Four months ago, I journeyed out to Shanghai for an internship that i was originally skeptical about. The description was somewhat ambiguous since sales enablement was an industry completely new to me. Also, the position was thousands of miles away from home and I knew absolutely no one in Shanghai. Then again, what was there to lose? I just finished my first year of grad school, summer was around the corner, and China was about to surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economy!
I sent an email over to BizSphere, and a few days later, I found myself on the phone with two really passionate employees, Matthias Roebel (CIO) and Marc Seefelder (creative director) out in Shanghai. They spent a few hours explaining to me what the company did and what they were expecting from me as an interaction designer intern. After our conversation, the passion that they demonstrated along with the opportunity to work in another country transformed my initial skepticism into certainty.
A month and a half later, I was on a plane to China!
Initially, I was sort of worried about my living accomodations in Shanghai. BizSphere had originally offered me a week’s stay at a nearby hotel while Kaye, their super awesome admin, helped me find an apartment. Fortunately, my uncle’s wife’s parents lived out in the suburbs of Shanghai in Huangxing Park 黃興公園, which turned out to be quite interesting since it provided some perspective on how life differed from the outskirts of the big city to the more busier downtown areas. Two months later, I moved to the Jing’an 靜安寺 district and then a month after that, ended up in Luwan 盧灣 district, which was right at BizSphere’s doorstep.
Although my commute was a bit longer, 45-minute train ride from Huangxing Park 黃興公園 vs the 15-minute walk from the hotel, I had the opportunity to learn the Metro system that weaved throughout the city. As an NYC subway commuter, Shanghai’s subway system surpassed all of my expectations of what a subway system should be. Here are some of the perks of riding the Metro in Shanghai:
The only gripe that I had with the Metro was that some of the riders were rude and pushy. During rush hour, the trains would get really packed and people would just shove their way through the crowd. Towards the end of my stay, I started to take the cab much more often since it was super cheap. To give you an idea of what a cab ride costs in terms of Shanghai cab prices, a ride from Jersey City to New York City would cost about 30RMB (~$4). Yep, pretty friggin’ sweet! Now I’m faced with the challenge of breaking my cab-hailing habit back in NYC.
BizSphere is located in Park2Space, a complex situated on the corner of Mengzi Lu 蒙自路 and Liyuan Lu 丽园路 in the Luwan district. The 4-story complex is quite impressive. With exposed corridors linking one office to the other along with open courtyards, it wasn’t a surprise to find that Park2Space was consisted mostly of creative agencies. To top it off, there’s a Starbucks at one of the entrances to the complex. Win!
As for the internship itself, Marc and Matthias were spot on with what was involved; lots of sketching, prototyping, storyboarding, interface designing, and of course, tight deadlines. I spent most of the time designing and creating various components and testing it with some of the people in the office. As mentioned, deadlines were pretty tight since BizSphere went with agile development. New components were being churned out each week along with iterations to existing ones.
One of the perks of working with Marc was that he looked towards us as equals. When the word ‘intern’ comes to mind, one tends to think of a person being bossed around by their superiors doing menial word, but with Marc, it was completely different. We worked in a highly collaborative environment, each with our own ideas, but open to new ones.
Another perk was that the BizSphere office space was occupied by a couple of other small design firms; Reign Design, Lantern Design, and Koofeel. This setup opened up conversation for design and development. At times, we would work with Reign Design side-by-side on some of the product development, which made it a lot more easy in understanding the capabilities of designing for BizSphere’s web application.
During my first month in Shanghai, I spent most of my weekends meandering around the streets taking in the new environment. There was a lot to see, especially with the Expo happening at the time. If you are a foodie, there are lots of places to try in Shanghai and prices there don’t prevent you from doing so. Some places to check out are Din Tai Fung (famous for soup dumplings), local baozi shops by the office (10RMB gets you 4 baozis, enough for a fulfilling lunch!), Munchies (Canadian operated burger joint), Jade Palace (awesome Shanghainese food), and a ton of other places that you can find on Sherpa, China’s version of Seamless. There’s also a ton of McDonald’s and KFCs if you are feeling nostalgic. 🙂 I also discovered, with the help of Marc, a Carl’s Jr. burger joint at People’s Square in Raffle City!
I’m sure most of you are wondering how the nightlife is in Shanghai and yes, you guessed right, it’s friggin’ amazing! Shanghai has a ton of options for clubbing, karaoke, and lounging. Stefan Broda, one of BizSphere’s project managers and sales, gave me the tour of the Shanghai nightlife a few weeks into my stay and I fell in love. Drinks were super cheap, tons of different clubs to go to, good music, and the people there were wonderful. Most of the ‘higher end’ clubs like M1nt were occupied mostly by expats. So again, if you are feeling nostalgic, there are places you can go to fulfill your homesickness. 🙂
Ever since I got back to NYC, I’ve had a really strong urge to go back to Shanghai (I’m actually planning a trip back during winter break to visit coworkers and friends). From what I’ve gathered during my four month stay, Shanghai is growing at a fast pace. With a massive population, a growing economy, and unlimited manpower, Shanghai has the perfect conditions for interaction designers to thrive in. I even took advantage of some of these conditions to do some preliminary research for my thesis.
When asked whether or not Shanghai is better than NYC, I always compare NYC to an elderly person, where growth has become stagnant while Shanghai is more like a teenager, still going through it’s stages of adolescence. Things are changing there fast. Super fast. Swoooooosh!