Hi! My name is Bo Peng. I am an economics major at Vassar College. Over the past summer, I was very fortunate enough to intern at italki, and to experience life in Shanghai. Working at italki was definitely been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. italki provided me an exciting start-up experience in the land of China.
Italki’s compact size is what made my experience so profitable. italki team consists of only about 20 people, which makes for a highly cooperative working environment. The company is small, yet consistently growing. It was certainly to my surprise that such a small team manages the largest online language learning community in the world. The small size allowed me to become intimately involved in all aspects of the company: for example, I participated in all service, marketing and company-wide meetings. Though I mainly focused on marketing and service, I was also able to observe the progress of the whole company and develop a solid understanding of the startup’s structure and operation.
The environment also creates a close-knit community. I shared a long wooden table with seven full-time staff on the marketing and service team. My supervisor, Jim, sat right across from me. This shared office setting really encouraged me, as an intern, to communicate with all team members very frequently, and to ask questions and learn from everyone.
The learning curve is steep as an intern. Due to the constant growth, the working environment at italki is rather fast-paced and tasks are constantly changing. After a few weeks, I acquired a lot of new skills – learning to use our backend systems, different working apps, and some HTML coding for blog management. My supervisor assigned to me many important tasks and trained me as a full-time worker. For example, one of my main responsibilities was to manage and improve the Evangelist Program. I first identified top italki users (evangelist customers) through surveys, and then got in touch with them to encourage them to write a testimonial story for our site. Additionally, being able to engage firsthand with evangelist customers on the site provided me valuable insights into ensuring successful user experience. Through partaking multiple existing projects everyday, I was able to develop my independent marketing outreach project from researching potential partners to contacting and having Skype interviews with them. At the end of my internship, I even had the chance to collaborate with the other intern, Ilar, and present a comparative marketing experiment to the CEO and the whole team.
Italki is a truly diverse working environment. About half of the company’s employees are Chinese natives, while the other half are people with various backgrounds. As an avid backpacker, I truly enjoyed the diversity that italki offers. On marketing and service team side, we covered many major foreign languages, namely Russian, Italian, French, Korean and Chinese. Cultural differences were popular lunch topics. Often our discussion provided me a very western perspective on Chinese culture. Besides, everyone here is bilingual (or learning another foreign language). I also took advantage of italki lessons to improve my Spanish.
Lastly, as a China-based international company, italki’s global business has faced many challenges, both culturally and politically. To me, it is very interesting to perceive both the commercial and cultural barriers between China and the Western world through italki’s global business. Many of the challenges – for example China’s blocking of Google – reflect the same difficulties a local Chinese company will likely experience while operating aboard. At the same time, italki’s hybrid structure of Chinese and Westerners suggests many new opportunities of collaboration between the east and the west. What I have learned and seen at italki is constantly on my mind and carries over into my work at Vassar. I will always be grateful for my summer in Shanghai.
Bo Peng interned at italki in the summer of 2014