to survive and make a good enough impact for the next four weeks if I continue like this?” (Four weeks is very short for an internship so I shouldn’t of have been complaining in the first place!) It wasn’t the best boost for my self-esteem, but it was a feeling that sure made me more ambitious, a feeling that made myself go even further to go over the brink of failure to find success. I then snapped out of it all and realised that it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Why? Because I just remembered that specific day was Friday and it was soon going to be my first Friday night experience in Shanghai!! Time to go out and enjoy the night life with some friends that I have already hooked up with. The city is even more impressive during the night believe me. Chase your goals, follow your dreams, just make sure to enjoy the ride along the way too!
A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
What’s my purpose?
Mid-way through my internship, when I had some free time after work with not much to do, I decided to do some reading on a few articles via scrolling through Facebook like the usual teenager does today (I was lucky enough to have a friend that let me use their VPN pin, without the right VPN you cannot use Facebook in China). I then found a very interesting post on there just uploaded by a site called EliteDaily.com. That post was called: “10 Reasons To Start A Business After College Instead Of Finding A Job” posted by a lady named Liz Rae. A good read, you can read it right here then ask yourself what you really want to do once you’ve graduated from college: http://elitedaily.com/money/entrepreneurship/start-business-after-college/1039538/
After I finished reading, it really gave my mind a big breakthrough as well a big headache, I was constantly asking myself: “What do I really want to become and how can I really be of much value to this world?” Entrepreneurship was always in my mind ever since I was still in high school, my father was a great example of it to me. And after I read that post, all I was thinking about was: Would I really prefer to live like she does as a self-made entrepreneur? Or would I prefer to go with security and work my way up in a good company like I am doing now? Ideas flooded through my head and I’m still deciding which steps to take on today. I guess it’ll just have to come down my gut feeling when it’s time to make the true decision, because scientifically if your brain ever shuts down, your gut will be the one left that’s still functioning.
After Sofia came back from her long trip to Australia, it was the day before I was about to leave. She sent me a message on WeChat and said “Hey, when are you leaving? Let’s meetup for coffee and have a chat before you go”. So of course I reply and said “Sure!” We meet at the office on Monday, the Monday that I didn’t have to work since it was a day to pack my bags and say goodbye to everyone that I knew in town. We go out at the lunch break to find a good place for coffee and, yep you guessed, we sit down at Starbucks and discussed about how the internship as a whole has been for me. She reveals to me firstly with a straight to the point attitude to say: “I pushed you hard while you were at work here, Jason. Because I see you that you are a very ambitious man, aren’t you? And you are still only 19! You’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you’ve still got years to come”. I acknowledged her with a warm nod. She then went on to ask “I also believe that your father is an ambitious and successful man, am I right? I immediately replied “My biggest goal in life is to be more successful than he is today, if I am, I’m certainly able to push me and my family to greater heights to come as well set an extremely high target for myself forever”. It was one of my most instinctive answers that I have ever gave. My father is my biggest role model today, a true no-nonsense style business man who didn’t even apply for college in his early days since he said it was a waste of time and money. He instead used his money to go explore the world and see over 45 countries while running his own business on the side! Big inspirations create big goals and big goals inspire bigger actions.
So while the first week of working at this company seemed like a dreading, go hard or go home, experience. It was now seen clear to my eyes on why it was and that the true purpose of it was to learn hard skills that I heavily lacked the hard way. During that discussion, Sofia communicated to me the most important way of learning of all time, and that is by pushing your limits to get to success! Speaking of learning hard skills, selling is known to be one of the key skills needed to succeed in any type of business. Sofia shared with me this very interesting video by Grant Cardone, an International Sales Expert, called “Stop Selling, Start Closing”. Anyone into Sales and Marketing can give it a go and watch it here for yourselves, you don’t have to watch all of it just the first ten minutes will do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–Eu64Sfadc
Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.
It is what it is, trust me you get what you give.
Just to let you know, nowhere is in the world is perfect, and Shanghai certainly isn’t perfect either. If you crave fresh air and sunny days, maybe this city is not for you. If you don’t like crowded areas and you demand your own space, this place may not be for you and if you don’t like to be packed with crowds of people as well as being pushed in the subway during rush hours, then it’s definitely not for you! I did face a lot of cultural surprises through certain behaviors while I was in interning in Shanghai, but I didn’t have any major problems with them and I sort of saw them coming anyway. Why? Because I did my homework. For any international businessman (or woman) learning a county’s culture is the number one most important rule, even more important than your business deal. China is China, England is England, Thailand is Thailand and so on… It is what it is, only people’s opinions make it either “good or bad”, but actually it’s just what it is and you should either adapt to it or just go home.
Let’s all be honest here, the world that we live in right now is not the best place to be. Don’t you agree? Look at all the global problems out there: global warming, pollution, corruption, economic crisis, unemployment, obesity etc. So why are there so many problems in this world? The answer is very simple, we take more than what we give. People don’t realise the importance of giving and the power that it has to bring great value to others. This was the major lesson that I learnt while working with KCRE, the lesson was that I wasn’t giving enough to them at the start. I came into the room being way too overconfident with my own excitement, coming in with such a big ego and with such a big head (I’m still wondering how it managed to fit though the door today!) I was carrying around the attitude of: “It’s my internship, it’s my experience, if I can’t do the job I don’t care because everything here is all about my learning”. Wrong, that’s why I failed at to do anything good at the start (no surprise there). The secret to how I slowly started becoming of more value to the company was simply by changing my own mind-set from a taker to a giver. Asking myself questions such as: What can I do for this company? How can I help them grow? How can I make my co-workers smile when they see me every day? How can I help get more interns for them after I’m gone? (Just before I left Shanghai I gave my supervisor the contact of Lena, my friend who was in charge of AIESEC and their student exchange system in her University based in Shanghai, they now seem to have connected well together by helping each other out. With one sending the students to intern and one receiving them to hand out the opportunity. They have both thanked me lots still until this day and that’s of the best feelings to have, the feeling of giving and not just to taking).
Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.
The aftermath, learning from doing.
Whew! Those were some crazy stories with some crazy points! I’m back in Bangkok knowing that this short four week internship was really a “life changing experience” for me that will last for decades in which I can hopefully get the chance to share to my children or even my grandchildren about (tell them to do an internship don’t just study and study!)
I was lucky enough to get a chance to meet with Jerome, the Director of Next Step Connections in person while he was in Bangkok the same time as I was. One day he emailed me for a job opportunity since I was an ‘alumni of Next Step Connections’ so for sure I said “Yea I’m in, where do we meet?” We meet up the next week at HUBBA in Bangkok (HUBBA is a well-known co-working space with very cool employees) to discuss about my internship experience in Shanghai but more importantly, also discussed a total of three different topics in which we were both passionate about. They consisted of: What students need to do while studying to really succeed in the real world, The subject and relevance of future entrepreneurship (since we were both extra passionate about that) and lastly How schools and universities teach too much relating on just information, theories and more information. The point that a very small percent of education these days is done in real! He said to me “The biggest problem with education these days is that it’s too much about just information and information. There are rarely classes that deal with and teach self-development for the further growth of students”. I firmly nodded in complete agreement and replied “For sure! Self-development comes first, without it, you’re not going to get anywhere in the first place!” I’ll give you a good example of self-development through real life education: My internship experience in Shanghai of course!
One of my good friends and also a professor told me that two years of college should be spent on learning and the other two years should be spent on networking, meeting people to open doors for you once you graduate (and if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a damn door!) I completely agree with this statement that I couldn’t stress it any better myself. This is sadly the biggest reason today of why it can be hard for students to adapt from college life to real life, they are in for the shock of their lives once they graduate! The reason why I can proudly say that I have learnt a great deal of knowledge about real hard-on business, investing, entrepreneurship, sales, stock trading, tech start-ups, networking, cultural manners and ethics is simply because I make the right friends. I have friends who are young entrepreneurs, business owners or have a family who are business owners, who just simply do their own thing while they are not in the classroom and are good at what they do. They then go on to invite me to several important weekend events to be able to meet even more great people, and the more I keep going to these events, the more I keep getting invited and the cycle keeps going on and on… This is the special type of learning that I like to do outside of the class which, in my opinion, should also be implemented and introduced into all classes soon (especially for business colleges). I call this way of learning: VIP Learning, because I’m the one having the chance to meet and talk to the Very Important People themselves to learn how it’s done from the ones who have already done it. No one is going to pay you for just a degree.
When I look into the future, it’s so bright it burns my eyes.
The future is brighter than you think.
Now to conclude, yes the moment you and I have both been waiting for, I will conclude for you very briefly since you have already done a hell of a lot of reading: Doing an internship in Shanghai in a real company was a challenge, a big one, especially for a teenager coming from the other side of the world! I had my ups and downs, but my downs were the points that proved most valuable to me. Why? Because your down points are the best points to improve on. You will never stop learning, you will only stop once you die, there is no age or experience restriction to it. Warren Buffet is now in his 80’s today and he still says that he spends 80% of all his days reading, that’s probably why he’s a billionaire. I’m happy to be able to have the chances which gave me the chance to learn the real way as well as the hard way, having breakthroughs in parts of my life that I really needed to have. That’s priceless.
Now to finally sum it all up for you to take home: Opportunity is out there, every second, every mili-second. There is no shortage of it, only a shortage of people thinking big enough and reaching for them! Besides, the world is huge! Why stay in the same place all the time? Learn outside the box, learn outside your comfort zone by doing something that really excites you. If you want that, then I highly recommend trying out to go on an internship through with the Next Step Connections program in Asia or with AIESEC’s Global voluntary and professional exchange program. I guarantee that they will both be able to provide you with life changing experiences after your journey for years to come and may also give you the chance to share your stories to others just like how I got to share my story with you here today.
Do something great and make great things happen. Good luck!
The best way to predict your future is to create it.