Dispatches from Abroad: A Year Abroad in the Forbidden City
I quickly found the answers to my questions as I started my co-op at Amazon.com (well, Amazon.cn in China) in their Beijing corporate headquarters. Because Amazon is an American company doing business in China, my background was a good fit for the job. For the duration of my co-op, I worked in the Supply Chain department on the Fulfillment Experience team. We were responsible for numerous projects and tasks along a specific part of the supply chain: from the moment customers click “checkout” on the Amazon website to the moment their package leaves the fulfillment center. I was personally involved in projects regarding “promises” (the time Amazon tells you when you will get your package by) and cost cutting.
The first couple of months of my co-op were daunting. As expected, I spoke mainly Mandarin at work. Even though it’s an American company, and most of the emails that went around the office were written in English, more than 90% of the work force was still native Chinese. In order for me to effectively communicate with my colleagues, I had to use Mandarin. Whenever I went out for lunch or had private meetings with my co-workers, I restrained myself from using English. As the days went by, I found myself slowly grasping the language. Towards the end of my co-op, I was completely comfortable talking with strangers (I don’t think they could tell I wasn’t a native). I even picked up some local slang from playing basketball with some guys from work (it’s pretty easy to find yourself using profanity, believe it or not).
Once I got over the language barrier, I found the work environment to be quite similar to my previous experiences in the States. Folks greeted each other with smiles on their face every morning (except maybe on Mondays), people hung out around the water cooler, and the company held events every now and then. Speaking of which, I actually participated in a Chinese New Year company-wide event (our team dressed up, got on stage, and sang a song–to be honest singing is not one of my strong points and I lip-synced most of it). While the culture may be different, a business is a business, and regardless of what country it’s operating in, there will be similarities across borders. While Amazon may operate like a US company, I have visited many Chinese companies and all of them have similar work environments.
In general, my experience at Amazon in Beijing and my entire year abroad was awesome. As the very first international intern Amazon has had in China, I was given many responsibilities. Interestingly enough, I also found myself in a role where I was communicating between countries and languages. By the end of my time there, I found myself leading meetings between internal teams from Seattle, India, etc. (pretty cool for just an intern). When I told co-workers I would be leaving soon during my last couple of weeks, many of them were surprised I was only a co-op. While I admit to being homesick at times, I certainly do not regret spending an entire year abroad. I met some incredible people in Beijing, some of whom I hope to keep in touch with for a long, long time. After all, how many students get this kind of opportunity in their life?
-Peter Shao, International Business