There are so many benefits to interning through IES Abroad and IES Internships. Not only do students find themselves working with dynamic organizations and experienced individuals in their fields—they also gain opportunities for personal and professional development that follow them throughout their journeys into the world beyond study abroad.
In this moving, reflective piece, Karen V. (Remote Internship | University of Houston - Downtown) looks back on her time interning in three different remote internship locations (two of which are IES Abroad locations - Barcelona and Paris) and how they influenced her professional growth over the course of a year. Hear about what Karen had to say about her cross-cultural competence as she advanced her Business Management expertise, interning in Uruguay, Spain, and France.
Becoming Myself: How My Professional Identity Changed After Three Virtual Internships
Imagine for a second that you are an accounting major. Imagine that you have had many years of job experiences in this field. Now, when you apply for an accounting position, you are seen as a professional. Your experiences speak for themselves on paper because it is assumed that through your impressive experiences, some things in you have developed, changed, and transformed, leading you to become the professional that you are today.
Just as we develop a specific set of skills for our professional careers in each experience listed in our resumes, we build upon our own professional identity from each cross-cultural experience that we go through. What I recently learned after virtual internships, is that there are parts of my own professional identity that get built upon each time I encountered a new way of looking at our usual daily workplace. Such as, which organizational structures I preferred to work in most, or how flexible I learned to be when in the face of challenges.
My Background and Virtual Internship Experiences
As a Business Management student with three international virtual internship experiences under my belt, I can feel how much I have changed from whom I was before having any cross-cultural internships to now. Since the summer of 2020, I have interned virtually with the Entrepreneurship center of Uruguay’s largest private university in Montevideo, a science publishing company based in Barcelona, and a non-profit legal rights for children organization based in Paris. I have developed myself into having a global mind through all these experiences.
I had only ever lived, studied, interned, and worked professionally in the United States, where I grew up. However, from each of these internships, I experienced ways of working that were entirely different from the U.S. work culture, which was the only thing I knew. I learned to adapt quickly to the cultural changes I experienced to excel in my role, and this ended up benefiting me and changing who I was as a person.
In my internship with Uruguay, I worked around 20 hours a week. However, the number of hours you set can depend on your availability and the hours you may need for course credit. We worked via Google Hangouts video calls, slack, Whatsapp text and video calls, email, and Google Docs. We met very often (multiple times a week), via video calls mostly. They were very open to my own ideas, such as a sales idea I had. They also truly took the time to get to know me personally.
During my time with Uruguay, I really learned to socialize with my coworkers. From sharing music and interests after-hours on Whatsapp, to taking the time to socialize a bit before meetings begin. In meetings, sometimes we would take the time to catch up for the first 15-30 minutes before starting to discuss business. This was a complete culture shock to me, coming from getting straight to business in the U.S. Although, taking the time to socialize with my coworkers enriched my internship greatly, and often I was offered their phone numbers to stay in contact. Networking was accessible like I had never experienced before.
Spain (IES Abroad Barcelona)
In my internship with Spain, I started working 25 hours a week and later reduced my hours to 20 a week. We worked via CRM platform Zoho, Google Hangouts, email, and Microsoft Documents. We had very structured and scheduled times of meeting that were the same each week. It was usually a video call twice a week. They allowed me to pursue things that I would suggest, such as website development that I offered to work on. They trusted my abilities to get work done by being very liberal in their management of my work.
During my time with Spain, I learned to really be assertive, and give honest and helpful feedback as a way to respect my colleagues. Interrupting someone in a meeting may seem rude in some countries, but it is very common in meetings with Spanish colleagues. They will give you their suggestions immediately as you are speaking, and it is considered a collaborative effort. It is something I came to realize was a very efficient way of working together, especially when you are trying to piece together a project through brainstorming. There is a high level of trust between colleagues that needs to be present to work like this, and for this, I really admired the Spanish work culture.
France (IES Abroad Paris)
I was instructed only to read during the first week of my IES internship with France, which at first caught me off guard since I expected a large amount of work. Once I gave feedback on what I read and my supervisor got to know me better, that is when I started to get tasks assigned to me. They took the time to know me first before giving me responsibilities. This means that in the first week it was really important for me to show my supervisor the passion I had for what I was assigned. I asked many questions and gave much feedback, and from here on out the workload I was assigned was very tailored to my interests and my skills.
During my time in France, I learned to value my identity outside of my working role. I learned to use my own special traits of my personality to suit my career, rather than the other way around. I learned to value time management and work-life balance. I also learned to be truly passionate about the field you are interested in.
France taught me to value work-life balance because my internship really taught me to ask only for work that I can really manage. It taught me to ask for enough time to work without being overworked. It didn’t only show me what a good work-life balance looks like without working all day until 1 am, it taught me to value it, and to ask for it. But really, I was able to learn this lesson not from France alone, but from having experienced different work cultures back to back and focusing on the common denominator, which was me. When everything else around you is unfamiliar, you only have yourself to resort back to as the constant for your value system that you pull your decisions from.
What I Have Learned from My Colleagues
Though I have learned very specific things from each internship I had, I noticed there is a big lesson that many of us learn who experience many cross-cultural experiences learn. Colleagues of mine who have had 1-3 cross-cultural experiences have one or two main things that they learned from the specific country that really stuck with them. For example, one of them shared with me, “Working with France taught me to take time to prioritize my family and who I am outside of work.” Another with the same number of experiences shared that working with folx in the U.K. taught them the value of focusing less on punctuality and having a more relaxed mindset when at work.
To contrast this, colleagues of mine who have had 10+ experiences were much more centered on “balance” and “neutrality” than what they learned from one specific country. One colleague with this number of experiences shared, “The way I think of and carry out my work-life balance is quite different than if I had remained in the United States. I now put in effort every day to find the right balance. It never gets easier, but it's important.”
One day, I aspire to get to this number of cross-cultural experiences and learn these things myself, as well. One trait that was common among all colleagues of mine is that no matter the number of international experiences was that most of the traits they ended up valuing were traits of collectivist nature such as appreciating their colleagues more and spending more time with them. Many specifically have shared with me that they really learned to take the time to spend time with their colleagues. Keep this in mind next time your lunch break is coming up! You could make a great friendship out of these times.
The Hero of it All
No matter what cross-cultural experiences you go through in your life, whether it is a semester abroad, or staying home and doing a remote internship, I want to remind you and show you that throughout all the changes, there is always ‘you’ in the center of it. There may be challenging moments, but in the end, there is always growth if you choose to have it. What most may crave after having these experiences is to find a balance where the traits that they like and enjoy, and that bring them peace, can flourish in the workspaces that we spend so much of our days in.
The key to working in globalized workforces is being able to bring qualities from each individual unique person that serve a greater purpose. I learned to seek out knowledge from the people behind the organizations that I work with, and not just from the work itself. I learned to adapt and indulge in different cultures to be able to work in harmony and in diverse work environments, without losing my sense of self.
The best part about being able to grow after these cross-cultural experiences is having so many diverse people I have met to look up to. When I don’t know how to handle a situation, I can always think back to someone I met from the whole other side of the world who handled said issue flawlessly.
We're so glad to have Karen share her lessons and travels with us after her year-long internship program. Learn more about IES Internships (and amazing remote opportunities), or connect with us to share your story!
Do you have more questions about what it’s like to study or intern abroad? Contact an IES Internships Ambassador. They’re recent alums with a lot of study abroad and internship expertise, and they volunteer to answer your questions. They’re here to help!
*Uruguay is not a location offered through IES Abroad, but we felt it was important to include for a comparitive perspective from Karen.