My name is Niklas, I’m 24 and I’m studying industrial engineering (Master’s) at the University of Bremen. I’m currently doing an internship at Bayer MaterialScience in Shanghai in service procurement for Greater China (“Greater China” comprises China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau). I started in November and will be here at Bayer for five months in total. I came to Bayer rather by accident. I’d already been in China for a semester abroad and then decided to also do my master’s thesis here. To gain further practical experience and make the time more exciting, I also wanted to combine this with an internship. That’s how I’m able to do a part-time internship at Bayer MaterialScience alongside my Master’s thesis. I’m writing my thesis on “smart ports” – the use of state-of-the-art information and communications technology to optimize logistics at container ports. Although my internship is not connected to my Master’s thesis, it offers me a welcome change to take a more detached view of it at times.
When you come to China for the first time, the first thing you ask yourself is probably: “Where did all these people come from???” But after a while you get used to it, especially once you’ve experienced the crowds in rush hour or “Golden Week”, the week off as part of the national holiday at the start of October.
The metro, taxi or Transrapid take you from the airport to downtown Shanghai. When you’re here, you should take the opportunity to travel on the Transrapid, even though the ride is very short (not surprising at 430 km/h). Printing out the address of your hotel in Chinese beforehand is definitely recommended. You don’t get far with the English name, and English in general is rarely spoken, though this can also be really funny (you’ll enjoy your first visit to the hairdresser!). Even if you only know one word of Chinese and you try to pronounce it, you’ll also have a good conversation opener and be greeted with an instant smile. So, it’s well worth it!
But as I’d already been to China, I didn’t have any major problems this time in finding my feet. The first time, I was pretty lost but with a few basic rules in mind you feel almost at home after just a week.
People, people everywhere!
The first challenge each working day starts with the commute to work. For most trips I use the metro. Shanghai has one of the world’s largest metro networks and is constantly extending it. However, a few million people also have to get to work each morning. As soon as the already full metro opens its doors, the battle for the last few millimeters starts. If you do then manage to get on and think no one else really can fit in, the Chinese prove the opposite, on the basis that there’s always room for one more! That can be a bit painful – particularly as you also have to get off…
Bayer’s office in Shanghai is in the Citigroup Tower in Pudong. Every morning on the way to work I can see Shanghai’s incredible skyline with the Jinmao Tower, Financial Tower and Shanghai’s latest wonder (and the world’s second highest building), the Shanghai Tower – at least on nice days when the smog doesn’t block your view. But smog is not as frequent as presented in German media. In December, we had a few days with really poor conditions, but Bayer supplied free protective masks for every employee, which is what I call truly exemplary!
On my first day at Bayer in Shanghai I was welcomed by my Chinese colleagues and given a tour. Unfortunately, my supervisor was not in the office at that time, but everything went smoothly. After the tour, I had to wait a while longer for my work notebook, which was still being set up, and was then able to make a start. While I was waiting, I had the opportunity to get to know the company and the responsibilities of the national procurement team in more detail. My supervisor manages the various internal procurement sections and coordinates their activities.
My duties are mainly concerned with process analysis and optimization in procurement. Among other things, I developed a survey for all the branches in China to evaluate satisfaction with the procurement services and identify potential for improvement. Over the years to come, it will also be possible to use the results on satisfaction as a benchmark to develop the services. I was also involved in providing support for the various procurement teams in their strategy planning for the following year.
At Bayer, I very much enjoy being able to work independently and having my own project. Working hours are also relatively flexible here. This hasn’t always been my experience, particularly in China. My team is made up mainly of Chinese colleagues, which means you’re not tempted to only speak German and you also get a bit of practice in business English. The regular town hall meetings, where management discusses current topics with the whole team, are very useful, too. Representatives from other departments are also invited to give an introduction to operations in the legal department, for example. (New) colleagues also introduce themselves or present their projects. All in all, the working environment here is really great, and I’m delighted to have had this opportunity to do an internship.
Generally speaking, you should at least understand a smattering of Chinese to fully savor the Chinese experience. Shanghai is an incredible city that is growing at an unbelievable speed. You’ll often wonder what’s happened to a restaurant is or what is being built there.
And while we’re on the subject of food – it’s often said the Chinese eat everything… As a lǎowài (you’ll hear this word a lot, and also wàiguórén, a general term for foreigner), you should definitely go along with this. In my time here, I’ve wondered countless times what I’ve just ordered could be. At small restaurants, which could probably be better described as holes in the wall with a few tables and a “kitchen”, only Chinese menus are available, without pictures, to get an indication of the dish. Then only knowing the characters for rice (饭), noodles (面) and meat (肉) will help. In this way, you at least get an initial idea about the dish. There’s always a bit of a surprise. If you come to China, don’t be put off by appearances!
If you’re in China, you shouldn’t just focus on work, of course – that would be a missed opportunity to learn about an incredible country. Shanghai is relatively western, with numerous shopping malls and designer stores. But this is very different in smaller cities. Knowledge of English and the proportion of non-Chinese there also drop accordingly. In smaller cities, you can very quickly become an attraction. Even after one-and-a-half years, it sometimes feels very strange, particularly when people talk openly about you and think you don’t understand them. As well as towns and cities near Shanghai, I’ve also visited Xian (Terracotta Army), Chengdu (pandas!) and Hong Kong during my time in China. I’ll probably never forget my first long-distance train ride here – a 22-hour trip from Shanghai to Xian. This also gave me the opportunity to have a go at conversing in Chinese. Other areas will definitely follow – China has an unbelievable amount to offer.
At the moment, it’s relatively difficult to obtain a visa for China if you state an internship as the reason for travel. However, if it works out and you get the chance, you should certainly take it!
After my internship, I’ll definitely continue to work on my knowledge of Chinese. It’s an interesting language and I hope to be reasonably fluent one day, 加油！Maybe I’ll even return to China. After my internship, I could easily imagine working here, maybe even for Bayer – who knows.
This report was written by Niklas Otterstedt. On this blog Bayer employees from different subgroups and service companies tell you about their personal experiences. So you can get a little insight into the company. Why are we doing this? Please visit our Facebook-Blog.
This post is also available in: German