In this article one of our Manchester team Sam tell us all about her time in China. She discusses the merits of working abroad and the potential impact that an experience like that can have on your training contract applications and future career.
Many students and graduates, regardless of their subject, wish to spend time abroad either working or studying. In talking to Flexers about their aspirations, many are looking for training contracts with international firms or with secondments abroad. Others are considering paying a lot of money to third party companies to intern abroad in order to stand out in a competitive market.
I’ve been lucky enough to receive nearly full funding to intern and study in China 3 times over the course of the last 5 years. I did various things with each experience, studying law, business and Chinese Mandarin, as well as interning with a business focused publisher.
I take a look at whether the time and the money are truly worth it, whether it helps in the search for that coveted training contract, and the things you have to consider when making the decision to go abroad.
Why do you want to go abroad?
Ask yourself why you’re considering going abroad and be honest with yourself.
Are you looking to go abroad for an extended holiday (which is totally a good reason to go!) but looking to justify it through seeking work experience or study?
If you go into an opportunity with the wrong mindset, you won’t get all that you can out of it. Whether or not you receive funding to go abroad, it can be an expensive undertaking. You need to make sure that you’re going for the right reasons and are prepared to work hard to maximise any opportunity you are given.
I chose to go to China because I had a genuine interest in its culture. Before being given any opportunity to go, I had started learning Chinese Mandarin, reading about the country’s history and politics, and reading translations of Chinese literature.
If you’re not interested in learning about the country you want to work or study in, then your potential experience may look fairly random on your CV and culture shock when you arrive may be a very real thing for you.
Do your plans fit into your long term goals and aspirations?
Ask yourself the following questions about your potential experience abroad:
What is it I actually want to do abroad? Learn a language, work, volunteer, study a specific subject? Think outside of the box - what is it you enjoy doing and really interests you?
How would my experience abroad and what I’m doing benefit me?
What sort of firm do I want to train with and how would my experience abroad be perceived by them and benefit them?
Does the potential experience give me skills and responsibility that I wouldn’t normally get here in the UK? What’s different about experience there?
What skills and knowledge do I want to gain? Will this experience give that to me?
If you are studying abroad, can the course credits be easily transferred to a UK institution?
I reached out to my contacts in the legal market, former colleagues in different industries, university tutors, family and friends to get their opinion on all 3 experiences I had abroad before committing to them.
Anyone you see as a mentor who will be honest with you will be able to contextualise your thoughts on any potential experience. Seek out a legal mentor who will be able to give you industry specific advice on the experience you are seeking abroad.
Do law firms find time spent abroad useful?
I have a training contract offer from a national firm and was never interested in training with really large international firms, so my time in China doesn’t immediately look applicable. However, my experiences there made my application stand out, but not because the firm had direct links to the country.
Feedback from my future colleagues showed that they saw that I was passionate, genuinely interested and got a lot of personal development out of my time in China. They also saw dedication to furthering this experience, a willingness to develop through continuing to learn Chinese Mandarin back in the UK and an awareness of different working practices and cultural values. The life skills I had gained and pushing myself out of my comfort zone in different working environments led to me getting my training contract offer.
Study or work abroad without funding from external sources won’t be an option for many people. While some people can afford to pay for intern experiences abroad (which are often unpaid), this is rare and may not be necessary.
Think creatively about how you are going to fund your potential experience.
Approach your university and appropriate institutes who may be able to fund some or all of your potential experience.
Check out study abroad opportunities offered by your university. Does the study abroad opportunity have the option to intern, or do a work based module?
Does the target country and its government have scholarships available?
Does the UK and its government have scholarships available to visit a particular country?
I would recommend Generation UK, which is a scheme run by the British Council, who provide study and intern opportunities to UK graduates and students. Their internship programme to China in particular is offered to people who received maintenance grants at university, who would not normally have the opportunity to intern for free.