By: Libby Hobbs
To today’s generation of young adults, an internship is a gateway from present reality to future aspirations. Many students find internships to be an essential part of their collegiate journey because they allow them to gain experience in their desired field of work.
However, young people in the AAPI community voice additional struggles to get the already competitive positions. Third-year Chinese student at the University of Georgia, Tracy Chen, and recently graduated Taiwanese UGA student, Jonathan Sheng, both faced different struggles with entering the American workforce.
Connecting with recruiters
As a third year accounting major, Chen competes for rigorous internships from the top accounting firms. She knew these recruiters would want to talk about more than just inside the classroom activities. However, after speaking more in depth on her personal passions and interests, she felt misunderstood.
“It's hard connecting with the recruiters because we don't share similar cultures. Everything I tried to say to them, they just don't really understand. Our topics don't match. They like talking about sports or family outings and Easter. I don't celebrate either of those and I don't watch sports so it's kind of hard to connect,” Chen said.
Chen felt like she had less of a chance compared to the other students who could relate to their recruiters. Even though there were some initiative projects for minorities, Chen said sometimes Asians are no longer considered one of those minorities.
“Recently, Asians are no longer considered one of those minorities … So I feel like I'm receiving all of the negative things of being a minority and not really getting any of the benefits either,” Chen said.
Not having prior experience
Instead of beginning the search for jobs, Sheng will return to UGA in the fall to pursue a masters in accountancy. However, he does recall the stressful search for internships in the middle of the pandemic. As a first generation Asian, Sheng did not have parents to guide him through the process.
“It can be difficult, especially without having prior experience or parents who have gone through that same process when they were in college. It's more of a ‘figure out the process yourself but [have] that end goal that you want to be as independent as soon as possible’ kind of mentality,” Sheng said.
The intense pressure to succeed as means of survival is commonly felt among first generation immigrants and the Asian community in general. Needing to provide extends to present family and self but also beyond to the future generations as well.
“It's also hard being an immigrant because you have that familial pressure on you to succeed. Because, if you fail, you don't really have a lifeline,” Sheng said.
Sheng told the story of his parents’ immigration and how they took the “family business restaurant route.” Because many first generation Asians also have parents constantly working at the family restaurant, Sheng likely wasn’t alone in struggling how to navigate the internship search.
“As an Asian American first generation, it is very hard to kind of get thrown into the process of things with only the light at the end of the tunnel that you're heading for but you're not entirely sure the right way to get there,” Sheng said.
Company perspective and solutions
Nikita Trivedi is the Vice President of Community Relations at the National Association of Asian American Professionals. She provides a company perspective and said the heightened sense of awareness among employers is becoming a business imperative.
“From a company perspective, as much as I want to say it's the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative, right?” Trivedi said. “I think it's a business imperative for companies to have checks and balances and resources in place to get their employees ready to understand the landscape and to work on the behavioral attributes.”
While Trivedi sees employers and managers being more intentional about curating an inclusive workplace environment, she thinks there is still more to be learned.
“I think the solution is rooted in education … Asians have the highest disparity of outcomes,” Trivedi said. “While immigrants from India, China, [and] other places tend to do well, the outcomes are not [the] same for our counterparts coming from Bhutan, from Sri Lanka, from other countries. And that is real,” Trivedi said.
Sheng likes the idea of “no picture, no face, pure resume” preliminary evaluations to limit some of the base discrimination. This means recruiters would only look at the resume list of experience and other valuable achievements without seeing a picture that reveals race.
Chen would like to see more people talking about the struggles Asians might face and pushing companies to do inclusive initiatives. Sheng would also like to see public services dedicated to teaching youth how to do the things their prior generations of family haven’t done before.
Among all the different ideas Sheng, Trivedi, and Chen have to help make it easier for Asians to find jobs and other valued positions, it comes down to intentionally reaching out and actively listening. When trying to create credible relationships and community, Trivedi recalls something her friend says: call people in, instead of calling them out.