London Internship Program 2016

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Looking back on my Experiences (this post didn’t post back in July)

Looking back on the past seven weeks I feel like I’ve experienced an immense number of new things. Starting off with the tours of W&L alumni’s work I got to get an inside look into a variety of careers that I previously hadn’t looked at which peaked my interest. The two most appealing fields to me were the industries of investment real estate at Blackstone and specialist insurance/ reinsurance at the Channel Syndicate. Both required in-depth study and understanding of a market before making decisions and that really interested me. After the first week, I started working at my internship at a property management company which taught me a variety of things. First and foremost I was able to experience the British work culture which is almost entirely different to the United States in the idea that being a workaholic is frowned upon and that there always seems to be a light amount of humor in the office. This lighthearted attitude in the work environment leads to people really becoming friends with their coworkers and often going out on the weekends or after work to grab a pint or just blow off steam. It was a nice change of pace from the business culture that I had experienced back in the U.S. I also received an inside perspective into the property management/ student accommodation industry in London thanks to my job. This insight really highlighted a variety of qualities that made sites more desirable than others. Since it was a real estate driven industry location was key but my job also taught me how much customer service matters in that industry, how many menial tasks are needed to keep a building up and running, and that if anything can go wrong chances are it will when it comes to college students .Other than work I got to experience life in England and I noticed that the English people love to use sarcasm or talk about the weather. They also passionately care about their privacy and enjoy pronouncing words in ways that don’t correspond to how they are spelled (Leicester being the most baffling for me). The brits tended to keep to themselves but were almost always a fun bunch to interact with especially at the pubs after a few pints or when they asked me questions about America. During my time I also got to experience life in London which taught me how to use public transportation like a champ, how to both save and spend pounds at an alarming rate, that markets tend to have the best food for the cheapest price, and how to function in a large city without getting hit by a bus. The program also gave me some awesome opportunities to explore Europe through both the program itself as well as the free weekends that we had to ourselves. During my time I was able to visit the French Riviera, Budapest, Edinburgh, Oxford, Bath, and Wells which all gave me a variety of wonderful experiences in a number of different cultures. All in all the last seven weeks of my summer were fantastic and were a great opportunity to experience things that I might not have experienced without the program.


In Watching the English Kate Fox describes English people as using the weather as a tool that has evolved to help them start a conversation. In general she describes it as a way to start small talk and create a conversation. I didn’t really understand what she meant by this but after spending 4 weeks in the UK I realized it’s the immediate go to subject for English people when talking to someone new. During our first week of visits to the workplace of W&L alumnus I had the impression that our group had arrived during the greatest period of weather that England had ever witnessed. Every person we met at each site chimed about how the past three days of sun were immaculate and that we were so lucky. Since I had been there for only a week I assumed we were just really lucky and paid little attention to it.
Once I started work the weather was still brought up even though these couple weeks had some small scattered showers. Each time however I went into work the weather almost always seemed to come up if people didn’t know exactly what to say but wanted to continue or create a conversation. It was classic small talk etiquette but it seemed that everyone in England had mastered this specific form of small talk.
But I realized why they paid so much attention to the weather when I went to Wimbledon. After camping out on a lovely Thursday night to get in the queue for cheap tickets for Friday’s matches I realized how quickly the weather can change. On Thursday we looked and saw that Friday was supposed to be cloudy but warm. But throughout the day we witnessed everything from howling winds, overcast skies, bright summer sun with no clouds in sight, torrential downpours, and multiple tennis matches who became victim to rain delays caused by light pours for 4 minutes. It was baffling and all I could talk about for that day was the weather and the tennis matches that I had watched. It was so unpredictable and terrible at some points that it was just fun to talk about how much it shifted, how bad it could get, and how amazing the moments were when the sun came out. In summary the English weather is so unpredictable that it makes one of the best small talk topics because everyone has an experience with it that they could go and talk about for at least a couple minutes

Pub Talk and Social Interaction

In the beginning of Watching the English’s chapter on “Pub Talk” Kate Fox points out the fact that the pub “is designed to promote sociability”. Which at first sounded very odd but when she broke down certain aspects of how pubs work it made a lot of things clear. After spending a week or two walking around London I began to wonder why every stranger would turn their gaze away from mine when walking on the streets and almost no one would acknowledge my customary “Hello” or “Hey”. But almost every time I would go to the counter of a pub to order a pint I almost always had a conversation with the person ordering next to me about some trivial topic, whether it was soccer, the Brexit, or the weather. But once I had grabbed my pint and walked back to my table the conversation would only ever be with people at my table, never anyone at a nearby table. Fox attributes this occurrence and the lack of social interaction on the streets to the English valuing their privacy to an almost religious level. But they created pubs, or more specifically the bar counter of a pub, as an exception where anyone could talk with anyone. Sadly, as you got farther and farther away from the pub counter the less likely you are to be able to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and the more likely you are to get a cold response similar to the one I would receive on the streets.
The beauty of the pub is how ordering works. In order to get your drinks or food at most pubs you have to order at the pub counter. By making people congregate around the counter to order it makes it so there is always a valid reason to accidentally drift your way into a conversation. Conversations at the counter never seem forced and are almost always an acknowledgment of something that happened and then a conversation is born. I’ve grown to really enjoy this hub of social interaction. I get to only be social when I truly want to be social and if the conversation meets a sudden demise, terrible topic, or I don’t like the stranger I’ve started a conversation with I can simply pick up my pint, give them a friendly “Cheers”, and walk back to the safety of my table. The pub has been, for me at least, a wonderful English design that allows social interaction in a way that negates all the negative possibilities or outcomes of a conversation with a stranger.

Starting Work

Starting up work at my internship is sort of a blessing and a curse. I no longer get to go out every night. I don’t have to continue a life subsisting off of 6 hours of sleep, little expensive food, and cheap but strong Stella Artois or Strongbow cider. My wallet is saved from going out to outrageously expensive clubs most nights, and I no longer get to embrace my urge to wander aimlessly in downtown London. Instead I have a finite schedule of when I have to get to work. I make sure I get at least 8 hours of sleep so I can function at my 9-5. I eat regular (but still overpriced) meals with adequate nutritional value. I even have tube stops that I now identify as “my stops” for getting to and from work. But in the peril of rush hour traffic, where I feel more like a sardine than a functional human, I feel a bit of comfort in the normality and order that my internship provides.
But other than giving a rhythm and beat to my day-to-day schedule my internship gives me a great opportunity to learn about things I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. My internship is with a small student accommodations company that works as an intermediary between Investors who own a variety of properties and university students (and in some cases specific universities and study abroad programs). Businesses like the one I’m interning at are part of a niche in real estate that I had no idea existed let alone were so vast in areas like London. While working this past week I really began to see how a variety of different situations have led to the formations of these student accommodations all throughout London. By playing on mutually beneficial roles for people and organizations, property management companies work with investors and tenants to find a mutual area where all three are happy. Investors get the return on their investment that is realistic. The students get price appropriate rent with amenities, service, and care that allows them to focus on their studies. And the management company gets a fraction of the money between the other groups for their work. This work includes following the investors rules for running and maintaining the building, taking some blame for the state of the building if problems were to arise, making sure students are content with where they live, and fixing most issues that may arise that are too small for the investors to care about (such as a stove light being out). All in all its an interesting process and I am glad to get some firsthand experience in real estate.

All the Small Things

The Brits are bit of an odd bunch. Walking around London you’ll see the queen’s people saying biscuits to talk about cookies, putting on a pair of trousers instead of pants, and the phrase “grabbing a fag” has entirely different connotations here than it does across the pond.  But despite using a variety of terms that sound like they’re straight out of a Dr. Suess book and they’re unrivaled love for their royal family, queuing, and discussing the weather the Brits might seem very similar to Americans.  But from what I’ve seen this first week and based off my first impressions of British society it’s the small things that really separate them from us.

When coming over from the states I assumed everything would be pretty uniform with life in the states due to our joint history with Britain and the bond of a common language, minus a few cultural differences. After struggling to understand the cockney accent of my cab driver from the airport I realized that I was in for a bit of a shock. Was he really speaking the same English as me? Life in its general sense is the same. People work nine-to-fives, there are fast food restaurants and coffee shops on most every corner, and people love watching sports and television programs. But over here the work days seem a little softer around the edges with an added sense of humor while keeping the professionalism. The fast food restaurants may bear the same name or style but many lack the heavily processed cheap food that we Americans love and instead focus on fresh and local at an increased cost. The testosterone fueled high action sports of America are replaced with what I would consider to be highfalutin copies. Baseball becomes cricket, football becomes rugby, and basketball becomes football(Soccer). Oddly enough low brow television programs were one of the few constants that I noticed. In this case the only difference between “My Big Redneck Wedding” and England’s “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings” was the English version being centered around England’s gypsy population.  They even have their own version of cops, although in my opinion it was not nearly as interesting (not enough police brutality)

Individually these small differences might not seem like much but in my mind they quickly add up to create two societies who seem very similar but after close inspection are actually very alien to one another.