When OSU-Cascades students Alissa Barrett and Kate Roth arrived in Hangzhou, China for a three-month internship at The Dragon hotel last summer, they used a piece of paper with Chinese words written on it to get from the bus station to the hotel. So began three months of communication that included gesturing, charades, smartphone photos and notes. Barrett and Roth were not in Kansas (or Oregon) anymore.
Barrett and Roth, both business majors at OSU-Cascades, traveled to China this past summer to intern at The Dragon hotel, a five-star luxury hotel in Hangzhou. Hangzhou is the capital city of the eastern coastal province Zhejiang, about one hour by bullet train (250 km/hour) from Shanghai.
For six months prior to the internship, they worked with OSU-Cascades hospitality professor Sandy Chen to prepare for the internship. The Dragon hotel is home to the largest commercial wine cellar in China, stocked by China’s largest wine wholesaler (ASC Fine Wines), so a portion of the internship would be collecting data and doing market research on China’s wine industry. They would also help the hotel create a more international environment to attract a greater number of American business travelers.
But the goals for international internships go far beyond job skills. Students explore the political and cultural history of their host country. They reflect on how their perspective may have changed and what self reliance they may have gained from living overseas.
“I learned to be adaptable and flexible quickly,” says Barrett. “China’s business culture, and views on women, are so different than in the United States.”
During their internship, Barrett and Roth spent much of their time teaching employees of the hotel and their children English. Roth worked with staff in the Food and Beverage department and the Front House, who knew English pretty well but needed help with timing and slang. She created customer service role-playing exercises to get them more comfortable when working with guests of the hotel.
For the children, she taught the students simple songs like "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat" and talked about animals, colors, fruits and vegetables.
Barrett worked in the Sales and Marketing department, correcting the English translation on the hotel website, press releases and social media. She also helped staff with their English, smoothing out customer service phrases at the front desk.
The women lived onsite at the hotel, sharing a room overlooking the city. They ate meals at the buffet in the hotel. Bullfrog, turtle, seaweed, fresh fish and other traditional Chinese dishes were mainstays on the menu.
Think about food for a minute and how it is one of the most important aspects of your daily life. It’s your energy source, your comfort zone, represents your family and country traditions, and is your emotional friend some days. For Barrett and Roth, navigating a new culture of food was a big part of their Chinese adventure. In China, fish is served whole with eyes intact. Frog legs and chicken feet are common dishes as are tofu, bean curd and taro. Restaurants are often crowded and smoky.
With the help of new friends, iPhones (when the women found something they liked they would take a picture of it and show it to the waiters so they could order it again), and a sense of adventure—Barrett and Roth discovered amazing food along the way. Xiaolongbao, or pork dumplings, became an instant favorite. At a place called Lucky Kitchen, they were introduced to a honey molasses beef dish you can’t find in the states.
Hangzhou is famous for its tea and Barrett and Roth visited tea houses and participated in traditional tea ceremonies. During their time in China, they not only explored the historical sites and temples of Hangzhou, they also travelled to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. After three months in Hangzhou with traveling on weekends, they were assimilating.
Roth made a special connection with the front of the house director, Sissy. Roth and Sissy spent a lot of time discussing the differences and similarities between their cultures and experiences.
“I think if you could clone me and reproduce me as a Chinese girl you would get Sissy,” says Roth.
At the end of three months, the women returned to Bend. Both are OSU-Cascades alums—Roth graduating in June before she left for China and Barrett this past term after she returned. Barrett now works for a start-up online daily deals company in town and interns at Bend Research. Roth applied for law school and hopes to begin next fall.
“I grew a lot as a person during this internship,” says Barrett, who always wanted to live abroad growing up. Prior to her internship in China, she spent three months studying in Germany. “It was a great experience, and I’ve come to appreciate home as well.”
For Roth, it was an exercise in patience, and humility. “I had a lot of conversations about the differences between Chinese and American culture,” says Roth. “It’s still all sinking in.”