FINDING an unmet need and filling it – that’s how one Dutch couple started a company. They match overseas intern wannabes with companies that need an expat pair of hands. Jantine Vos reports. China is an increasingly popular place for students who are seeking a professional internship, but how to find the right internship, do all the paperwork and come prepared for a China adventure can be more difficult.
While they themselves were looking for a suitable job in Shanghai, Michael Douglas and Lonneke de Greef – a couple from the Netherlands – discovered that many students were eager to find an internship in Shanghai.
Without the help of a reliable intermediary internship agency, this proved hard to arrange.
“If such an agency does not exist yet, we should establish it ourselves,” thought Douglas and de Greef three years ago. This meant the start of the 2-Shanghai Internship Agency.
Without having visited China before, Douglas and de Greef were convinced by the enthusiastic stories of a friend that Shanghai was a perfect city for them. When they came up with the idea of facilitating internships in Shanghai, they canceled a trip to Cuba in 2006 and booked a flight here to present their concept to potential clients.
Many companies are receptive to the idea of hosting foreign interns, they found, however, they often don’t want to assume additional responsibilities, such as helping with housing and guiding newcomers around. That’s exactly where 2-Shanghai comes in, and Douglas and de Greef therefore continued to work in the evening, in addition to their daytime jobs, to set up their organization.
The 2-Shanghai Internship Agency aims at providing foreign students with an interesting internship while providing companies carefully selected and capable interns from which to choose. Especially during the financial downturn, many companies prefer to host interns instead of hiring new employees, according to de Greef.
They work with all kinds of companies, from technical to media. They have placed 90 interns.
For the students, 2-Shanghai arranges practical things like an airport transfer, language courses and help with landlords and real estate agents. They also assist with visa applications.
In addition, they bring interns together and introduce them to other newcomers with whom they can enjoy Shanghai.
In effect, they function as the students’ “help desk,” especially during the first days after arrival. This has been proved helpful by the many calls that Douglas and de Greef receive.
“I am at the market right now and they are asking 100 yuan (US$14.65). What do you think? How much shall I give?” a typical newcomer asked.
To prepare the students for their stay, the two entrepreneurs supply them with as many dos and don’ts in the first days as possible. Despite all these efforts, problems can arise, as Douglas found out when guiding an intern through the procedure of withdrawing money at the ATM.
While warning the student to pay attention to take back the card after receiving the money, he still forgot his bankcard. At times like this, 2-Shanghai’s help is really appreciated, as interns and their thankful parents attest.
Douglas and de Greef say they did not experience a real culture shock themselves when arriving in Shanghai three years ago. But de Greef notes that the longer you live here, the more you notice the differences. However, they also have experienced what “their” interns are going through.
When the couple first arrived, they had no idea about prices and paid for one short taxi ride what could have paid for a trip to Beijing, so to speak.
Despite this one mishap, experienced by many expats early on, the duo say they admire Shanghai taxi drivers for knowing almost all the streets and the shortest way to reach the destination.
Most of the students stay for about five months, although in practice this sometimes turns out to be longer. One of their first interns in 2007 studying Mandarin started his own business later and never left Shanghai. Some have received job offers from their host companies.
At least until the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, Douglas and de Greef are kept busy, since 2-Shanghai will take care of all Dutch interns who will be working at The Netherlands Pavilion. Afterwards, they’ll see how it goes. But given their positive attitudes, enthusiasm and good work results, they’re likely to be around for a while.
For more information, visit www.2-shanghai.com or e-mail to email@example.com.Michael Douglas & Lonneke de Greef
Lonneke de Greef
Michael: Energetic and entrepreneurial. Like to take on new challenges.
Lonneke: Entrepreneurial and caring. Enjoy exploring new cultures and languages.
Michael & Lonneke: Our own balcony!
After three years we got used – more or less – to the “strange” sights. More important is that every day we are still amazed by the hardworking men and women collecting, carrying, moving around all kinds of stuff and there is hardly anyone who notices them.
Michael: Some sports and relaxing with a good book. And the evenings are spent with a nice dinner and drinks with friends or a good BBQ on our own balcony.
Lonneke: Spend the weekend with friends, wining, dining and dancing. On Sundays treat myself on a nice two-hour massage to have a fresh start on Monday.
Michael: The May 12 Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.
Lonneke: Not really one. Living in Shanghai is very dynamic which gives you a lot of ups and downs along the way. This is what it makes interesting living here. It is absolutely never boring!
Motto for life:
Michael: Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Lonneke: You can, if you think you can!
How to improve Shanghai:
Michael: Start with yourself!
Lonneke: More environmental awareness!