Lehigh in Shanghai

John Larson '17 knew the professional experience he'd gain in Shanghai, a global financial hub on China's central coast, would be invaluable, especially since he is a supply chain major.

"As a business student, it's impossible to ignore this city and country," says Larson, who was among 12 students who participated in the Lehigh in Shanghai program over six weeks in summer. "Shanghai is the world's busiest port, and China presents one of the largest consumer markets in the world."

His interest in participating in the program was personal too.

"I thought it was important to expose myself to an entirely new culture and people," he says. "Traveling in Europe is one thing, but traveling in East Asia is a unique and challenging adventure. I wanted to gain a greater understanding about the country that one-fifth of the world's population calls home."

Founded about a decade ago, the Lehigh in Shanghai program has two distinct segments, according to program director Oliver Yao, chair of the Department of Management at Lehigh.

"The first part is language and immersion," he says. "When we arrived in Shanghai, the students spent time in the classroom to get trained in Chinese and then went out in the surrounding city to be immersed in the culture."

After the first two weeks, the students were matched with companies, based on their major or interest, and worked as interns for the remaining four weeks.

"It's a very, very rare opportunity for American students to be exposed to such a different culture and to be able to work in that culture," Yao says. "And China is a very significant part of the whole global economy right now. China is the number two economic power. To be able to experience how business operates in China, that is really something valuable."

Larson interned at Shanghai Cheng Shang Cheng Textile Company Ltd., a small but growing private textile manufacturer that produces woolen fabrics for customers such as fashion retailers Zara and Gap. Larson worked with the general manager of the textile company as a quality control assistant.

"This meant going on visits to factories in the nearby cities of Jiangsu and Ningbo to conduct quality inspections with representatives from major customers. Quality is key in fashion, so these meetings were especially important," said Larson, who also is majoring in marketing and minoring in philosophy. "We would review select samples of fabrics and take note of any defects to see what changes were necessary."

Yao says the Shanghai experience is "eye-opening" for students participating in the program.

"It is not a professional-type internship where students apply what they are learning at Lehigh to a job," he says. "Some of the students have never been abroad. … In Shanghai they say, ‘Wow.' It's a different world, a different culture. The daily norm is different."

Through the Shanghai program, Larson says he learned plenty about himself and business.

"I learned that open-mindedness and risk-taking are essential when you travel abroad," he says. "I also found that most of the people I interacted with spoke two, if not more, languages," and so he's determined to learn more Chinese and other languages.

"It's really important to be aware of cultural differences when you work and travel abroad," he says, "because the last thing you want to do is disrespect the people who have shown you such incredible hospitality and generosity."

Story by Jennifer Marangos