London Internship Program 2016

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The Learning Curve: Summer 2016 in London

After a couple of days back home on stable, secure American soil and a couple of nights of sleep in my clean, air-conditioned home, I have had time to reflect on my London Internship Program experience. And I can honestly say that I got as much out of my time in London as possible.

I came into this summer with the tangible goals of narrowing my career interests and earning credit towards my Global Politics major; in hindsight those goals were very generic, and while I achieved them, I did not expect the extent to which I would surpass them.

From the standpoint of getting credit for our British politics class, Dr. Blick was fantastic and we learned a lot about a variety of British political topics — from devolution, to decolonization and war, to religion. But I thought the most enriching education in British politics I received was outside of the classroom, by living through the unusual amount of seismic political events that occurred in the seven weeks we were in London. The Brexit referendum is the one that will be remembered for years to come. It will be a cool to recall to peers or job interviewers that I witnessed the Brexit and its aftermath firsthand, in which we saw David Cameron’s resignation as Prime Minister, upheaval of international markets and leadership in Parliament, and the eventual election of Conservative Theresa May as new Prime Minister. Day to day, there were always big events occurring, and through class I was able to understand in context of British government and society what was going on. I will always remember how shocked Londoners (the same people that told us all during the first week there was no way the UK would actually leave the EU) were those first few days after the Leave vote. It will be fascinating to see how the negotiation of the Brexit will unfold in the months and years to come.

Internship and career wise, I feel blessed to say I had an excellent experience where I received some more clarity about what I want to do in the future. When I blindly applied to Channel in the winter, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I sure am glad I took the time to do so. IMG_6593Because of this summer, I have discovered a very interesting sector of work that isn’t very well-known in the U.S. — speciality insurance. I particularly found the global nature of political and credit risk insurance very appealing given my academic interests, and because of my work experience this summer, I will look into pursuing this field further. I was very fortunate to be able to experience working in a world-renowned place like Lloyd’s of London, and I think my internship was a great example of the wonderful opportunities students get through attending Washington and Lee. Conversations with my boss, who is a W&L alum, were also very beneficial to me. As a person who has experienced the same career questions as myself going through our school, he had great career recommendations and insights as to how to navigate the upcoming interviews process. Moreover, I now have a great W&L and London contact in the insurance business. Our first London Week also gave me a look at a wide range of jobs, and I was able to compare and contrasts these with my personal interests. Overall, the London Internship Program was a great way for me to get my foot in the door, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do so.

Outside of the classroom and workplace, I also thought going abroad for such a prolonged period of time was a valuable exercise in independent living. Being far from home at school and having gone to summer camp for many years, homesickness and independent living are not struggles of mine. But living in London and traveling across Europe this summer taught me how to travel on my own, adapt to international cultures, and take care of myself and others. As one of my classmate’s blog eloquently said, it is either sink or swim when you are abroad — you must adapt. My friends and I joked throughout the trip about a “learning curve” to this experience; and living and working in a foreign country (in my first corporate environment, mind you) certainly revealed that. Planning meals, work commutes via public transportation, or weekend trips required us to rely solely on ourselves, and thus coming back to America I feel more mature and independent than ever. We certainly experienced our fair share of bumps along the way, but the most valuable learning is gained through personal experience. Even though London is certainly a powerful and civilized city, I still feel that I stepped outside of my comfort zone to have a summer experience unique of my peers back home in the States

While I will not miss the most expensive city in the world vacuuming my bank account daily, or our hot, messy apartment (thanks Acorn), I will always look back fondly on my 2016 summer spent in London with the confidence that I made the most of my experience. For all the pounds we spend (or gained) on the trip, we had tenfold the laughs; we will go back to W&L in the fall with so many great memories and inside jokes. I had a great internship, and I got to live in the United Kingdom during the most politically tumultuous time since World War II. I got to read the news from the anchors’ desk at CNBC; I got to watch the last 20 groups play the 18th hole on Saturday at The Open from the first row; I got to eat dinner 45 stories above the London night skyline; I got to hike Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, and walk along the Danube River in Budapest. And now, finally, I get to catch up on sleep. Lord knows I haven’t gotten any over the last seven weeks. But how else would you rather spend your summer?


A 4th of July Abroad

While today is just another regular Monday morning for our British peers, for us American students abroad it is a day of patriotism and celebration. Back home in the States, our Independence Day is usually spent with family and friends celebrating our freedom through lighting fireworks, eating barbecue, and drinking beer. While it is no guarantee we will be able to replicate that celebration in London this year, one thing is for certain: our earnest patriotism exhibited today will cross the British.

In the “Humour Rules” section of Watching the English, author Kate Fox describes a rule in British culture about the importance of not being earnest. “Seriousness is allowed, earnestness is strictly forbidden,” Fox says. “…One must never take oneself too seriously. The ability to laugh at ourselves… is one of the more endearing characteristics of the English.” She juxtaposes English frivolity and self-deprecation with the attitude of Americans: “The sentimental patriotism of leaders and the portentous earnestness of writers, artists, actors, musicians, pundits and other public figures of all nations are treated with equal derision and disdain by the English.”

English cynicism or apathy has manifested itself throughout our time here. In the Euro Round of 16 football match, when Iceland scored what would prove to be the game winning goal against England, the onlooking fans in the pub did not respond with jeers, but self-deprecating laughter. In daily conversation, the British constantly bemoan their dreary weather. The political earnestness of the LEAVE campaign ultimately led to a Brexit — would Britain still be in the EU if the seemingly majority, status quo REMAIN camp had the same mentality?

The English can scoff all they want, but I prefer earnest idealism of the American dream to the “muddling along” of the British reality.

Watching English Football: A Crucible of British-Speak

Football is the national sport of choice in England, and nothing stokes the nationalistic embers of the British like the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament. Three UK teams (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have all played three games apiece since we have been in London, and all three have now advanced to the Round of 16. Every time it is match day for the English national team, London streets are empty and London pubs are full of fans cheering on their beloved Three Lions.

My first week of work, I was able to experience firsthand what it is like to watch an English game with the locals in a pub. The game, England vs. UK neighbor Wales, was on a Thursday afternoon. So my company rented out the bottom floor of a nearby pub in the financial district and threw a watch-party to woo insurance brokers to do business with Channel.

As the young intern there, I was surrounded by people I did not know or had just met the day before, so it was the perfect opportunity to observe British pub talk and conversation codes from a third party perspective. Similar to American sports teams, the English football team is a vehicle for unification among its fans, and the pub is the venue that facilitates social bonds with its integrative environment. In talking with my coworkers and insurance brokers during the game, in retrospect I now see how the Pub-Talk Sociability and Free-Association rule are used by British people to meet new people and direct conversations. The subjects ranged from the weather to the upcoming Brexit referendum, and when Daniel Sturridge scored the go-ahead goal in stoppage time, to the dramatic English 2-1 win over Wales.

Expect the Unexpected

I had my first day of work completely planned out. I would wake up early, make myself breakfast, leave for the tube 45 minutes before work started, and arrive at the office 15 minutes early, as any intern trying to make a good first impression on the first day of work would do.

When I boarded the eastbound Central line at Holborn station dressed in my dark suit with a white shirt, everything had gone exactly as planned. But after a couple of idle minutes in a jam-packed tube, a voice crackled over the intercom: “The Central line is currently experiencing major delays. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” Immediately my first day of work plan had gone up in smoke.

I hustled out of the underground station and began power walking down High Holborn towards my office located in the finance district — 2.5 miles away. Because I had left unnecessarily early, I had 30 minutes to make it to the office in time. I also tried boarding a city bus, but the line was terminated halfway through the trip because of construction and traffic — another literal roadblock. Ultimately I arrived at the office exactly at 9 a.m. rattled but on time and ready to get to work.

The problems I faced getting to my first day of work taught me two things. Firstly, over-preparation is sometimes the best preparation. Had I not allotted myself so much time to get to work the first day, I wouldn’t have made it on time and made a bad impression with my co-workers. Secondly, expect the unexpected. I was not anticipating the tube to stop running that morning, so I had to adjust my plan on the fly and be resourceful to solve the problem. This small example is applicable to many circumstances, including work. Maybe you get assigned an unexpected task on deadline? Maybe you have to make a presentation by yourself because your partner is sick? Whatever the unexpected circumstances may be, it is important to make adjustments and roll with the punches. The small story of the commute to my first day of work taught me these big lessons that will be relevant in the next 6 weeks of my internship.

Putting the Best Foot Forward

Big Ben“You never have a second chance to make a first impression,” my dad told me last week as I was packing for our trip to London, “so make sure it’s a good one.” He was encouraging me to make sure I got off to a strong start at my internship, and unbeknownst to us I would have that chance on our
first day of London Week. Last Monday morning (June 6), our W&L group made its first company visit of the trip to The Channel Syndicate, the company I am interning with this summer which is a specialty insurance group that operates in the Lloyd’s of London market. There on our first visit, I got to meet my new teammates and bosses, while asking questions and learning about working in Political and Credit Risks insurance, and was left with the first impression that I am really going to like my internship. Our group spent the rest of the week getting a first impression of jobs with all different types of companies, ranging from the corporate suits of investment banking to the magical candy and nap-pod filled land of Facebook. One of my goals coming into the London trip was to get a better sense of where I want to work after college, and following this week I think I am starting to narrow in on that. We also got a unique first impression of the London weather this week: warm and sunny, as opposed to the traditional rainy and dreary. Every person we spoke to assured us that the good times would not last, and that the weather would soon enough turn British again. Likewise, other first impressions can be fleeting; it is important to not use them to make definitive judgments. In a week full of first impressions, it will be the work and play from here on out that will leave us with the lasting impression of our London experience