Christine Meyer

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The world of trade associations, worshipful companies, and doggets was a world completely unfamiliar to me. Yet, it was a world I found myself in when interning in London. In London, I was the public relations and marketing intern for an exclusive catering and event planning company called Inn or Out Events who recently partnered with Watermen’s Hall. Watermen’s Hall is a venue in the City of London that is also the home to the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. This new partnership, though complicated, helped me gain exciting work experiences where I had the opportunity to engage in British work cultures, customs, and practices.

The culture of Watermen’s Hall was masculine and traditional and most definitely influenced by the Hall’s history. Architect William Blackburn built Watermen’s Hall in 1780. It currently remains the only original Georgian-styled hall in the City of London. The Hall’s elegance is characterized by 18th century Georgian architecture, however, the Company of Watermen dates back much earlier. An Act of Parliament established the Company of Watermen in 1555 to regulate Watermen and wherrymen carrying passengers by boat under oars on the River Thames. Today, the Company of Watermen and Lightermen is a working guild and still actively involved on the River.

To put things in perspective, the Lightermen use the Hall for their own purposes, but the Hall can also be rented out for external events. It’s very confusing, and it took me a while to grasp how the hall functioned though once I got the hang of how things worked I was able to understand the company a bit more.

The office set up was also unique. As an American, I am used to large, expansive spaces where people can work with room to spare. In London, this was not the case. The entire office worked in the size of a room no bigger than the food area of Octagon in Moseley. What’s more is that the entire office also shared one desk the size of two Belk Library tables pushed together. It was pretty tiny but that’s what the Brits are used to and I knew I had to slip into the environment in order to gain a true British work experience.

At first, the cramped atmosphere got to me. Every movement, every stomach grumble, and every key typed could be heard. I felt mildly insecure and a little exposed to my coworkers. As I continued to work in the office though I figured no judgments were being passed at me and my confidence boosted.

It could be tricky for American students to know their place in an office set up that is so small. My advice is to lay low for a while until you understand the workplace culture and environment. Once you get a good grasp for how the workplace actually works, you will feel more comfortable and contribute more effectively.

Caroline Anderson

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When I did not know what to do in certain situations, I, honestly, pretended like I knew what I was doing. My logic was, if I was confident what I was doing then that was better than looking like a fool who had absolutely no clue as to what I was doing.  So by observing what others were doing around me in my internship with an event planner, I could make an educated guess on what I should probably be doing.

I had to sit in on several meeting for my boss, so I would take notes, but my boss would take her own notes and cross check with mine to see if she missed anything. One day, my boss called me and told me that I needed to go to a re-branding meeting for her because she was sick and there was no possible way for her to make it. The meeting was happening in 30 minutes and I was on the other side of town—and it was pouring rain, naturally. I sprinted my way through the tube to the cab where some co-workers were waiting on me to speed off to the meeting. We arrived at an office building and were all ushered into a conference room.

Me being the lowly intern, thought that I was going to be given a chair in the corner to take notes on my laptop. That was not the case. Since I was representing one of the brains of the company, I was to sit at a prominent spot at the table to share the thoughts and ideas of my boss. I was so nervous. I had never had a place at a conference table, nor been asked to join in on a conference! Afterward, it was a great and eye-opening experience that I am grateful to have had. It taught me a lot about the business my internship placement was in as well as what goes on in re-branding meetings.

 

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.

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).