Beijing stint helps intern
embrace her heritage

Lennie Law says she spent a large chunk of her life undervaluing her Chinese heritage, but a three-month stint interning in Beijing on an Asia New Zealand Foundation internship gave her a new perspective and a new direction in life.
intern sits at a desk in beijing

An Asia New Zealand Foundation internship to Beijing gave Law new perspective on her Chinese heritage

In 2015, fresh from university, Law made a curve-ball decision to apply for a three-month internship in the Chinese capital, working with Digital Jungle – a company marketing Western brands to Chinese consumers.

An Asia-focused OE had not been on Law’s radar. For most young New Zealanders, the cultural narrative around the great OE is still very Europe-focused, she says.

After getting the internship, she was surprised by some of the reactions she got when telling people her plans.

“When I told all my friends that I was going to China, they were really confused. Every single reaction was ‘What? Why?…It’s your final summer before you start work, aren’t you going to go and do your Contiki in Europe?” She believes more should be done to help make a stint in Asia as much a rite of passage for young Kiwis as an OE to Europe.

Law’s family is Malaysian Chinese. She was the first-generation born in New Zealand; her mum was the first-generation born in Malaysia. No one in her family had been back to China since the initial migration, so, in a way, she took her family on the journey too, she says.

Growing up in New Zealand and looking Chinese hasn’t always been easy.

“You get a lot of misjudgements and stereotypes.

“As I grew up, and this sounds really bad, but it’s like I didn’t want to relate too tightly to being Chinese because there is that negative connotation.”

And, because Law identified as Kiwi, she says she held on to some of the negative cultural stereotypes about the Chinese too.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know about the Chinese’, or ‘Oh, everything is made in China’. Just really stupid comments.”

Spending time in China was a game changer.

“When I got to China and embraced the culture and really experienced it, that’s when I really realised ‘I can’t believe I ever thought any of these stereotypes and things about China’.

The experience has helped Law embrace her Chinese heritage.

“I’ve realised, although my Mandarin is limited, my ability to speak another language and that I understand a different culture is an advantage for me, not only personally developing relationships and experiencing the world, but it is also such an advantage in a business environment.”

When she was job hunting, she used to be defensive about the ubiquitous “So, where are you from?”; she now sees the answer to the question as a selling point.

“It is actually really valuable. Claim it, own it, use it.” 

Not long after returning from her internship in China, Law was a panellist at an Asia New Zealand Foundation event on social media in Asia. The networking opportunity helped her see a career path she hadn’t previously anticipated – she realised her background and skill set would be valuable to Kiwi brands wanting a social media presence and to reach Chinese consumers.

Law has just celebrated her one-year anniversary working for Aotea New Zealand, a national tourism retailer, where she is marketing manager.

She spends her work day promoting the Aotea brand to shoppers - almost 50 percent of whom are Asian - on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and “dabbling” in Chinese social media platforms.

Law was one of the speakers at an Auckland event about Asian social media channels, organised by the ASEAN New Zealand Business Council in May 2016.