Reflections On My Mandarin Aspirations Project Internship

Emily Austin-Howell shares some thoughts on her year spent as an intern with the Business Confucius Institute team as the Mandarin Aspirations Project Assistant. The internship involved highlighting stories about people’s Mandarin learning experiences to educate and inspire other learners while learning a few things along the way…

I have really enjoyed being a team member for the past nine months. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for me to develop skills and experience in writing, communications, and events that will help me in my future professional aspirations. 

In this blog post, I would like to reflect on my time here, giving you an idea of my work and what I have learnt from the experience. 

The role

My internship was broadly organised into three categories: 1. Writing articles 2. Social media and communications 3. Events. 

This year, we invited eight speakers from industries including media, business, education, and innovation to give their insights on the connections between their global careers and the Chinese language. I wrote articles highlighting their key takeaways in articles for the BCI website. 

I spent time networking with Chinese learners and writing case studies of Leeds alumni and staff who use their Mandarin skills to shape our global community, inspiring our students and over a thousand social media followers. 

I imagined that producing articles and social media content would be a daunting task when I started the internship, but towards the end, I improved my written skills and gained a lot of confidence. 

I enjoyed the variety of projects in which I was involved and took the initiative to organise and prioritise work in a way that allowed me to fulfil BCI objectives whilst also stretching me each week. 

As the team structure evolved in my second term, my role shifted to working collaboratively with the new Marketing and Communications Officer by taking on new challenges. This led to me writing more news articles for the BCI website and taking over writing the bi-monthly Mandarin Aspirations newsletter, which you can subscribe to here. 

My personal highlight

The BCI has been incredibly supportive in giving me opportunities to take ownership of aspects of its work and shine. Working on the Building a career and network as an expat in China event is an illustration of this, and my personal highlight from the internship. 

In the run-up to the event, I oversaw the marketing and at the event, I opened and closed and facilitated the Q&A. The talk itself was incredibly insightful, spotlighting a panel of dynamic women currently working in Beijing as they share their insights and personal experiences, and really resonated with me at my stage in development. It was great practice to follow up the event with my key takeaways. 

Meeting others

As a student outside the department of East Asian Studies, I found it very energising to meet other Mandarin learners and bring the Mandarin learning community together. The community is very welcoming, so there are plenty of opportunities for networking and establishing friendships. 

I have learned so much thanks to all the great people I have met through the role. From identifying key takeaways from the annual lecture delivered by Andrew Seaton, Chief-Executive of the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC), to writing lessons from Martin Pollard’s career as a Reuters video journalist on the frontlines of China’s coronavirus outbreak. 

I enjoyed working in a multicultural team and communicating effectively with people from different backgrounds and from across the globe, which is a valuable skill set in any professional environment. We had excellent communication and had a lot of fun while handling difficult tasks, such as organising cultural activities for BCI students to mark the Chinese calendar, including Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival. 

Personal goals

As well as developing professionally, I worked on personal goals during my internship. When I started, I was most excited about combining my Mandarin skills with working in a professional setting, as one of my main aims was to use this opportunity to improve my Mandarin, which I am currently self-studying. Working in this multilingual environment has allowed me to improve my listening skills in particular. 

I came to study Mandarin at school because I liked the characters, and the best thing I have done this year for my practice is to commit to writing my diary entries in Mandarin, devoting 15 minutes or so of my day to reflect in my target language. As a five-year diary, I look forward to going back through my entries on the same day every year and reflecting on my progress. 

Another reason I applied for the internship was to gain experience in an aspect of what I hope to do after university: working in diplomacy. This is a realistic idea now that I have had the opportunity to work in a soft power program centring on education and culture. I know that I enjoy and find this work fulfilling given my belief in the importance of nurturing cross-cultural understanding and communication with others in our international network. 

Looking to the future

It has been a valuable experience working for BCI and I am grateful for all the opportunities that I have had during my internship. 

I have grown professionally and personally and, with the opportunity to put my skills into practice, I feel more confident in my abilities that I will utilise in the future. 

It’s been a fantastic learning experience that I will always look back on fondly and I would like to thank the BCI for giving me this opportunity. 

But there are exciting times yet to come… 

I am delighted that the internship has been extended over the summer months and I will be working on the launch of a Global Dialogue Online Short Video Festival, which will present work created by international students in collaboration with Confucius Institutes worldwide. More details to come, so watch this space! 

Thank you for reading. What do you want to see from the Mandarin Aspirations Project next year?