Claire Smith

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 1.05.23 PMI was nervous to start my internship.  I was starting a job at a foreign company all by myself.  When I got there everyone was very close and I felt out of place.  There was also a huge difference in American professionalism verses Australian professionalism.  In my office everyone wore jeans and were good friends.  I acted as an American: fast paced and hard working.  I did not know how to mix professionalism with friendship. I had a lot of trouble breaking out of my comfort zone and getting to know my coworkers on a more personal level.  Australians are more relaxed and want to sit down and have a conversation with you.  I was so used to the fast paced life style of America that I did not fit in.  The work place culture was so different it took a lot of adjusting for me.

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This is the building I worked in in Sydney. It was right down the street from the Sydney Opera House.

I felt a sense of “loss and deprivation of friends, status, profession, and possessions”1.  I was experiencing culture shock.  The person I was at home was washed away and I had no choice but to start from scratch.  I became more aware of my differences when I started getting called out for my “Americanism”.  People wanted to have conversations about American gun laws and politics with me.  People told me they think America is so dangerous that they would never want to travel there.  Because I don’t know much about American politics it was difficult for me to engage in these conversations where I felt attacked.  Australians would come up to me on the street and ask if I were American because of the boots I was wearing.  I felt a master status of being American because I could not escape from the way I dressed, how I spoke, or where I was from.  I started feeling rejected by the locals which influenced my looking-glass self.  I thought they looked at me as a dumb, not-tendy, unfriendly American.

It was hard when I didn’t feel like I fit in because I am Australian.  My dad was born and raised there.  I was expecting to go back to Australia and find a piece of myself.  I wanted to understand my dad’s culture and why he does some of the crazy things he does.  But there I was an Australian citizen not fitting in with Australians.  I had come in search of finding a piece of me that was missing, but instead I was being rejected by my own blood.  I started wondering if I’m not truly American and I’m not Australian, who am I?  I felt pressure from my family to love Australia.  My dad especially wanted me to love it.  I wanted to be able to do this for him, but I felt lost.

My culture shock started to ease when I started to become good friends with my coworkers.  I got into a routine and became more casual at work.  I started making friends and met one of my best friends abroad. I began traveling almost every weekend with friends.

Nicole West

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While I was studying abroad in London I was given the opportunity to intern with the Legal Action Group. LAG was a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting equal access to justice for all members of society who are socially, economically or otherwise disadvantaged. It seeks to improve law and practice, the administration of justice, and legal services. The LAG group considers themselves a charity and because of that the structure and layout of the office wasn’t as luxurious as some offices can be. The office I went to everyday was located above an acting school and shared a floor with another organization. The office layout has an open floor plan – which is how a lot of offices in London are. This was very beneficial for how the office worked as a cohesive unit. The open floor plan allowed for easier communication which in turn made it easier to accomplish the daily tasks. LAG is a very small organization – so small that there was only one person in each department.

When in class one day my professor mentioned that the majority of London offices are set up with an open floor plan; because the dynamics of the typical office tend to be much different then what we typically have in the states. While there is a hierarchy within the office its mainly just titles, meaning that the boss is just as likely to bring you a cup of tea like an intern potentially would. There is a level of equality that an open floor plan allows for and offices in London really take advantage of that.

At LAG the environment was naturally quite. The employees came in to work, sat at their desks, and unless they needed something from a co-worker they put their heads down and worked. When I first envisioned an open floor plan office I imagined an office with a higher volume environment – I couldn’t wrap my head around conducting a business in a loud room. I was clearly wrong. The environment at LAG was a professional one. Others respected the noise level when their co-workers were on the phone, and even when there was no direct need to be quite the members of the office would talk quietly and only when necessary.

I don’t think the office was always split between two organizations however due to the non-profit status of LAG money is constantly an area of concern and inviting the second organization to share the space was one way to cut the cost of running LAG.

Sarah Neuhauser

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My biggest challenge was the work itself. I worked at Elfrida Rathborne and it was a very laid back work environment and I was getting things done fast and efficiently. I was working with college age kids that had mild to severe disabilities. I had never worked with students like that before and I was afraid that I would mess up. I was able to negotiate it by learning from my coworkers. I loved every minute of it.

There were moments I felt like an outsider. They would be talking about something that happened in England’s history or something that was very English and because I didn’t understand I could not join in. However it was a good time to learn about those things and to feel like an outsider. There are some people who spend their entire lives on the outside.

The English drink a lot  of tea. I do not drink a lot of tea. However, if you don’t take a tea break it is the end of the world. So I drank a lot of tea. There were other strange customs, such as long tea breaks in the break room and casual talking while working on something. Everyone was excited to have me there.

I was very fortunate to bond over football while I was at my internship. The students really loved soccer ,or football as they call it, is a very good way for them to get their exercise. We bonded over our favorite teams and playing together after work. We also were able to bond over tea in the break room a lot too.

Connor D’Albora

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My biggest challenge with my abroad internship was that it had a really rough start. My placement was with a wonderful music charity and it was an incredible experience in the end. I am a Music Production and Recording Arts major so I knew this was not completely in my focus I was hoping for in an internship, I also had little experience in the industry so I was just looking for anything to get my hands on for any experience. When I went in for the interview, my boss had her own idea of what an American student would be like and really needed my to know specifically what I wanted to do with the company.

Although I had entered the interview with an open mind, knowing every detail about the company and was enthusiastic to join the team, I was told at the end of my interview that I “was not quite the right fit,” but they would give me a chance. This really put me in an uncomfortable position and tough spot because while everyone else had great interviews and just got to come into an office that really welcomed them, I felt like I was still earning my spot. Even though the internship process started out rough for me, it was an unbelievable experience and I did earn my spot at the internship. I ended the internship having earned the respect of my boss with a lot of hard work. I always showed up early, did more than was asked of me for tasks and finishing the tasks early. In return, my boss set up days for me to go and learn about the technical production for sound events in theatre, concerts and film.

Overall, my challenge was that I was coming into a situation not knowing exactly what I wanted to get out of it and my boss had her own idea of what an American intern would be like. I never really negotiated my problem, I just learned that I had quickly find out what it was I wanted to gain from the experience other than just the generalities of an internship experience as well as how to show my boss that I was ambitious and had initiative. At the end of my experience, my boss and co-workers found me to be helpful, and my boss told me that they would be more than happy to have me back working for them in the future. My biggest advice coming out of that is to give yourself very specific goals going into an internship and to never doubt yourself if the place you are working at has doubts in you. I think if I had let that interview get to me more I would have had a much harder time going in with a smile and overcoming the initial opinion they had of me.

Kelsey O’ Connell

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What was the biggest challenge in your abroad internship? How did you negotiate it?

As an Editorial Intern at shots Magazine in London, I encountered a myriad of challenges. Shots Magazine is the world’s leading authority on creativity in advertising. They produce a magazine, website, and DVD. Their readership is extensive and subscriptions cost around 1,200 pounds per year.

I didn’t anticipate many communication problems because I figured that, as long as everyone spoke English, I’d be fine. However, I learned quickly that I would need to adjust to a new situation and a new audience. These adjustments included:

–       Spelling: As I started to write copy for the magazine and the website, I noticed that the edits I was receiving had a lot to do with my way of spelling certain words. Luckily I had a great rapport with the editors and writers, we would joke about how Brits stick “u”s wherever they want and Americans “put ‘zed’s all over the place.” However, after making a style sheet for myself that had both the American and British spellings of words, my work improved immensely.

–       Puns and phrases: When writing for the website, I learned that each small story had to have a funny or ideally punny headline. After I transitioned from news writing to puns, I learned quickly that the Brits don’t have the same funny phrases as Americans. I found myself explaining American jokes, promising that they were funny. This one we had to deal with on a case-by-case basis, which was fine because it was always fun to see the other writers look up American jokes and start laughing.

–       Technology: Coming from Elon, a rather tech savvy institution, I was so surprised to find that the magazine was running on older versions of software. There wasn’t much attention to updated software even though they were running a highly sophisticated magazine. I had to adjust to their editions of Office and remember that I couldn’t send them .docx files.

–       Accents: Part of my responsibility as the Editorial Intern was to transcribe interviews that editors conducted with directors, producers, and any other featured artists. Even though all the interviews were in English, it became difficult to transcribe the artists with accent. The magazine features advertising all over the world, so on any given day I would encounter an Italian, Spanish, and Scottish accent, all before lunch. To adjust to this, we decided that I would transcribe as much as I could and mark the times when I couldn’t figure out a word. Then the interviewer would go through and put in the missing words.

Working at shots was an invaluable experience and I think that every student should have an internship abroad before graduating. I learned so much and am still in contact with the writers at the magazine. Interning abroad is an amazing addition to your resume, especially if you come back with concrete evidence of your work. Overcoming the challenges of interning is one of the biggest learning opportunities of all.

Maggie Achey

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My Internship

One of the most memorable experiences of my time abroad was my internship at The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. This experience gave me a more comprehensive view of professional writing as I am interned at a union that represents writers on a broad spectrum, including writers involved with books, film, television, radio, theatre, and video games. I think that I grew both academically and emotionally through the negotiation of British culture and the application of my studies in school. I have been waiting to talk about this experience in the blog posts and think it fits well in this blog because not only did I learn through experience, but I also took a class about the internship through while abroad.  The class focused on translating the experiences into meaningful conversation and hard skills for our resumes.

Navigating Workplace Differences

The transition into the British workplace was one of new experiences. I learned a great deal in wok place etiquette and British culture. It was a difficult transition and there were times when I was so confused and unsure of what the appropriate thing was. I was the only American in my office and the workers all understood, but they didn’t offer much leniency in my cultural learning curve. Kelly examines the transition to the international education system, but I argue that my transition in the workplace had similar themes of confusion. As explained in Kelly, “Students face the natural difficulties posed by a new environment causing a period of disorientation, insecurity and incomprehension that may last for weeks, months or even longer.”[2] I came to understand and appreciate the customs, such as making tea for the office and talking about the ridiculous royal family, but it was a constant redefinition of my established norms from previous American internships.

Beginning with my interview, I realized how informal yet productive British work culture is. The interview also featured a tour of the office and I observed that all four employees, though they have different positions of hierarchy, all have an office in the same room. I was given a desk to sit at literally right next to the highest-ranking employee of the office. This surprised and impressed me because of expectation of office in the States where the highest position is on the highest floor. This linear office structure allows for more conversations and constructive feedback. I appreciated the accessibility of the employees and quickly learned to listen to their cross conversations to learn more about the organization.

The Writers' Guild Executive Council 2013, image from website
The Writers’ Guild Executive Council 2013, image from website

Once I started working in the office, I observed the use of what could be considered “explicit” language in the States. Employees used harsher language and coarse words when frustrated or excited.  They even warned me that they swore more than Americans in the office. At first I thought this was inappropriate, but then I realized that this is how they voice emotion. It is a way to let out feelings in a way that differs from the passive aggressive nature of some American workers.  Even though I understand and accept this, I still don’t think I ever got used to it. But the experiences helped me adapt to a new working environment.

Hard Skills and Take Always

My favorite part of the internship involved my work on their weekly email newsletter. Called the E-Bulletin, it is a comprehensive list of workshops, events, and a spotlight on the upcoming work of members. I helped compile and edit the information that goes into the newsletter. I love how I had the opportunity to contribute to a document that circulates to every member.

Interning at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain was an extremely rewarding process of learning and growth. It exposed me to a different side of professional writing, one that is more business and behind the scenes. I am learned some of the rules of the industry while also developing my understanding of trade unions. I am studying professional writing and rhetoric at Elon University, so this internship couples nicely with my studies. It gave me a more comprehensive view of professional writing. Not only will I know how to be a professional writer, but will also know the business side of the work. This will hopefully give me a competitive edge in the job market.

Connection to my Major and Academics

For example, I saw many parallels between my work at the Guild and my studies of Professional Writing and Rhetoric at Elon. I wrote the following blog post relating my studies and academics to the internship. (Notice the British English!!)

“First of all, I have picked up on many important writing tips, but one in particular was highly emphasised at the Guild. This idea is that names must be spelled correctly. It is essential in the world of professional writing that the first and last name of an author is correct. The name of a writer is their brand, as it is the bridge of association built between reader and writer.  In my professional writing classes we discuss the idea of creating an image or a brand for oneself. In class it centred on design choices such as font or colours, but essentially it starts with the name. This acquisition of ethos can be achieved by genuinely good work being available to the public. The audience then begins to associate positive reactions to work with the author. The name therefore is the brand that gives the author credibility and recognisability. If the name is spelled wrong, the author does not have the brand correlation and audience understanding.  I talked about this with my supervisor, Anne, and we discussed this idea of creating a brand. She explained how a few years ago an intern misspelled a name of an important writer in a document to the public. The writer was very frustrated and it looked unprofessional for the Writers’ Guild. ”

Conclusion

I think the following journal entry about the internship sums up my experiences and academic growth. It explains both the cultural competence and the writing knowledge. I think I grew as a professional writer, but most importantly as a participant of cross-cultural communication. As explained in Jackson, Jane, I picked up “Critical Cultural Awareness” where I am able to evaluate practices and perspectives in both London culture and American culture.[3] I picked up on rituals and traditions, such as swearing and the office set up and adapted and thrived in the new environment.

“As the internship is drawing to a close, I am only just starting to realize my transformation into a global citizen. I find that I am developing hard and soft skill, such as writing and professional experiences. The other day my supervisor gave me the task of phoning theatres, because she said my phone skills have improved and they are very professional. It was great to hear this because it made me more aware of my changing cultural competence. I was able to pick up on some nuisances and values that have given me so many transferable skills. I think this internship has given me more self-confidence and helped me define my identity of a global citizen through my negotiation of differences.”

Interning at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain was an experience of skill development and personal growth. It gave me more confidence in the professional environment and affirmed my passion for writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the work with my organization as they gave me a broader knowledge of the British workplace. I took the transferable skills acquired and bought them back to my studies and future jobs.

[1] Philip Kelly and Yvonne Moogan, “Culture Shock and Higher Education Performance: Implications for Teaching,” Higher Education Quarterly 66 (2012): 24.

[2] Philip Kelly and Yvonne Moogan, “Culture Shock and Higher Education Performance: Implications for Teaching,” Higher Education Quarterly 66 (2012): 27. (Accessed January 22, 2014)

[3] Jane Jackson, “Assessing Intercultural Learning through Introspective Accounts,” The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 11, no. 1 (August 2005): 166, (accessed January 22, 2014).