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Interning Across the Sea

You know what they say: the first and last two weeks of your internship are the most important.

Okay fiiiine, I’ll admit that I don’t think anyone has actually said that. However, I do believe it to be true. Why? In the first two weeks, I meet practically everyone I will work with for the first time, and I get a sense of what the internship will look like going forward. The last two weeks allow me to finish on a good note and keep those relationship bridges alive and well.

Well, this past week marks the completion of my second week as an intern at a wealth management firm in Canary Wharf, a financial district in east London. Since I am taking five classes, I intern twice a week and about eight hours per day. To be honest, I was very anxious to start for many reasons, two of them being that this is my first time interning at a financial firm even though I am a business major and I did not know how different British internship culture would be from America’s. I have experience interning at various places, from a government agency to a music venue to startups, but I couldn’t help but be nervous! What if they don’t like my sense of humor? That’s pretty important for people to get along and have a good time while working together. What if I don’t produce the kind of work they are looking for?

The good news is that everything went a-ok – I turned in work for the first time this week and my supervisor thought it was good and gave constructive feedback, my coworkers and I have eaten lunch together every time I was there, and they think I’m funny. The better news is that I’m learning, whether that be socializing with people from different backgrounds, communicating ideas effectively, or putting together projects in a timely manner. Here are some things I have come to appreciate about British work culture:

1) When people ask how you are doing, they genuinely want to know. When I first started my internship and my coworkers asked how I was that morning, I replied with “I’m doing well. How are you?”, which is how I usually reply. Frankly, I never took the time to elaborate because I felt like people didn’t truly care. More often than not, it has been used as a way to make small talk before asking for a favor. But here, I would spend a solid five minutes talking to someone in the break room while making tea in the morning! It truly is amazing how much simple kindness and genuineness could positively impact someone’s day.

2) There is a better work-life balance. In D.C., I often sat at my desk to eat lunch because there is so much to do – yes, even as an intern. However, here in London, when they say “you get an hour for lunch,” you really do. People take the time to relax and eat their lunches away from their computers. I think doing so improves employees’ well-being, which is important because a company’s most important asset is most definitely its people.

3) People are more appreciative and more straightforward with what they say. I have heard the stereotype that the British beat around the bush when they speak, which may be true in daily life, but it has not been the case at my internship. My coworkers are very upfront when they talk to me, and I don’t feel like there is hidden meaning behind their words. My supervisor has suggested how he wants me to proceed with certain tasks. The cherry on top of that is they always say something along the lines of “when you have the time…” and “I would really appreciate it if…”, which makes me feel appreciated.

Interning abroad is nerve-wrecking but rewarding, and I am very much looking forward to the next few months of it!