Online internship all about connections

Half way through his internship with digital marketing company United Media Solution (UMS), Auckland University commerce student Kevin Li says the internship has already provided him with invaluable insights into how business is done in China and inspired him to think more deeply about connections between New Zealand and China.

At the start of 2020, I would never have thought that by the end of the year I would have landed an internship that allowed me to work for a company with a focus on Asia from the comfort of my own home.  

Fast forward almost a year, and thanks to restrictions on travel due to Covid-19, I find myself doing a remote internship with digital marketing agency United Media Solution (UMS). 

The idea of doing an internship remotely was very foreign to me, but after spending most of the year on various Zoom calls and watching lectures from my room, I’ve come to realise just how powerful it is to use the technology to connect to people around the world. 

Kevin sitting at his desk, which has two computers on it

Kevin: "...I feel inspired to think beyond just the boundaries of New Zealand in terms of where I want to be in the future."

In 2019, I travelled to China with my family to visit our relatives (in Henan and Hubei) for a few weeks. We also visited Shanghai.  

The few days in Shanghai were really great; I got a taste of what one of the world's most prominent metropolises was like.  

I was in awe of how fast-paced and lively the city is and loved the mix of Chinese history and Western influences.  

In some way, being in Shanghai for a few days influenced me to apply for this internship, as I wanted to get a glimpse into what working in China would be like.  
During this trip to China, I also spent a night in Xi'an, which is one of my favourite cities, for its blend of modern and historical architecture. It gave me a better appreciation of the history of China and my own culture.  

While I have been to China a few times in the past, that trip was the first time I started to realise the opportunities the country has to offer. It inspired me to want to learn more and explore the rest of the country. 

Kevin standing in front of the Pearl Tower in Shanghai

Visiting China in 2019 with his family reinforced Kevin's interest in learning more about China

Before I started the UMS internship, I felt that communication with my colleagues might be slow and I’d be left mostly to myself. However, with offices in five cities in three countries, UMS are experts in ensuring everyone remains connected, wherever they are working from. 

I can have frequent catchups over Zoom with my supervisors from both UMS and the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and message them on WeChat whenever I have a question. This makes me still feel connected to everyone, albeit digitally. 

I’ve been able to tackle projects where I can do meaningful work and practice what I’ve learnt doing my Bachelors of Commerce [majoring in information systems and marketing] at university, whether it be marketing research skills or managing and organising data.  

In a short amount of time, I’ve been able to contribute to projects and make a real difference – I didn’t expect that I’d be able to be part of a meeting with the CEO of one of our clients after they had gone over the research that I had done for them. 

Doing a remote internship, as opposed to an in-country one, has its pros and cons. While I’m not able to be in China and immerse myself in the culture, I can still learn about how business is done in China and gain an insight into the work culture over there. For instance, I've learnt about the importance of giving 'face' in China, which means showing someone respect for their status. This is especially relevant in the business world, where one should show face to both their superiors and their clients.  

Kevin sitting on a wall with traditional Chinese buildings behind him

Kevin: "The internship has asked me to consider how relationships between New Zealand and China can be better strengthened"

Before I started the internship, I was wary that doing it remotely might mean I’d miss out on learning about Chinese culture. Fortunately, the Asia New Zealand Foundation has set up small initiatives to supplement this, including the opportunity to take a Mandarin course and having a cultural exchange buddy with UMS interns in China.   

Last week, the Foundation arranged for some of the interns, including myself, to have a Zoom call with members of the Foundation’s Leadership Network so they could share their experiences of working in China.  

After listening to network member Eleni Hogg talk about her experiences in China, I feel inspired to think beyond just the boundaries of New Zealand in terms of where I want to be in the future. 

The internship has asked me to consider how relationships between New Zealand and China can be better strengthened, as I have been able to see first-hand how many opportunities there are for both cultural and business exchange.  

I'm passionate about innovation and start-ups as I have seen how they can create positive change, and once I graduate, I would like to contribute to the start-up ecosystem. This could mean working in venture capital or working at a start-up somewhere in the world, possibly China.