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Media Internship in Beijing

by Felix

From September to November of 2013, after my semester abroad in Beijing, I completed my internship at a media firm. This company was founded as a Chinese media firm in Germany in 2010 and produces a television series that reports on a wide variety of the facets of Chinese culture, and is regularly aired on local networks. The company works in close cooperation with its Chinese parent company. Together these two firms support projects that are intended to promote the cultural and economic exchange between China and Germany.

I completed my internship in the field of translating and dubbing. I held the position of translator, but was also assigned many other tasks as well. The company appeared to be a good choice for me, as the field of German-Chinese and European-Chinese cooperation is a career path with some perspectives that I could picture for my own professional future.

My former college professor in Beijing put me in contact with the company. After a short interview that concerned a few details of my work, and thus wasn't really much of a test, I began right away.

The internship spanned over two months, during which I worked part-time every afternoon parallel to my studies.

I was compensated for my work, which was calculated by the number of translated Chinese characters.

My main assignment was to translate Chinese texts into German. The texts were primarily transcripts from moderators or interviews from documentaries on Chinese places, cultures or customs, and quite often Chinese food - naturally. From time to time texts for internal company communication needed to be translated as well.

The second step was synchronisation. As a dubber I often took my own translations or those from colleagues for airing the documentary in Germany for the television series. With help from the image materials I would then help my Chinese coworkers discover and correct inaccuracies in the translation and dub.

A third task was supporting German colleagues who presented the individual documentaries for airing in Germany. To this end we would drive with a small camera crew to different parts of Beijing (Olympic Park, Houhai, etc.). My job was to give the moderator tips and instructions that were impossible for my Chinese colleagues.

Usually we numbered three or four Germans who produced the translations and who could also revise them. Otherwise there was no other party to monitor the translations and recordings. We translators were all interns and it was our duty to prepare the translations on our own in such a way that they could be used for television.

Unfortunately the office work was marred by poor communication and organisation. Files were often lost in confusing network folders, and there was no established communication (e.g. internal emails). Communication between the different departments was especially poor. The tasks handed down from the superiors to the employees were assigned with very little information, often with a rather tight deadline, causing the quality of the translations to suffer.

We often had to translate and dub without knowing the image material because there was no time. There was no recognisable structure or time and work schedule. In addition, the Chinese employees switched so quickly that we interns soon felt like experienced senior employees. We often had recommendations for improvement for management in our minds, but did not feel very well integrated into the company as there was a lack of communication between the managerial level and employees. This made it difficult to stick one's neck out and make recommendations for improvement as an intern, especially if somebody's Chinese was not very advanced.

However, it must be said that the atmosphere among the employees was usually very comfortable regardless. And communication was much more regular at our level. The lunch breaks, during which we sometimes ate together, contributed to this good atmosphere. Still there lacked the feeling that we were working on a project together because, as mentioned above, there was no recognisable plan and nobody seemed to have a rough idea of the tasks on hand. There were never any official team discussions with set times.

Thankfully we were constantly in contact with the Chinese culture and language during work. And through the translations, of course, but also through the contents of the documentary films. Communication with the Chinese coworkers was also primarily conducted in Chinese.

In all, it can be said that the only thing to be taken from this internship was a large amount of experience in translating Chinese texts. Otherwise, in my own opinion, this work did not at all reflect the work relationships one will find in a competitive company. Perhaps this negative impression is merely based on the production of a television program, as I learned little or nothing at all of the company's other projects. In any case it did not seem important to acquire or retain customers and/or viewers. The show had to be produced, but there was little regard for quality. As untrained translators we would have translated and dubbed everything under the sun and only noticed once we were back in Germany - and sometimes even one day before airing.

There was not one single discussion in which one could seriously participate. Obvious improvements such as more long-term planning, or any sort of planning at all, or knowing the image materials for the documentary to help the translator and dubber were never considered.

The thought that this program was somehow subsidized seems clear, but even then one could expect a certain standard of quality. Regardless of the industry, any company or institution involved in any level of competition or who is subject to service standards will have great problems with such a low degree of organisation. For this reasons it is difficult for me to consider this internship as true professional experience.

Yet perhaps that was also an important experience, as we were motivated to think about how processes can be improved, even when some problems were all too evident.

I feel that the Chinese-speaking environment, and commuting from the university to the internship in Beijing and then to my side job, were both good experiences. Because of these I can picture one day living and working in China for a longer period. After all, this showed me entirely new aspects of the exciting and thrilling city of Beijing than I would have seen otherwise.

Aside from that, this internship will likely not have any influence on my professional perspective and future. I am convinced that working in the media industry is generally far more professional, to the point that this work neither strengthened nor weakened my desire to work in the field. Translating Chinese texts as a side service, though, remains open to me. One could say that this idea came to me while working for this company.

This internship could have been thematically and professionally interesting and educational had I actually been incorporated into projects and if I had received feedback on my work. As this was not the case, naturally the work was essentially easy to master as the individual challenges one had to master were those they set for themselves. The greatest difficulty was matching up to one's own demands in this environment.

I am aware that this report must come off as incredibly negative. This is why I would like to state in closing that I had a lot of fun during this internship and I had a lot of experiences. This internship simply cannot be considered valuable professional experience nor an insight into professional life. Perhaps surprisingly, I would not exactly discourage other students from interning with this company. It was worth the experience, you learn more about yourself, about China and about one's own relationship with the country, and not lastly the work was not even badly paid. However, in the end, I regret having missed the chance to complete a more challenging internship with more perspectives and better experience.