Beijing internship sets path for career in international trade

Going on five years since he set off for Beijing and an internship with Chinese marketing agency Digital Jungle, we ask Edward Smith to reflect on his internship and how it has impacted his subsequent career.


Edward: "There were times when I felt out of my depth during the internship, but those memories are easily eclipsed by the satisfaction of being able to overcome that feeling."

Where are you living now and what are you doing?

I live in Auckland city working for NZTE (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) as a customer advisor. This involves speaking with companies who want to export overseas, assessing their readiness, and making the appropriate connections and recommendations to help them achieve their goals.

Next year I'll hopefully be heading to China again as part of the NZ-China Government Scholarship to continue learning Mandarin and get to a more professional working level proficiency.

How does the work you do now involve Asia?

Given how important Asia is to New Zealand's export economy, I'm frequently dealing with companies who want to export there.

I am lucky enough to be able to speak with our in-market staff relatively frequently to learn about the market and the pitfalls and opportunities of doing business in Asia. In the future, I hope to have a more Asia-specific focus.

How did the internship influence your career? 

Careers are built on an accumulation of consistent action. Every major role I've been in has been internationally focused, and I've shown that I'm committed to pursuing that path longer term by having invested in multiple opportunities that give exposure to that world (university exchange, volunteering for the NZCTA Young Associates).

The Digital Jungle internship was a key piece as it shows I have professional interest, too. Anyone can study in another country on exchange, but showing that you have work experience is very rare (especially in Asia) and is looked upon favourably.

I have no doubt that my internship played a big part in my being accepted into the roles I've had since. 

Have you been back to Beijing since your trip? If so when and why?

Yes, I went back last August to accompany my uncle on a business trip there to be a general guide, at which time I was also able to visit our (NZTE's) Beijing office and work from there. It felt great to return! 

How applicable was what you learnt at Digital Jungle to the New Zealand work environment?

In my current role, I deal with the offices in China a lot, but even generally having a view into the challenges and opportunities of working across cultures is invaluable.

It's one thing to know that the culture and language is different, but until you see it within the pressure and structure of a professional environment it's not practical knowledge. More specifically though, the things I learnt about WeChat set me up well for having an early insight into the importance of this platform, which is only now becoming apparent for many New Zealand companies wanting to crack this market.

What would you say was the most valuable aspect of the internship?

There were times when I felt out of my depth during the internship, but those memories are easily eclipsed by the satisfaction of being able to overcome that feeling and learning to navigate my way around Beijing, speak with the locals, meet amazing people and generally grow a real sense of confidence around my abilities to make things work in a very different environment to New Zealand. 

Edward talking to a colleague who is sitting at a computer

The internship experience set Edward up for a career helping businesses break into Asia

Why do you think internships such as the one you went on valuable for young New Zealanders?

It's easy to think that New Zealand is an internationalised nation and that we have it down pat, but in my opinion this isn't entirely true.

We have a long way to go to overcome our geographic and cultural isolation. Fortunately, pioneering individuals in the past have been intrepid enough to connect New Zealand to the globe and that's what's allowed us to be successful. Going forward, we need this same spirit more than ever.

Going in-market and experiencing the place for yourself is what will inspire you to overcome New Zealand's natural boundaries, grow as a person, as well as unlock new opportunities for your fellow Kiwis.