After an eye-opening internship abroad, I’ve recently arrived back in Kingston to start my final year as an undergraduate student at Queen’s University. Last year I took part in a four month exchange program in Stockholm, which inspired me to search beyond Toronto for a summer internship. That’s when I discovered the Cansbridge Asia Summer Internship Program, offered through Queen’s and sponsored by Cansbridge Capital, a boutique venture firm. The program offers $600 Cdn each week to Queen’s engineering and business students who find their own internship opportunities in Asia, subject to the program’s approval. When I came across a start-up incubator in Bangkok, Thailand, I knew it was a challenge that I couldn’t let slip by. The Cansbridge award enabled me to take on the experience, which I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
For me, the experience was Exchange 2.0. I was working from nine to seven, but I was still in Thailand, land of smiles, and that meant more than you can imagine. We were a big group of interns living in the same residence, going on weekend trips to explore temples, and embracing our youth in a positive, enthusiastic, and lively manner, in a city that matched our energy. From sampling amazing street food to soaking up sun on the islands and experiencing the country’s nightlife, we didn’t skip a beat. There were so many things to do. I held dear to my heart the infamous phrase “sleep is for the weak.”
The start-up where I worked is an incubator involved in building different ventures. I was given complete responsibility and leadership to take on major projects, such as developing an entire customer benefits program. The opportunity exposed me to the start-up world of rapid change, built on a platform of idea leadership. Most importantly, it dispelled one of my preconceived notions that you have to possess an innate sense of entrepreneurship to be in the start-up world.
Entrepreneurship does not have to mean coming up with a brand new product – it can also entail applying and adapting successful models to new markets. Being part of a network of students that extended from the London School of Economics to the Stockholm School of Economics, that entrepreneurial spirit had brought us together, even though we were all from different backgrounds.
A key takeaway from my internship was that all you need are ideas, perseverance, and the ability to convince people to invest some money, it doesn’t have to be a lot, to get started. Like our sponsor, William Yu of Cansbridge Capital, often says, “The world is your oyster.”
Physically stepping out of Toronto and the Canadian job market has made me realize that the options after business school are truly endless. The lesson learned? Don’t ever settle.
The cultural education I received came not only from working and living in a completely unfamiliar country, but also from adapting to a start-up atmosphere. Sometimes the CEO just wanted things done quickly – it didn’t have to be absolutely perfect the first time around, but it had to be well executed and presented. This type of working mentality was hard for me to adjust to at first, but it also pushed me to work differently. I had to trust the research I’d done already, and monitor developments with a hawk’s eye to make changes as I went along.
Keeping on top of my social media management responsibilities in a foreign language was insanely challenging. I had to rely heavily on Thai coworkers to understand what consumers were saying on our online platforms. I learned to double- and triple-check, and to be even more culturally aware when conversing in a foreign language. Constant collaboration and open communication were the only ways to accomplish anything.
Throughout this amazing experience, I actually felt myself ‘growing up’. It started with mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety about traveling to Southeast Asia. These slipped away as I opened myself fully to the experience of living and working in Bangkok. I’ve come away with a transformed mindset about my career aspirations and, having just entered my final year at Queen’s, I know I’ll be ready to plunge into the unknown again when graduation time comes.
Jennifer Huang is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Queen’s University who grew up in Vancouver.