The go between

Updated: 2011-09-30 11:47

By Liu Xiaozhuo (China Daily European Weekly)

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The go between

James Bettles works for German company InternChina, which is based in sunny Qingdao, in East China's Shandong province. [Provided to China Daily]

Young British general manager helps scores of foreign interns find positions

Jamie Bettles is well aware of the tribulations and challenges a young person can face living far away from home, particularly if it is in a foreign land. When he was a university student, Briton Bettles, now 26, lived in Germany for a year.

With that experience of living abroad and a business degree firmly under his belt, Bettles is now in China helping young people cope with the kinds of challenges he himself once faced. He works for the German company InternChina, which puts foreign university graduates and employers in China in touch with one another.

"We connect a country which is opening up to the world and the people outside who are keen to come over and discover what China is all about," he says.

Bettles reckons that what many of the students, most from North America and Europe, are looking for in an internship in China is an impressive entry on their CV. But InternChina's goals are far less superficial, he says.

"Students, after (an) internship in China, will come away with a much deeper understanding of a society in transition and learn some local knowledge which can benefit their cultural understanding and broaden their horizons."

InternChina prides itself not only on how it builds bridges between young people and companies, but on its delivering a package that means those coming here will be looked after outside work and will have plenty of opportunity to live a real "Chinese life". That will include enhancing their language skills by living with Chinese families.

Bettles, originally from Sheffield in northeastern England, knows a thing or two about that, too, because when he worked as an intern in Germany he lived with a German family for a year.

"I was accepted as a member of their family for a year and we are now friends for life. The family was incredibly welcoming, which is a trait I often see with Chinese families hosting our interns."

Perhaps fittingly, InternChina has its headquarters in Qingdao, in northeastern Shandong province, a city steeped in its German ties. Bettles, who has been in China for two years, is now the company's general manager. But neither the company, which was founded in 2007, nor Bettles is standing still.

InternChina has opened up another beachfront in its operations with an office in Zhuhai, in the southern province of Guandgdong, and Bettles, who arrived in the city six months ago, heads that office. There are plans to open an office in Xiamen next year.

Every year about 150 to 180 interns come to China to take up a position arranged by InternChina, which has more than 200 companies in almost 25 industries on its books, Bettles says. The company also has ties with several universities in Europe and in North America, especially in the UK and Germany.

Although he had heard much talk of the value of connections in China, of what the Chinese call guanxi, he had not appreciated until recently how important a phenomenon that is.

"It is something that everybody (talks) about but I really feel it (now)."

Being an outsider in Zhuhai, Bettles finds it relatively easy to deal with foreign companies in the city. His dealings with Chinese companies and with Chinese people are another matter.

"It is very hard to get in their social circle and to be trusted by people. For example, our company needs Chinese host families who can provide shelter and food for foreign interns. At first, it was very challenging for us to (attract) Chinese families. It is hard to involve people to do something because you have no private connection with them."

He reckons it would take a foreigner a very long time living in China before they could feel part of the scene and enjoy anything like the connectedness that locals enjoy.

Before Bettles came to China he had seen at least three corners of the globe, having traveled all over Europe, in the United States and in Southeast Asia.

"I did like what I saw and experienced in those (Southeast Asian countries) but I think China is totally different from them. Chinese culture, lifestyle and the language are all quite diverse. I want to live in a place that is different and (that) is a challenge for me."

After arriving in China from Vietnam and being smitten by the beauty of Kunming, Lijiang and Dali, in southern Yunnan province ("I especially love the stunning countryside") Bettles moved to Qingdao. What struck him particularly was the contrast between languid and beautiful Yunnan and the hustle and bustle of Qingdao.

"In Qingdao I saw so much growth many buildings being built and many companies being founded," Bettles said.

"There (have been so many changes) in China since I came two years ago. For example more and more people are coming to Qingdao and it has (got) very crowded."

Bettles enjoys the beach town feel of Qingdao and its moderate climate. In fact that is one reason the company has set up shop there and in Zhuhai, and has its eyes on Xiamen. Bettles says that they are three of the most "livable" cities in China, with the attendant advantages that they offer to would-be interns. A city like Beijing is another matter for Bettles, and is out of the question for InternChina.

"I think Beijing is an interesting city where there must be much to discover. But I cannot bear the climate because it is so hot in summer and so cold in winter."

Like Qingdao, Bettles' present base of Zhuhai enjoys a picturesque waterside setting, something that he can enjoy every day. But for him part of the challenge and thrill of working in China is not knowing what is around the next corner.

"One good thing about working here is that every day usually has something unexpected."