London Internship Program 2016

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June 2016

3 Days in the Books

I’ve worked a summer job every year since middle school in a variety of different fields, so it’s safe to say that I’m used to the daily struggles of a summer intern; I’ve worked in residential real estate, at a recruiting firm in the pharmaceutical industry, as a wrestling coach, at an ice cream shop, and at a liquor store. Still, even with all of this exposure, 3 days on the job in London has shown me that working in Britain is going to be different. Much different.

The atmosphere and vibe of the London workplace – at least in my experience – is much more relaxed and causal than that of the States. Here, grabbing a few drinks during lunch breaks is expected, coffee breaks are abundant, and office conversation is unremitting. Here, my colleagues bounce jokes off of each other and shoot rubber bands across the room when overall employee morale seems low. Here, the stupid mistakes of a new intern are expected, and aren’t met with scorn or frustration. Back home, I had become accustomed to a work environment fueled by competition and a no-nonsense type of mentality. I was used to spending my time at work with my head down and my nose to the grindstone, and I never expected to have fun carrying out the tedious duties that a summer intern is usually tasked with. Yet, I find myself in the same position here that I’ve been in during past summers, except now I’m having a little bit more fun. I’m still a summer intern who is left to do the office grunt work, but the positive attitudes of the people I work with make my position a little more tolerable. Maybe the fact that I’m in a foreign country has a little bit to do with it too – it’s definitely interesting to compare and contrast my experiences here to those back home as I explore this internship opportunity. I’m enjoying myself while learning more and more about the student accommodation industry every day, and am looking forward to seeing how this internship relates to the possibility of a career in investment real estate in my future.



The First Week 😅

Commuting. A word people have always used in passing, but I never understood the pure horror of until Tuesday morning when I woke up at 8:15 for my 45-minute commute to work. It would probably be a lot more miserable if I didn’t like work, but luckily I do so I’ll call the commute bearable instead of pure claustrophobic horror. I think I would probably feel better about it, but on Tuesday I thought it would be a good idea to walk up the 175 step spiral staircase in Russell Square and I was very close to having a heart attack. Okay I’m being dramatic I’m sorry. I am from a relatively small city where everyone drives, so I am not quite used to public transportation. Today was not so bad because I stood by some small British schoolchildren on the way home and heard them talk about soccer. They think Italy and Belgium are a joke when they play together and both of them never have a chance of holding the Euro cup. But they said France has a pretty good shot, though.

A school in Chiswick 

Anyways, even though I am researching a lot of things about gardening/painting/building, I am really enjoying my job! On July 5th, Works4U is facilitating a “challenge” on Heron’s Way for 90 Disney employees. This is pretty exciting because Disney is probably the most recognizable thing about Florida besides the relative insanity of the people in my state (follow https://twitter.com/_FloridaMan for more info). I have a lot of work leading up to the challenge such as making how to do lists for gardening/painting/building places in the facility. I also have to use these lists to compile a supply list and then order the items I need online. Everything I have to do would probably be easier if I have ever gardened, painted, or built things in my life, but I have not. Well, my internship will certainly be a learning experience to say the least. I hope the Disney folks appreciate my American spelling on all the how to do lists I made for them (just kidding but it is not okay they spell tire as tyre).

 



La Primera Semana

So week one is finally in the books, and while I would not exactly give my performance an A*, I think I at least passed. There has been a lot of acclimation, but most of my colleagues have been eager to help out the clumsy American bumbling around the office. I’ve used the wrong bathroom… twice, I’ve had to ask someone to help me figure out how to use the sink, and I’ve even spilled coffee all over myself (and others on the tube, but thats neither here nor there. Public transportation is not my thing, and I don’t want to bring it up) on the way to work. However, everyone has taken my mistakes with a smile and seems to (hopefully) enjoy having me around the office. I have mostly been working on the marketing side of my NPO, ‘TeamUp’, spending the past few days reaching out to Unis across London to recruit tutors for school in low income areas. Having tutored kids in the past, I enjoy what I am doing because I know how much of a difference a little extra help or motivational push can be from an outside source when you grow up in an environment which does not place a high emphasis on academic success. I can definitely see myself settling in to my new position and enjoying this field of work moving forward, and I am excited to see what kind of project they have waiting for me once I stop looking like a deer in the headlights.



First Week at Work

I’m interning at a small, start-up consulting firm called Zenith Street. Aisha, the founder and my boss, started the business in 2011 after deciding she had found a niche in the market she could exploit herself. Zenith Street provides strategy consulting for SME’s which are small to medium enterprises. Currently, Zenith Street attracts clients that bring in revenues on average of 500,000 pounds annually from a wide pool of industries. Actually, I could not believe when reviewing her previous clients the lack of similarity: banks, marketing and tech firms, even jewelry stores. I am very impressed by the ability to help such a broad range of companies, as they are nothing alike and should require different expertise. Aisha has explained that small companies can also be difficult because many do not keep detailed books which can make them difficult to analyze. Also, some people are shy or embarrassed about explaining why they need help and she needs to try to ask the right questions to get the information she needs. She will not work with a client if she does not think she can help, and so much of her job is selecting clients. She envisions Zenith Street growing in the next few years, moving from clients with revenues of 500,000 pounds to a million pounds annually. I found this interesting because she is actively trying to make a profit while change the scale of her business. This means that she has to be selective with what clients she takes and how she advertises, it is a very delicate balance that requires time.

My experience has been very positive. Aisha has been very welcoming and taken the time to try to explain a lot that she does not necessarily need to and given me to exposure to a variety of things. My main project this week was to research other consulting firms in the area that would be considered competition. I figured I should look through her database of contacts, as she meets many of her clients at networking events. I reasoned that other consultants would also attend these events and they may have came into contact at them. I have found about 15 other companies in the same market as Zenith Street so far. Once found, I tried to understand how they are approaching the market differently so Zenith Street has the best approach. I suggested adding a testimonials page to the website, as people want to trust the person they are going to for advice- so they would like to know that they are well established.

My commute is about 45 minutes each way, as I am located in Hanger Lane, but it is relatively painless because of the Tube. I am on the seventh floor of my building with a very nice view of Wembley Stadium. The area is much less urban than central London, yet oddly enough there are more tall buildings.

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Here is an uncomfortable picture of corporate me that went on the company website that I am excited to share. Where am I supposed to put my hands?

 

 



First Impression

My first week in London was a lot different than I had expected. To be honest, I wasn’t ready for so much culture shock. I was maybe a little cocky having lived in Holland as a kid, even though I was just a child. “They speak the same language” I thought to myself. I read guidebooks that said “People love talking about the weather” and that there are Red Foxes that roam the streets. I definitely didn’t believe that foxes lived in the city, and as for talking about the weather- I just understood that to the universal thing people did when they were out of things to say. People love talking about the weather here, they hate that it rains, but at the same time, I feel like they love that they get to talk about it. And later that night as we walked back from Russell Square we saw a Red Fox feet from our apartment door cruising around. So after the first day, it really sunk in I was in for a very new experience. In addition to the weather and the fox, there are seemingly countless other things that have stuck out to me. I still cannot get over how nice all of the architecture is here, especially when compared to New York City, which is what I am used to. I love NYC, but it is just different. I still do not understand how the city was so clean when there are no trash cans. And I think none of us were ready for it to be light out from 6AM to 10PM or, 22:00. Between Jetlag, different hours of sunlight and army time, nothing made sense anymore. I was very impressed by the Tube, an easy way to get around anywhere which really opens up the whole city as traveling to and from is effortless. I think I could get anything I wanted because of it, as the city is so big– except maybe ice. This is the one thing that has really bugged me. You think by now Europe would have heard about ice. While sipping a hot water that we all didn’t realize costed “just 2.5 pounds”, I think we all collectively realized we would have to learn how to live in the city. We bought ice trays. We started cooking our own meals. Alex started looking both ways before crossing the street. I’m expecting a lot more to go wrong, and I’m looking forward to it as I can tell this is the start of an awesome opportunity.

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This is a group of us outside Beating Retreat, the soldier memorial.



London: A Huge City Where Everybody Drives Wrong

Upon arriving in London, one thought popped into my head immediately as I walked out of Heathrow airport: “Wow, this place is big. Like really, really big.” From the start of this holiday, I knew there were some things in this city that I would adjust to only with time. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I’m no stranger to big cities. I’ve always enjoyed the convenience of being able to travel to New York City in under an hour whenever I felt the urge. Still, London has quickly proven to me that its size and scope are unlike that of any city I’ve been to before. Mastering the art of London’s public transportation system has so far proven to be feasible, but its definitely going to take some time for me to gain my bearings here – after all, just yesterday I got helplessly lost while looking for a place to buy band-aids. I was only 3 blocks from my apartment.

This program marks the first time (aside from going to Uni) that I’m living on my own. For this reason, even the smallest cultural differences between Britain and the good ol’ United States have impacted me considerably. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve been caught of guard by cultural irregularities more times than I can count. To keep this brief, I’ll simply list some of them out here: 1.) I’ve almost been hit by a taxi. Why can’t people in this country drive on the right side of the road, like the rest of the world? 2.) I’ve almost been hit by a man on a bicycle. Ok, maybe this one was my fault. Did I mention I haven’t gotten used to the fact that these people drive on the wrong side of the road? 3.) People say odd things like, “Hi!” and “Sorry!” …The first time I heard this, I thought I’d surely misunderstood the gentleman that greeted me. This just doesn’t happen in New York City. People are nice here. I like it. 4.) People dress neatly and with style. And no proper European will be caught wearing shorts. 5.) Everything is clean. The streets. The tube. The pubs. Even the public restrooms are spotless. I think NYC can learn a thing or two from London, no? And, 6.) The people of London have not yet discovered the advanced technologies of water fountains, ice cubes, or air conditioning. Garbage cans are also extremely rare, which begs the question: how in the world does this city remain so fresh and so clean?

Thus far, my experience in London has been brilliant. I’m looking forward to further exploring London’s streets, people, and culture, provided I don’t get hit by a car or bike by then.

Streetview

Cheers,

Alex



London: The Standalone City

IMG_3872After spending just under a week in London, I’ve realized that it’s got anything and everything a person may need. Yesterday, in our meeting with Kirk at Blackstone, he mentioned that London and New York were both “standalone cities.” I’ve never spent much time in New York, but after a week in London I understand what he’s saying. Having grown up in a town of 10,000 people, with the closest city (Memphis) one hundred miles away, London is quite impressive. The city has everything. While I think New York is still the financial capital of the world, we’ve visited two large financial districts in London. London also has the biggest global insurance market at Lloyd’s. However, at the same time, the city is full of beautiful parks where Londoners can get away from the “city” environment.  The city also has older, low-rise architecture. In New York, you just see high rise after high rise. The wealth of big parks and the beautiful, low-rise architecture here reminds me of Copenhagen, Denmark. However, while Copenhagen has the parks and architecture, the business traffic isn’t even close to that of London. This further supports the idea that London has it all. In addition, during our company visits this week, we’ve come across three thriving food/shopping areas, and we’ve just scratched the surface. I think our bus tour with Ms. Campbell says it all. We drove around for a couple of hours, and I don’t think there was one block where she didn’t have something to say. London has such a rich history and thriving international culture, and I’m excited to see what the next few weeks have in store for us.

 



Landing in London: Culture Shock

After but a short time in London, I quickly abandoned any and all preconceived notions of English culture and society that I had previously held. Though not my first visit to Her Majesty’s realm, more than fifteen years had passed since I last set foot on British soil. What pretensions to expertise on the region I maintained were fostered largely by history books, network news, and of course a plethora of Charles Dickens novels. Though I hardly expected visit the England of David Copperfield, my sources of information combined to impress on me a strong perception of exoticism surrounding the nation that had once ruled the United States.

Landing at Heathrow Airport, my cab ride into London did much to dispel my incorrect beliefs about the city. What first stirred my curiosity was the presence of modern edifices in the city center. My exploits in Iberia the previous summer took me to remote villages and major cities alike, all of which retained the distinct architectural and cultural aspects of the Romantic Era. Unlike the cities of Spain with which I had become closely acquainted, the major commercial districts of London were at the city’s heart. Modern buildings were interspersed in haphazard ways between Tudor and Victorian edifices. It occurred to me that this was the result of the London Blitz and IRA bombings which left many holes in the city blocks to be rebuilt after the war. This first, markedly visible disparity was a loud message that England had moved beyond its past and entered the 21st century.

Firmly aware of the United Kingdom’s current and historic role as a major stakeholder in the global economy, I was excited to visit the centers of industry and meet with enterprising capitalists over London Week. This was a sobering experience as I admittedly did hold to a decidedly Victorian image British enterprise and corporate culture. Traveling to many major firms among them Ernst & Young, CNBC, and Facebook, I was amazed at the informality of the corporate culture across all industries. Suits were viewed as relics of a by-gone age. Vertical hierarchical structures were viewed as organizational technicalities. Even relevant education as a hiring prerequisite seemed to have fallen by the wayside. This presented stark contrast not just with the Britain of the Imperial Era but with the modern American corporate world.

Indeed, the only bastion of the traditional order of things was Lloyd’s, Britain’s historic and still-thriving insurance trading center. Though the building was decisively modern, loosely resembling a coffee machine, the organization was everything I expected. We were greeted and accompanied by two incredibly polite gentlemen sporting three-piece suits. Here, the traditional dress prevailed. Enterprising underwriters and brokers cavorted with one another to secure international cargo among other assets. I was fascinated by the rich history of the industry and indeed, our guides seemed only too thrilled to discuss the exploits of their Admiral Lord Nelson and the hey-day of the British fleet when Lloyd’s was still a coffee shop. It seems I found one thing that hasn’t changed.

Lloyd's



First Impressions

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Regent Park

After getting over the initial 48 hours in which I slept a  grand total of four hours, I was actually able to fully  comprehend what I was seeing and get a sense of what  living in London would be like. I visited London in high  school, but the teacher that went with us was from  London, so we either were with him or went to places he  recommended. Obviously, living and working on my own  in London will be a completely different experience than  being on a high school trip. The first thing I realized will  take time to get the hang of is the Tube. I have only really  used public transportation when I lived in New York City  one summer. My goal is to stop having to use my phone every time I try to get from point A to point B. Another thing that quickly became apparent is how much more parks and overall greenness there is in London than many cities in the U.S. I spent Thursday afternoon running/walking in Regent Park, and it is probably the prettiest public park I have ever seen.

Although London is definitely one of my favorite cities, there are a few things that are inconveniences one would never have in the U.S. For instance, I went to buy Advil from Tesco and not only was there an extremely limited amount of over-the-counter meds, but they also ID’d me for my Advil. Additionally, you have to pay 50 pence for public restrooms which is a bit frustrating. The exchange rate will also be something to get used to (as well as wiping out my checking account), but once I paid $40 for a case of Gatorade in the Bahamas so I guess it could be worse. But I know once we’re here for a couple of weeks, I’ll get used to everything that is now new to me. London is a truly amazing city and I am lucky that I have the opportunity to live here for almost two months.



First Impression: City Culture

The first week in the U.K. has been a great cultural learning experience.  Having lived and worked in Washington D.C. metro area over the past three summers, I was constantly comparing and contrasting things about D.C. and London.  With London being a major city and economic power, I assumed there would be busy streets and a tense atmosphere during the work days.  However, after spending a few days exploring the city and visiting various business entities, I have seen a different side of the city that was surprising.  D.C. is always hectic and the culture of the area is that people are always rushing to get to their next place.  On the contrary, London was very easy to walk around during the day, as the streets were uncongested.  Also, people walking or biking on the way to and from work seemed to be enjoying the nice weather and their journey, rather than being solely focused on merely arriving at work.  The street atmosphere in London seems to be more easy going than other major U.S. cities I have visited.

Additionally, in the major American cities, it is common practice for people to leave their office and go straight home after work, but in London it is popular practice for people to go by a pub after work to grab a few drinks and socialize with friends in the city.  The London pubs are a communal area for people to bond, whether it be by watching football matches, playing games, or discussing their daily activities.  This sociable aspect of London’s pubs helps people to stay connected with their community throughout various stages of life.  The social aspect of the pubs creates a casual and relaxed atmosphere on the streets that I have not experienced in the U.S. during the work week.  Hence, I am looking forward to more city travelling over the coming weeks and experiencing more aspects of the British Culture in person.
Leadenhall Market




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