Trainee report: Bioforce Program 2015, Paper mill, Changshu, China

I am a recent Process Engineering graduate from the University of Oulu and I spent the past summer as UPM Bioforce Trainee at UPM Asia R&D Center in China. I decided to apply for the international internship position at UPM in China because of my interest in the fast growing Asian markets, sustainable development and new innovations. I find UPM as an interesting and innovative company as it is a frontrunner of the modern forest industry. The idea of integrating bio and forest industries fascinates me and I was eager to learn more about the concept of Biofore. In addition, I was thinking that the trainee period would be a great chance for me to enhance my previous knowledge of China, Chinese language and Chinese working culture. 

The application process for the UPM Bioforce Trainee Program started by filling and sending an online application with CV, cover letter, transcript of records and other additional documents attached. After a while I received an invitation to a first-round video interview in which I was requested to answer questions about my interests, career plans and preferred internship locations. Later on, a second round face-to-face interview took place at the UPM headquarters in Helsinki where the interviewers wanted to hear more about myself, my studies, motivation and previous working experience.

After receiving the information that I had been appointed as a trainee at UPM Asia R&D Center in Changshu, I was able to start preparing my trip to China. UPM HR in Finland provided me the local Changshu contacts with whom I could discuss about all the practicalities concerning the upcoming summer. With the local admin and HR people I discussed about matters related to my arrival, such as flights, transportation, accommodation, and so on. Together with my boss the General Manager (GM) of Asia Research Center (AsRC) and the Assistant of the GM we fixed all the things related to my work and duties. The arrangements proceeded smoothly and everything seemed to be ready for my trip, until I came up against some difficulties with the visa application process. However, with the support of UPM and Paper Engineers’ Association (PI) we luckily managed to arrange the visa just in time before my flight to Shanghai. Special thanks belong to UPM and PI for being quick off the mark and giving me a great support with the visa issue! 

Compared to Shanghai, where I have lived before, Changshu is a small and more traditional Chinese city, which is located near Shanghai though. UPM manufacturing site is situated in the Changshu Economic & Technological Development Zone right along the Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province, offering a convenient location for shipping and transportation of raw materials and products. My apartment was provided by UPM and it was located in the residential area of the mill site where many of the Chinese colleagues also lived. Even though the apartment was old, it had everything necessary and it was fully furnished. With a big living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two balconies, the apartment was, indeed, absolutely huge for one person. UPM also provided me a bicycle for the summer so it was easy to visit the small Wushi town nearby. Changshu city centre, however, was a bit further and it took about one hour to get there by bus.

UPM mill site is an extensive area that covers UPM Changshu paper mill (with two paper machines and the ongoing construction work of the third one), UPM Raflatac label stock factory, Asia R&D Center and the residential area with a club house, a small supermarket and some basic sports facilities. The mill site also has its own harbour, power plant and effluent treatment plant. No wonder why UPM is the largest single Finnish investment in China! The Asia R&D Center, where I worked, is responsible for research on fiber raw materials and specific market needs for UPM products, as well as technical customer service support in China and Asia-Pacific region. 

As the world’s natural resources are limited, UPM creates and develops new products that could replace non-renewable materials with renewable and recyclable alternatives. My research work at AsRC related to a new innovation and a prospective product on the area Picture 3. My home building at the residential area of UPM in Changshu Picture 2. Visiting UPM Shanghai office with my boss Picture 4. Ready for lab! of lignin based biocomposites. I took part in the new product development process in its early phase. My main task was to search for relevant information and previous studies made on the product area, and I was responsible for writing a literature pre-study report of the concept. I also did lab testing for UPM lignin samples related to the research project, and at the same time learned to operate some specific lab equipment, such as Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscope (FTIR), Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and Thermal Gravimetric Analyzer (TGA), just to name a few. Later on, I also took part in the first testings of the product samples at AsRC analytical lab.

Relating to the ongoing project, I spent one week in Gaochun and Nanjing where I worked with Chinese and international engineering students from Nanjing Hohai University. In addition to my daily work at AsRC, I organized English corner activity once a week to the Chinese colleagues. During the summer I also got an opportunity to visit UPM China headquarters in Shanghai and meet people working there. Furthermore, I visited FinChi – FinlandChina Innovation Center in Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, where I have done an internship previously. It was jolly nice to see some familiar faces again. 

In my free time I attended a Chinese dancing group, played some games with friends and enjoyed the local food at a restaurant or cooked by the Chinese colleagues and friends. During weekends I took a bus to Changshu city centre that offers opportunities for eating out, going to the movies, climbing up the Yushan Mountain, and hanging out at the Yushan Park, or just doing some shopping. I also spent quite many weekends travelling around the nearby cities, such as Suzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Taicang. Even though I have lived and travelled in China before, I was overwhelmed by the warm hospitality the people extended to me. The local people in Changshu were kind and always willing to help me despite the small language barrier we had sometimes. They really gave me an impression of positive and joyful attitude towards life. 

I must say, I really had a pleasant stay in Changshu. Absolutely one of the most memorable events was the AsRC family day in August. On that day the families of the employees gathered together to spend the Saturday in the UPM club house. The day was full of fun, activities, games and performances, not forgetting the delicious food. I even had the privilege to act as a host and organize some sports activities for the children. 

All in all, the UPM Bioforce Trainee Program provided me an excellent learning experience, and I would really like to thank UPM and PI for enabling me this great opportunity. After the summer, I can admit for sure that there are plenty of new opportunities in the forest. I couldn’t be happier that I got to be a part of the global company creating new, sustainable innovations and putting Biofore into action. 

Working at the UPM Asia R&D Center taught me a lot about UPM products (and especially the products in the biocomposites area), product development, research and project work, as well as working in an international environment and different working culture. I couldn’t have chosen a better place for learning to know UPM than in China and in the middle of the emerging Asian markets. I am really looking forward to see what the sustainable and innovation driven future holds and I hope to see more biocomposites replacing non-renewable materials in our daily products. Moreover, the internship not only afforded me a lot of valuable skills for working life but it also offered me a bunch of new friends and a great deal of unforgettable memories. I am grateful that I got the chance to spend my summer in China and I would like to express special gratitude for all those being part of it. I truly hope that our paths will cross somewhere in the future.  

Zaijian! 再见 !

2015

Tiia Muhonen / University of Oulu