China Diaries: Thoughts From an Internship Abroad

Kinjalby: Kinjal Gandhi ’12

When I first arrived at Thunderbird in August 2010, I was excited and prepared to return to graduate school. As the year flew by, I found my interest in supply chain and operations rising and looked forward to doing an internship in this field.

Thunderbird provides us with multiple opportunities to travel abroad and gain global exposure. During the module abroad in China, I was able to network with many local manufacturers but was unable to get an internship due to two major hurdles – I was not a native Chinese speaker and these companies were not aware of local regulations for hiring non-Chinese passport holders. When Nanjing Inform Racking, the second largest manufacturer of racks in China, offered me an internship in their supply chain function, it was the perfect opportunity to work in the logistics and warehousing sector, in which I wish to have a future career. The only catch was that it would be an unpaid internship.

Owing to the terms and conditions laid out, the thought that this company may not share information or not utilize my experience in global project management made me skeptical, and consider the practical benefits before working there. After multiple meetings, we defined a project with fixed deliverables from my side, as I wanted this internship to be valuable to both the organization and myself. This approach was appreciated by my colleagues and they respected me from the outset.

Living in and exploring China for over four months was a huge learning curve for me, personally and professionally. For a country which has been experiencing a double digit growth for the last decade, activity levels were booming in every single place I visited. The infrastructure is still developing but the Chinese have ensured that even the smallest towns had a well established local transport service. Buses and taxis connect you to tourist attractions and subways and metros are being built or expanded even in Tier III cities. While cellular services are still expensive, food and housing are relatively cheap and affordable.

If there was one take away from my exposure to China, it would have to be constantly revising the definition of the word ‘small’. As I saw high levels of infrastructure development, I kept wondering how the Chinese government had a vision for long term growth and where it got the finances to fund such large scale projects. The Chinese want to do everything bigger and better than the rest, and the Three Gorges Dam is only one great example of that.

I was most fascinated by the systems and work ethic of the organization. Considering the time I spent working in India, I was expected to put in long hours and do smart work to gain the trust of my superiors. However, at Inform Racking, the employees were encouraged to do their share of work and leave the office on time so that they could spend quality time with their families on a daily basis. On further research, I was told that several Chinese companies follow such rules for a good work-life balance for the employees.

While my colleagues, like most Chinese, were warmhearted and kind, communications often broke down at work owing to my inability to speak the local language. During conversations with locals, I realized that all Chinese kids are taught English in elementary and middle school. However, owing to a robust higher education system in Mandarin, English is rarely used beyond middle school leading to poor verbal skills.

As part of my work responsibilities, I had the opportunity to analyze how companies in different sectors forecast the movement of goods. I also interacted with clients to understand their motives and methodologies for possible cost and inventory reductions. In the long run, I hope to use this experience and provide solutions to eliminate waste and reduce inventories thus creating sustainable business practices for such companies.

At work, I realized that a supply chain and operations (S & OP) model did not really exist within the company. Through quantitative analyses of the data, I created a simple forecasting model followed by a sales and operations planning model to facilitate greater coordination between the manufacturing and sales departments. Using well known concepts such as Just-in-Time and Kanban, I recommended solutions to project future cost savings.

While Social Responsibility is an important piece of personal and corporate values, my internship allowed me to come up with recommendations that would help to decrease costs in the future. These savings contribute to reducing overall costs for an entire range of products, from hi-tech to consumer goods. This would also help me achieve my future goal of development of society through sustainable projects.

Living on a fixed budget in an unknown country taught me quite a few things. While I enjoyed the experience immensely, I used my savings to explore lesser known tourist areas in Western China and was spellbound by the raw, natural beauty of the place. The ability of the Chinese to deliver on their promises, even outside of work, is praiseworthy and I have been able to build some lifelong relationships there.

The opportunity to do an unpaid internship in China, the hub of the global manufacturing sector, has been an eye-opener for me. I have gained a deeper understanding of the warehousing sector by doing a hands-on internship in my desired industry and work function. In addition, the exposure to local culture through friends and colleagues has made me aware of the importance of local traditions. I have developed new found respect for the dedication and patriotic/nationalistic sentiment of the Chinese people. Given a choice, I would definitely recommend an unpaid internship that allows you to explore an unknown terrain over a conventional but lucrative internship.

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