|Bruno, an intern from Cornell University, and his friend Hao, a Chinese intern at Microsoft Research Asia||
Many of our overseas interns have never before been to China. They soon discover that they have an invaluable resource in their Chinese peers—who help them adjust to a different culture, make friends, and learn about China’s rich 1,000-year history and traditions.
Helping overseas interns adapt to new culture
“...thanks to Hao, I made friends quickly, got to know my new environment, and was rapidly assimilated into work on Microsoft Research Asia’s research.”
— Bruno, a Cornell University student and intern at Microsoft Research Asia
Each year, Microsoft Research Asia’s internship program welcomes more than 150 interns from all over the world. Walking the corridors of Microsoft Research Asia, one hears conversations in a number of different languages. Despite individual differences, there is one consistent thread. For each intern, coming to Microsoft Research Asia offers more than the chance to improve research skills; it also offers the chance to deepen their understanding of China, one of the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic economies.
Unfortunately, the interns’ impressive list of skills and knowledge generally does not include the ability to speak Chinese. As a result, the sprawling Beijing Capital International Airport, a complicated subway map, accommodation check-in, and Chinese telephone and banking systems can be difficult to navigate. Add to that culture shock and a very different local diet, and most feel an initial disorientation as they adjust to daily life and participation in research.
In response, the Microsoft Research Asia Intern Mutual-Aid Society, an internal volunteer program supported by the Beijing internship program, provides one-on-one help so our overseas interns can quickly adapt to their new surroundings, while giving our Chinese interns access to new friends and broadened horizons.
The result is an enriching, meaningful exchange—and one that can be life changing.
A search for the right door opened others
The program came about as the direct result of Hong Zhang’s experience with a US intern. Zhang is a senior researcher in the Human-Computer Interaction group.
“Last year, an American intern joined my research group and I was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to find his way around Beijing. So I picked him up from the airport and took him to his apartment. But once we got there, he and I searched for a long time without being able to find the entrance. We spent a lot of time dealing with this one complication,” Zhang said. “It reminded me that a lot of overseas interns come to Microsoft Research Asia each year, and they must meet with similar stressful situations.”
The Microsoft Research Asia Intern Mutual-Aid Society kick-off meeting
Helping overseas interns quickly adjust to life in Beijing has become a favorite cause of Zhang’s. She relates it to the adjustments her children had to make when they transferred from an American school to one in China. The Chinese school provided a volunteer to guide them through the huge differences in school, friends, and culture. She asked herself, why not create a voluntary organization to do the same for Microsoft Research Asia’s overseas interns?
Her proposal started the Microsoft Research Asia Intern Mutual-Aid Society. After a week of recruitment, 20 local Chinese interns attended a January 2013 kick-off meeting where Jennifer Cao from the Microsoft Research Connections group introduced the group’s objectives, responsibilities, and work procedures. A volunteer, Charles Qi, shared his experience and tips for help. Voilà! An energetic group of 20 intern volunteers was ready!
Friendships take root and grow
“After my own experience abroad, I understand the difficulties adjusting to a place where you don’t really know the language. I helped [Bruno] with his apartment and showed him the ropes...I also learned a lot by seeing things through his eyes and experiences...”
— Microsoft Research Asia intern
Hao Gu, a Microsoft Research Asia intern from the Wireless and Network group, found his first overseas friend soon after Bruno, a Cornell University student, landed in Beijing for his internship with Microsoft Research Asia. Although Bruno had carefully written his destination on a piece of paper, the airport taxi driver didn’t understand the address. Perplexed, Bruno had no idea what to do. He stood on the side of the road trying not to panic. He remembered that Microsoft Research Asia had given him a telephone number, so he dialed it.
Hao received Bruno’s call for help, and gave the driver the exact location of the hotel, where he waited in the lobby until Bruno arrived. After assisting with check-in, Hao showed Bruno around Microsoft Research Asia, gave him suggestions for tasty traditional Beijing foods, and showed him the nearest shopping mall.
“Hao had a paper due that same week. As a computer science student, I definitely know how busy he was when I called. But whenever I need help, he never hesitates,” Bruno says. “Hao is a really funny, smart, and super nice guy. He has also been a great guide to Microsoft Research Asia. Through him, I have grown to appreciate China and Chinese culture a lot.”
An unforgettable experience
“I had never been to China or Microsoft Research Asia before," says Bruno. " But thanks to Hao, I made friends quickly, got to know my new environment, and was rapidly assimilated into work on Microsoft Research Asia’s research. He was a big part of an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“I got to know Bruno through the Microsoft Research Asia Intern Mutual-Aid Society," recalls Hao. "After my own experience abroad, I understand the difficulties adjusting to a place where you don’t really know the language. I helped him with his apartment and showed him the ropes with a local phone card, bank card, and subway card. He and I also tried lots of different restaurants. Pure research of course, to figure out what local dishes he’d like! Even though these are small things, I think they added up to something quite meaningful. I also learned a lot by seeing things through his eyes and experiences, and practiced my English.”
Members of the Microsoft Research Asia Intern Mutual-Aid Society are like a big family. We come together—literally crossing oceans—to celebrate our differences. We have learned that, no matter what your native country or research interests are, there is magic to be made in greeting friends from afar with an open mind and open heart.