Written by Sage Corps 2017 alumna, Alexis Drees.
The smell of fresh pineapple buns wafted through the air as I entered a long queue outside of the bakery. After acquiring my beloved breakfast treat, I weaved through a sea of umbrella traffic to join hundreds of Hong Kongers on a typical morning commute. 8 stops on the Island Line later, I arrived at the IvySpace office, the location of my internship. After just a couple of weeks, my commute became clockwork and I started to feel at home in the most densely populated city in the world. My summer of a lifetime was only just beginning...
Why Sage Corps?
Six months prior to the start of my internship, I returned from a summer spent studying abroad in China and was determined to return to Asia the following summer. When I heard about the Sage Corps program from a friend, I was ecstatic that programming was available in Hong Kong. Additionally, I was curious to do something different from my peers and work at a startup. At the time, I was a junior at the University of South Florida studying International Business, Finance and Chinese. Sage Corps offered me the perfect opportunity to apply what I was learning in the classroom to the dynamic Chinese business environment. The program also enabled me to learn more about technology, an area that I had always been itching to learn more about.
On the Ground
I interned at IvySpace, an online education platform that connects Chinese students with tutors at top universities in the US and UK for 1-on-1 video conferencing lessons. I participated in company strategy brainstorming sessions and beta tested the IvySpace app prior to official release on the app store. It was extremely rewarding to help make strategic decisions about the application’s user experience/user interface design with the co founders, Founding Partner, and CEO. Additionally, I was given the responsibility to create financial application distribution projections to be integrated into an investor pitch deck. I listened to the cofounders pitch to investors for seed funding, and also was able to practice my Mandarin on our Monday morning video calls with the IvySpace Beijing team. I was definitely not running errands or grabbing coffee; rather, I was creating valuable work that immediately went into production.
Outside of work, I learned more about Hong Kong’s vibrant startup ecosystem during weekly programming events. One of my favorite events was an entrepreneur roundtable hosted in a high-rise coworking space in the city center called Mettā. I asked the participants candid questions to gain perspectives on effective strategies for raising capital as a female founder and the best ways to source early business partners. Attending the weekly professional events enabled me to understand the city’s startup scene at a much more granular level. Additionally, I began to actually envision myself starting a business of my own, something I had never thought about before.
During my time in Hong Kong, I fostered meaningful friendships with my cohort and thoroughly explored the city. I completed world-class hikes, enjoyed a boating trip in the outlying islands, and tried each and every ramen bar I could find (Ichiran is definitely the best, by the way). Hong Kong never sleeps, so there was never a shortage of entertainment. I spent weekends laying on the beach, exploring the bustling Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district, and delving into Michelin-starred dim sum. It was extremely hard to say goodbye to one of the most incredible cities I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit.
Where is she now?
Immediately after returning to school the following August, I began interviewing for full-time roles. Many of my peers had corporate summer internships that translated into full time offers. Although this wasn’t the case for me, I actually stood out from other candidates in my interviews because Sage Corps was so unique. Interviewers were definitely curious to hear about my motivations to work at an international startup, and couldn’t believe the large amount of responsibility that I had as an intern. I shared my insights on the challenges that small businesses face and explained my rich experiences working on agile/scrum team projects. Not long after, I accepted a full time position in consulting as a technology analyst for Oracle Cloud ERP systems, a confluence of my interests in technology and finance. Leveraging my Sage Corps experience was the catalyst to receiving my full-time offer.
Due to my overwhelmingly positive Sage Corps experience, I am very passionate about the future of the program and feel compelled to stay involved as an alumni. Before I started my full time role, I was given the opportunity to lead the 2018 Asia summer program orientations in both Singapore and Hong Kong. Returning to Asia to serve as a mentor to this year’s fellows was an extremely rewarding experience. I shared my “wins” from last summer to inspire the interns to hit the ground running at their respective startups. I also was able to provide advice on how to acclimate to startup culture, network, and leverage the Sage Corps program when they return to their campuses. Additionally, I provided Asia-specific tips to help the interns have a more seamless transition to the local culture. I look forward to hearing about all of the amazing things that this year’s fellows achieve at their startups and back at school!
Overall, Sage Corps ignited in me an entrepreneurial spirit and provided me with the best summer of my life. If you’re looking to add tangible value to a new and exciting company, cultivate meaningful friendships, and have an incredibly fun summer, Sage Corps is definitely right for you!
Interning abroad provides invaluable experience that employers love to see. Join the less than 1% of college students gaining international work experience today.