What working in a Chinese shoe store was like

Two Colgate University students share their reflections on their retail internships

We are currently operating a customized program for Colgate University. Students are based in Shanghai for the full semester, and in addition to taking Chinese language classes plus courses taught by the faculty leader, they intern at companies around the city. All students work at Hotwind Shoes, a famous national brand. They reflect on their internships after each shift, a requirement for their internship course, and have graciously shared entries from their first day on the job with us. The entries show the students’ processing of a new and intimidating situation and their progress as they begin to adapt and fit in.

I walk into the store and tell the staff I’m the new intern. An employee whom I will call Bow says, “Ok, so you’re him.” … He shoots the first question, “So are you a huaqiao (overseas Chinese)?” I answer yes. He responds, “I can tell from your accent and how you look. You don’t seem like a neidiren (local).”

…4:30pm. Bow takes me down and tells me what my job is. He hands me a walkie-talkie and tells me that my job is to call inventory when a customer needs a certain style, color, or shoe size. He tells me to do an order for practice. I do, although not as fluently or quickly as the other staff.

Bow then calls over another coworker, whom I will call Buck. They proceed to laugh at my Chinese and ask me how many years I’ve been studying. I say something along the lines of “four years poorly, two months properly.” They begin to test me, and make me read some of the signs around the store. The first sign was simple, but afterwards, they asked me to read something about a sales promotion and I jumbled some of the characters. “Five years, really?” they remarked. “Hey, maybe I should be the one in college! You don’t seem too bright.”…

…Later, Buck and Bow talk about their weeklong travel plans for October. They say they want to go to America. They ask me how long the flight was, and I say traveling took about a day. “That means we lose two days and only have five real days of vacation,” Buck starts complaining. The woman at the cash register playfully teases him. Buck then he asks if I can bring him back to America with me. I jokingly tell him I’d rather not.

– Patrick, Colgate University

My shift was a little overwhelming in the beginning, but got smoother by the end of the four hours. Around 7pm, one of my co-workers took my portable scanner and gave me a packet on how to greet and attend to the costumers. I was relieved it had pictures, because otherwise, it was all in Chinese. My co-worker recited the company’s script with me, and I was happy we had reviewed it in Chinese class that day.

For the remainder of my time, I was to look over the packet and go to any co-worker with questions. I also had to attend to costumers and organize any shoes that looked misplaced. All of my co-workers kept an eye on me throughout my shift, which was both appreciated and uncomfortable. I was being watched constantly, and was afraid of being reprimanded should I show any signs of fatigue. I had to repeat the store’s greeting every single time a customer entered the store. Once I got the hang of it, I became the first person to greet the customer, and my co-workers’ greetings would follow behind mine.

– Elizabeth, Colgate University