This article is part of Global Geneva’s Youth Writes Focus on Internships, a series of articles and other access options designed to help young people find internships and volunteerships.
“It changed my life,” says Frenchman Jerôme Le Carrou, referring to a four-month internship that he had undertaken in 2005 with an English-language magazine in Shanghai, China. At 24, he had just completed a Bachelors degree in France and then planned to do a Masters in Journalism and Communications. But he first wanted to take a gap year in order to gain some business experience in the Far East. So he headed out to Shanghai, where already a lot of young Europeans were going in search of adventure and new opportunities.
The experience changed his life. “There were so many layers that I simply would not have found doing the same thing in France.” Without doubt, he added, he would have obtained certain technical writing skills and business sense with an internship in France. “But there is no way I would have benefitted from actually being in China, where things are so different and being witness to such a fast-growing Asian economy.”
Interning abroad: an invaluable first experience
Today, Le Carrou runs Nexstep, a Hong Kong-based company which he founded over a decade ago, and which specifically seeks to help young people find internships, but also other opportunities such as leadership programmes or business startup ‘bootcamps’. It even provides options for older candidates, some of them now in their sixties.
It was Le Carrou’s invaluable first experience which enabled him to step out of his comfort zone and work in a foreign country so utterly different from what he had known before. “It took a huge effort to adapt and be part of that,” he recalls. But in the end it offered an exceptional extracurricular activity to put on one’s CV, which is what a lot of young people are seeking, whether as internships or paid jobs. They need something to show in order to ‘break in.” Furthermore, being in China and working in an office with Chinese colleagues proved to be a “powerfully holistic experience,” he notes. It would not have been the same had he remained in France.
On finishing his internship, Le Carrou realized that this was something that other young people could also experience. He extended his stay in Shanghai and established Nexstep. But he wanted to make it something far more organized and targeted than his own internship experience, particularly given that everyone has different needs, schedules, funding resources and availability. Many, too, do not have the contacts or know-with-all to get started. They thus risk wasting an enormous amount of time – and money – trying to contact companies, aid organizations and other potential enterprises. And then come visas, housing and travel.
For Le Carrou, his new initiative should offer an array of different transformative personal and professional options. These should include traditional internships but also workshops, short-term courses, study abroad possibilities and in-the-field volunteerships. Furthermore, it realistically needs to take into account a fast-changing global employment landscape so that young people come away with experiences, including developing their leadership capabilities, that will benefit their future career options.
Young people need self-education experiences to improve their work skills – and CVs
According to the Deloitte 2019 Millennial Survey based on 13,416 individuals across 42 countries and territories, plus another 3,009 Gen Z’s from 10 different countries, both generation groups, which represent today’s largest generational workforces, place a high value on obtaining on-the-ground work experiences. Seeing the world is also at the top of their list of aspirations.
When it comes to professional abilities, however, only one in five said they believed that they commanded the necessary skills and knowledge for working in a world now being shaped by Industry 4.0. Seventy per cent said that they only had some of the skills required and felt that they needed to evolve if not expand their capabilities in order to increase their ‘market’ value.
While businesses, employers and educational institutions must assume much of the responsibility to prepare new workers, the respondents thought, they also agreed that self-education and ongoing professional development are equally critical. Without assuming your own initiatives, you cannot progress.
As himself a Millennial, there is little doubt that Le Carrou understands the needs of his own generation, which are not that dissimilar to those of the Gen Zs. But as he points out, his company is not just an educational agency. He believes that he is offering far more than that, notably a multitude of different – and above all – tailored options.
Nexstep, which has worked with over 480 partners and institutions ranging from international companies and start-ups to high schools and universities, operates out of China, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, India and elsewhere. “We don’t run mass programmes” Le Carrou maintains. “We are constantly innovating. We offer quality connections and networking. Everything we do is tailored to our clients’ needs.” This means being aware of current political and economic situations, plus reducational trends and requirements, whether in Southeast Asia, Europe or the United States. As a result, he explains, they seek to carefully design programmes that are “focused on tomorrow.”
“We strive to help young adults discover more about the world’s diversity,” he says. So if a young American or European wishes to find a business internship in Bangkok or Singapore, or work with an aid agency, the objective is to combine environment with innovative content. The same goes for young Thais, Chinese or Malaysians who wish to have a similar experience but in Europe or the United States. “In this way, we can produce something that is very special,” he adds, further noting that post-internship evaluations produce extremely high satisfaction levels, while business or organizations partners return annually.
Experience and confidence provisions
How does it work? Nexstep, which now has over 2,000 alumni – many of them actively engaged in ongoing networking – operates on-the-ground support teams throughout the region, and offers both “business-to-business” and “business-to-customer” services in order to prepare younger generations for “the next step of their lives,” Le Carrou explains. This includes finding potential interns summer or vacation opportunities with different companies and organizations ranging from banks and tech startups to architectural firms, but also organizing learning expeditions and training workshops. Depending on the candidate’s needs, these can range from several weeks to three or four months. Nexstep also deals with visas, housing and even airport pickup.
Fees depend on both location and duration and whether this includes living and other costs, so candidates will need to work out a realistic budget. There’s a $400 initial deposit (of which $300 can be refundable if nothing appropriate is found) and programme fees start at $1950. But as one former intern noted, such support offers almost immediate insertion into one’s new environment with local networking, such as bar or café meets, involving both interns and advisors. “So there is always someone you can go to if there is a problem and it’s good hearing other people’s experiences.”
Tracey, for example, a 19-year-old student from Texas who joined Nexstep’s Bangkok Future Leader Internship Program, said that while exploring the other side of the world, she also had discovered herself. “It was such an amazing experience…My time in Thailand helped me recapture a sense of adventure that being stuck in Austin shut me out of. I learned a lot about a culture that I had never expected to know…It made me realize how much in the world is going on and I don’t even realize it.”
Another participant was Michael, a 29 year-old graduate student, who joined the Hong Kong Future Leader Internship Program. Before that, he explained, he had no experience of finding what he described as such an “essential turning point” of his life. “I was frustrated and didn’t know what to do,” he said. But the experience widely opened the “doors of opportunity.” Cam Tien, 25, from Sydney, Australia, who took part in the Singapore Future Leader Internship Program, said that she had gained “massive amounts of knowledge and skills” from the businesses she encountered. Today, she notes, the experience has provided her with the basis for her professional development, which includes travelling and gaining a bigger world view.
Finally, the whole point of the programme, is not just to provide business opportunities and professional awareness, but rather an integrated cultural experience. As observes regional director Aaron J. Clark, an American with military background who also benefitted from a significant, life-changing internship experience, the success of such an initiative needs to be positively grounded in the way it promotes diversity as well as understanding of different cultures.
“The best way towards peace is through experiences outside your home culture and comfort zones,” he says.
Ben Wiboonsin is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.