SHANGHAI : Foreign students are heading to China in search of work, and many are willing to pay for the experience.
They use their own money for airfare and living expenses, and take up internships that do not pay them a salary.
Their aim is to get a flavour of the China experience that is becoming increasingly valuable to Western companies.
Jeff Brewer is just starting his two-month internship with a Chinese investment company.
The 22-year-old American, who studies finance at the University of Arizona, paid for his own air ticket to China.
He will have to fork out another US$3,000 for accommodation and living expenses in Shanghai.
He said: "A lot of people asked me that before, you the have chance to make thousands of dollars working for a finance firm in the States, why would you pay to go to China? It was an investment for my future. I really feel that China is the future for me."
Daniel Nivern, director at CRCC Asia, said: "We found that a lot of Western companies, when they see an employee who spent time in Beijing or Shanghai, and also worked in a company and has built up some relationship or #guanxi#, a Western company is very excited to hear this, and it is more likely to recruit that person."
However, it is not easy for Western students to get internships at the right Chinese companies.
Consultancy firms come in to act as middlemen - to match students with jobs.
One consultancy firm received 3,000 applications this year, twice as many as last year.
Steve (Hun) Lee, a Canadian student, said: "Living here is very different from living in North America. There (are)...different rules and regulations you have to follow, different cultural...guidelines that you have to meet. "
Chinese companies see it as a win-win deal. They get free labour, plus exposure to different cultures.
Yang Xu, general manager of Equity at Shanghai ZTHJ Investment Company, said: "Foreign interns not only bring along their different working styles here but also their own culture. It is a great way for us to be more international."
There are currently about 200 to 300 Chinese companies working together with the consultancy firm to provide internship opportunities for foreign students. They are mostly in the finance, law and marketing industries.
These Chinese companies do not have to pay the interns but are required to provide them with real responsibilities; that means not just the making of coffee and tea, but work such as doing market analysis, meeting clients and making presentations.