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China trip an immersion in business, culture for student

Friday, December 8, 2006

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When Spears School of Business student Salena Askew began in fall 2005 to explore opportunities to study abroad, she was seeking preparation for employment in the global marketplace as well as the challenge of immersion in a foreign country. She found both in China last summer, spending 10 weeks interning as a marketing assistant for a British beverage company and experiencing the daily life of a Shanghai commuter.

At the same time, as OSU strives to make study abroad a part of the educational experience for more of its students, “trailblazer” may come to describe Askew in other ways.

“I challenge myself all the time, and I wanted to see what it would be like to go to a whole other country that was totally different from what I was used to,” Askew said. “I would encourage anyone to try that, but especially African-American students that historically have not taken advantage of study abroad opportunities.”

“Some people may not want to go as far as Asia, but study abroad is such a great experience,” said Askew, a student in the master’s of business administration program. “I learned a lot about Chinese culture, people and myself. I’d really like to impress upon people that it’s an experience you could never imagine.”

Askew went overseas through Abroad China, a program that provides housing as well as employment placement. The program allowed her to complete a term of study abroad and an internship simultaneously.

“I was taking a class called Global Competitive Environments, and my professor, Dr. Kevin Voss, talked a lot about trade with other countries,” Askew said. “That piqued my interest in Japan, but my adviser suggested I look at China.”

“I Googled ‘internships in China’ and found the Abroad China program,” she said. “I visited with OSU’s Study Abroad office, and they had just recently met representatives from Abroad China at a conference so they could verify its legitimacy.”

Askew added, “I don’t think many people are aware of all the resources for China the Study Abroad office has, and many are opportunities to teach English as a second language, but Abroad China offered an opportunity for both a professional and a learning experience.”

Askew was employed by Scottish & Newcastle Asia, a beverage maker that is trying to break into the Chinese marketplace. She assisted the company’s marketing manager in creating and tracking promotional activities and campaigns.  

“It’s a British beer company that holds an interest in Shanghai’s Chong qing Brewery, and they’re trying to introduce their products to the Chinese marketplace,” Askew said. “I coordinated promotional activities, including working with curators of a graffiti art warehouse to provide hard apple cider for events.

“Graffiti is emerging as an art form in China so we also looked at advertising related to that, and I also had to check on our promotional activities, like giving away scratch-offs with products,” she said.

Askew worked Tuesday through Thursday and spent Mondays and Fridays studying the semantics of the Chinese language. A job assignment and the course combined to accelerate her understanding of the language.

“For market research, I had to travel the city visiting 40 to 50 bars and restaurants and talking to vendors about how our products were selling compared to other imports,” Askew said. “It was an ordeal trying to navigate the city without knowing the language, and initially, people in the office would write down directions in Chinese for me to give cab drivers.

“Taking classes and going around the city helped me learn what people with the Abroad China program called ‘survival Chinese,’ and I had the ability to give directions, negotiate prices in the marketplace, ask
for receipts and those kinds of things,” Askew said.

While working for Scottish & Newcastle, Askew earned approximately $14 a day, an amount she learned is more than factory wages in China but insufficient to cover the cost of the program and her time away. She spent more than six months raising funds for the sojourn, receiving contributions from the OSU Alumni Association, OSU’s Black Alumni Association, the Spears School of Business, President and Mrs. Schmidly, professors, friends, family, the Antioch United Church of Christ in her hometown of Suffolk, Va., and others.  

“I have to thank a lot of people for enabling me to go,” Askew said. “Without them, it just would not have been possible.”

Askew, who has degrees in psychology, hopes to go to work in international business negotiations. Her stay in China was an introduction to the growing competitiveness of global business and confirmation of hypotheses of books such as Thomas L. Friedman’s “The World Is Flat.”

“Globalization is here, there’s no other way to describe it. I didn’t expect the prevalence of American brands like McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hutt and Starbucks,” Askew said. “At one point my mission was to take a picture in front of every Starbucks in Shanghai, but with so many there was no way I could do it.”
At the same time, aspects of distant cultures are impossible to appreciate without experiencing them, she says.
“People don’t just go into fast food restaurants, eat and leave,” Askew said. “They stay and socialize for hours. In McDonald’s you’ll see kids everywhere doing homework, or you might see a whole section of elderly women doing arts and crafts.”
“And with 20 million people in Shanghai, everything seems to be a race. . . from getting in lines for goods to getting to work on time,” Askew said. “The trains are so packed during commutes they have people working in the stations who push people, their arms and legs into cars so the doors can close.”
And frequent interactions with residents dispelled Askew’s notion the United States is a place where people around the world aspire to live.
“There aren’t many black people in China so people wanted to touch my skin and braids,” Askew said. “Most I came into contact with thought all black people are African, and when I’d say I’m from America, they’d say, ‘No. No. No. You’re from Africa.’”
“I would say I’m from Virginia, and I learned from talking with them that most only knew about California, New York and Washington, D.C.,” she said. “I went thinking everyone would want to come to America, but that’s not the thinking over there. They want China to grow and become the place to be.”
“They think America is nice and would like to visit, but they want to live in China.”
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