In middle school, I took my first internship, which left a positive influence on me for the rest of my life. Every morning, I woke up at 5 am to prepare newspapers for delivery to homes along my paper route. Little did I know that the experience of working as a paperboy for a year would help me develop a strong work ethic, and would influence my academic and professional life for years to come.
Later in high school, I took many part-time jobs during the school year and over the summers which enabled me to buy a car and pay for the monthly car insurance. I had no choice because that was the deal with my parents. By the time I left for college, I had worked five different internships during high school while still being very involved in school activities. These experiences became key topics in my college application essays, and also enabled me to develop my business and leadership skills while helping me to get more precise about my future career goals.
We need to help our high schoolers gain more career experiences. While academic studies and college test preparation are very important, so are the experiences that students will gain from taking an internship at a company or small business. Some high schools in Beijing collaborate with companies to make internship opportunities available to students. For example, Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) brings business leaders and companies to the campus to talk about career choices and offer students internship opportunities. This is a good start, but there are frankly not enough of these opportunities for young people. As work regulations for minors are very strict here in Beijing, getting a proper job is unrealistic, but unpaid internships are feasible, and helpful in guiding your teenager into a career that fits his or her unique interests.
As parents, we need to analyze our professional networks and seek out opportunities for our high schoolers to take on these internships. The director of the Harvard China Center gave a presentation at Daystar Academy and shared with parents his views about the importance of young students gaining work experiences. Even basic jobs provide valuable learning opportunities for students to build on in later internships. I followed his advice. A few years ago I brought my sons, then 12 and 9, to my office and gave them work projects to interact with the company’s staff and to help them experience the workplace environment. It was also nice how the experience helped them gain an appreciation of what their parents need to do every day at work.
To help my now 14-year-old son figure out whether a career in video game design is suitable for him, I arranged for him to attend a camp this summer where he will learn about making video games followed by a two-week internship at a friend’s Beijing-based video game company. The combined training and internship will help my son know better if his vision of working in the video gaming industry matches his abilities and interests.
High school students today have too many choices ahead of them, which makes taking multiple internships in different fields and industry so valuable. Each internship they take will help them understand better what areas interest them. Colleges prefer applicants with career goals. Students who know what they plan to accomplish after college frequently take majors that are relevant to their future jobs, while those that are still trying to figure out their future sometimes take majors that they never fully utilize later on in their lives. Students benefit greatly by having more clarity about career choice, so taking a number of internships will prove valuable. A bonus for parents is that high school students who take internships often have new and interesting topics to talk about with their parents!
Photo: Adobe Stock Photo
This article appeared on p38-41 of beijingkids April 2018 issue