Interning in Beijing: Tristan Knotts Blog Series


Tristan Knotts graduated from university in Texas and joined Gotoco in China in January 2020.  After joining a programme in Nanjing, he was training for a second camp internship in Shenzhen when COVID-19 brought China to a standstill and his camp was cancelled. Tristan had been due to intern in Beijing with Gotoco after the camp until May 2020 and, after extremely careful deliberation, decided to stick to his original plan and head to Beijing, while his fellow Gotoco’ers were supported to fly home or continue travels around Asia. 


In this blog series, Tristan explores why he came to China in the first place, what life has been like as a newbie in Beijing during the global pandemic, and answers questions that many Gotoco’ers have as they prepare to come to China from his own personal experience and perspective. 


N.b. all the views in this blog series are from Tristan’s personal experience and should be very helpful for anyone looking to move to China or join a Gotoco programme. The blogs do not, however, try to give authoritative answers on the questions raised from every perspective and Gotoco encourages you to read a range of our blog posts from different Gotoco’ers and our FAQs and pre-departure information to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for your trip to China with us!



Why did I choose a TEFL adventure in China over a corporate internship at home?


This is the first in a four part series journalling Tristan’s experience on a Gotoco internship in Beijing through all of the craziness around the global pandemic. The remaining three blogs will be posted throughout July.


The Xuanwumen Gate in Nanjing on a wintry evening.

Why China?


I first became interested in China about two years ago while I was attending university in Dallas, Texas. I decided that I wanted to invest my time in learning about China with the intention of someday traveling here. My interest in China was, perhaps oddly, brought about by my background in computer science. As an undergraduate, I was intrigued by some of the behemoth Chinese tech companies such as ByteDance, Tencent, and Alibaba that were responsible for producing well-known products like Tik-Tok and PUBG Mobile (owned by Tencent Games), and WeChat, along with many uber-popular applications across China. My interest was compounded further after I decided to enrol in a Chinese language course, that not only introduced me to an incredibly interesting language but opened my eyes to one of the most distinctive cultures in the world.  


I eventually came to the decision that I needed to go to China at some point, and not just for a short vacation. I wanted to experience living in China firsthand and embrace the culture and language that I had quickly become fascinated with—something that it would be hard to do without an extended period living there on a programme that gave me meaningful connections with locals and an introduction to the local way of life. I presumed it would be easier to travel to China now, as a recent graduate with limited responsibilities, rather than waiting a few years, so I set out to figure out how I could make this goal become a reality. 

Tristan with fellow Gotoco’ers on camp training in Shenzhen, South China.

Why a Gotoco Internship in China vs Internship or Work Opportunities at home?


Making the justification to come to China versus taking an additional internship or some other form of work at home was initially a bit of a challenge for me.


Upon graduating in December 2019 I’d received a full-time job offer that wouldn’t start until Summer 2020 (pre-COVID…), giving me about 6 months with no commitments. I wanted to have an adventure that would get me out of my comfort zone, and also prove valuable to me both personally and professionally, but with less emphasis on corporate work. To convince myself and my family that it was better for me to go to China than do another internship at home, I sought to determine why I wanted to come to China and what I would get out of the experience. 


It essentially came down to four reasons that quickly turned into five after I arrived here!


1.New Experiences and Friends


I love opening myself up to new experiences and exploring the world. I love meeting new people and the sense of adventure that comes with trying something new. Just last week, I was at the market and clearly had no idea how to order meat from the butcher, and a local Beijinger saw me struggling and walked over to help me out. Ten minutes later, we found ourselves chatting while enjoying a beer together, and making plans for a future BBQ. Moments like these have happened far more often while I’ve been living abroad than they do at home, and it’s these unexpected moments that I find the most enjoyable.


2. Mandarin and Cultural Understanding


Learning Mandarin is perhaps one of the most pragmatic choices you can make—the language opens up conversations and interactions with a huge number of people around the world, not to mention professional opportunities and diverse perspectives. For me, the Chinese technology industry is highly developed and fast-evolving, and having the ability to communicate with industry professionals opens up the potential for much better relationships and opportunities. There are then also the remaining ~1 billion Mandarin speakers that you can connect with personally, away from work. I also find it exciting to think about the fact that speaking Mandarin in combination with English gives you the ability to speak with huge swathes of the global population. Gotoco offered me Mandarin classes on the camps and formal lessons in Beijing during my internship, making joining them an incredibly attractive proposition. 


3. Professional Opportunities


This was an integral reason for me ever getting interested in China. I knew being able to work between the English-speaking and Chinese-speaking business worlds would put me in a unique position and open up numerous opportunities. It has also been great having the opportunity to work with Gotoco as I’ve met plenty of excellent friends and colleagues through their network while here in China. While not explicitly tech-related, I was excited by the TEFL internships in Nanjing and Shenzhen as they’d help me develop interpersonal and communication skills that are vital in any career and push me out of my comfort zone in a fun environment. The internship in Beijing would be focused on developing Gotoco’s smart matching algorithm for finding the best camp and internship for applicants, something that would give me a lot of freedom to develop my technical skills in a supportive but self-driven climate.


4. Reframing my Perspective


Although I had traveled quite a bit previously, I had never spent more than a few weeks in a country that was vastly different from the US. Going into a career in technology consulting I knew I wanted to view problems from a perspective that would allow me to maximize creativity and cultural awareness. While it’s quite an intangible aspect of traveling, I believe creativity is brought about by approaching problems from a multiplicity of perspectives that can be obtained from spending time abroad. Gotoco’s programmes offered me a chance to be immersed in the local community and to need to integrate myself into a culture and environment that is very different to my own for an extended period of time—something you just can’t get from traveling as a tourist or from work experience at home (even in international workplaces). 


5. Breaking Down Misconceptions 


This is a benefit that I only truly appreciated after spending time here in China. Prior to arriving, I admittedly thought Chinese cities would be bland, dirty, and unappealing. This was solely based on the impression you are given back home in the US and I’m so glad I’ve traveled here myself to see China with my own eyes. In many cities, especially Tier-1 cities, I’ve found this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of the cities are filled with beautiful historical sites, modern architecture and I’ve actually found cities like Beijing to be much cleaner, and certainly safer, than many places I’ve visited in the US. My time immersed in another culture and new perspectives has also allowed me to view the US and my lifestyle there more objectively, and I find myself questioning the logic behind US actions around the world far more frequently than I used to—something that I feel is very healthy and important as I make my way in the world after university. I now view both countries slightly more objectively, and I believe this has tremendous value in breaking down unconscious biases and cultural misconceptions. 


Tristan on a cycle trip with friends in Yongning village, near the Great Wall in rural Beijing.

Would I advise others to follow my route to China? 


The best advice I would give to anyone who is considering traveling to China, or anywhere for that matter, would be to consider why you want to go and what you hope to get out of the experience. I’ve found that clearly identifying my goals has allowed me to have a sense of clarity and get the most out of my experience here. My adventure to China will probably be one of my most memorable, I’ve embraced a new culture, made friends that will last a lifetime, and altogether have enjoyed getting the most out of every single day here in China—so much so that when my job start date was delayed to January 2021 due to COVID-19, I didn’t hesitate to extend my stay and apply for a Mandarin language course at a university in Beijing!


Tristan in front of the CCTV Tower in Beijing, named the ‘Big Pants’ by locals for its likeness to a pair of trousers.