London Internship Program 2016

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Summing Up: 7 Weeks Gone Too Fast

As a collegiate wrestler, I never really saw the chance to study abroad as a reality – wrestling spans both the fall and winter terms, meaning leaving campus for an extended period of time isn’t an option. This past December, however, a friend of mine mentioned the London Internship Program in passing. I had never been to a foreign country without my family, let alone lived abroad for 2 months to work and study. I decided to look into the program, applied, was accepted, and rolled with it. Looking back, I am so grateful I came across this opportunity. These past 7 weeks in London have granted me one of the most interesting, eye-opening, and fun experiences of my life thus far. I have learned not only about foreign social and work culture, but I’ve also gained insight into myself – my goals for the future, my independence and self-reliance, and my appreciation of all that the world has to offer to explore.

It’s tough for me to pinpoint particular highlights of this trip, as every week brought something new and exciting. However, there are a few key aspects of the program that I believe helped shape the entire 7 weeks as a whole. The first is career week. Coming into this program, I didn’t really have a clear sense of direction for what type of career I wanted to pursue after graduating from W&L. Sure, I had an idea of what field I might want to go into (I was thinking about investment real estate), but I had never seen what a job in the financial sector actually looks like in real life. After our visits to prominent financial companies like Pembroke, BofA Merill Lynch, and Blackstone, I was able to see what people working in the financial field do on a day-to-day basis. From there, I was able to get a clearer sense of what type of job I want to pursue as I take on interviews on campus this fall. Though I knew that many W&L students interested in banking start as financial analysts, I now know this position is also a great place to start for anybody interested in working in finance. I don’t necessarily want to work for an I-bank for my entire life, but I definitely want to start at one. This trip definitely helped me determine this.

The second key aspect was the weekend trips. To be honest, had these excursions not been pre-booked into our schedules, I don’t think many of would have chosen to use our free time to visit Edinburgh, Bath, or Oxford. However, I am happy that I got the chance to experience these places. The amount of history steeped in each of these cities was fascinating, and much of what we learned tied in well with the Contemporary British Politics class.

The third key aspect of the program was the internship. Though this one is obvious, its worth mentioning. Being immersed in a foreign work environment allowed me to learn more about British culture than any other component of this trip. There was definitely a learning curve involved in picking up on British work rules, humor norms, and social etiquette, all of which have helped me grow as a person. I’m thankful for the time I spent working at Britannia Student Services, and I sincerely believe that the fact that we’ve all worked in a foreign country will give us a bit of an edge over our peers back in the States when applying for more serious internships this coming academic year.

All in all, these past 7 weeks have been nothing short of phenomenal. I’ve made new friends from W&L that I likely wouldn’t have become close to otherwise, I’ve made friends in my British co-workers, I’ve learned about cultural differences, and I’ve learned about myself. If given the chance, I’d do it all over again.

 

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Unexpected Culture Shock

Before coming to London, I did not expect my internship to differ much from jobs I’ve already had in the States. Sure, I was aware that people in the UK speak with funny accents and that there would be some slightly different cultural nuances that I’d have to get used, but overall, I did not anticipate having a much different experience working here than I’ve had in my past. Over the past 6 weeks, however, it’s become clear that my initial expectations were wrong. Though Britain is America’s closest ally and claims a similar culture in many ways, I’ve really had to adjust to the workplace environment that I’ve been immersed in at Britannia Student Services.

In the United States, careers are taken very seriously. Throughout my life, I’ve seen young teens compete to get into the best private high schools, and young adults compete to get into the most prestigious universities. I’ve witnessed competition in the classroom and in extracurricular activities and clubs. For the most part, I’ve noticed that a large number of students do everything that they can to get ahead of one another with the ultimate goal of positioning themselves for success later in life. Now, at W&L, I’m surrounded by students competing to get the best, highest-paying jobs after graduating from college. I’ve learned that being successful in American society takes somewhat of a cut-throat, nose to the grindstone mentality. Though this outlook does not apply to all American students and workers, it has certainly been prevalent in my life thus far. In London, people’s attitudes are completely different.

Like Kate Fox said in her chapter on work, the English take their work seriously, but not too seriously. They avoid talking about money, and find trade and business to be awkward. Additionally, they carry into the workplace all of their cultural rules. In my experience at Britannia, I have found all of these points to be true. While maintaining a sense of seriousness, my workplace is laid-back and casual, rather than strict and intense like many work environments in the U.S. In my office, money-talk is a taboo, and is avoided – my coworkers often dance around business talk, instead of getting straight to the point. Again, this is unlike my experiences in the U.S., where conversation not related to business in the workplace is often short and sweet; it’s more of a forced formality. Finally, I’ve been exposed to the humor and culture of the English in my office more so than any other time or place in London so far. The societal rules that Kate Fox has outlined, including those on humor, the weather, and conversation show themselves regularly in my office, and I had never experienced any of them before in my life.

As an American, I expected British workplace culture to parallel that of the States. In my opinion, the fact that I started off my internship with this outlook is likely the main reason why I have had so many moments of perplexity and disorientation in my office; if I had expected cultural shock, the foreign aspects of my office would not have been such a surprise to me. Where I expected an environment of complete compatibility and mutual understanding between U.S. and UK culture, the oddities of English work culture have proved me wrong, and this has been truly humbling.



High-Class Humor

In one sense, Kate Fox’s discussion on humor in British society can be seen as a rough outline of the rules that dictate the UK’s unique brand of humor. In another sense, it can be interpreted as a discussion of the fact that humor itself rules British society. Since my first day in London, I’ve picked up on the peculiar sense of humor of the British, and noticed that its a staple in their daily interactions. Its fair to say that aside from the accents and driving habits of the British people, their humor was one of the first things that I noticed about their culture. Perhaps the reason that its stuck out to me so much is the fact that it’s much different than American humor. To illustrate this point, I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the defining features of British humor that I’ve picked up on; some of these observations reiterate Fox’s points, while others are those that may be limited to my experiences in this country.

What I’ve noticed about the Brits and their humor is:

1.) An almost uncomfortable dryness. Often, Brits will make jokes mid-converstaion, without any change in inflection of their voice nor any visual signals to suggest that they might be making a joke. At first, I had a hard time deciphering when a local was joking with me, or if I was just failing to pick up on unfamiliar social cues. After spending a few weeks here, however, I realize that this must stem from my second point…

2.) Sarcasm is the go-to form of humor. Such sarcasm can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) “banter, teasing, irony, [and] understatement,” (25). Put simply, when all else fails and you feel the need to make a joke, be sarcastic. The Brits will understand.

3.) A sensitivity towards being politically correct. Though Brits are constantly joking, they are careful not to be offensive. In my opinion, this differs greatly from American humor, where poking fun at different groups based on characteristics like religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference is, regrettably, a common practice. Just yesterday, I watched a video of a popular American stand-up comedian on Youtube, and then watched another of a popular English comedian. Though both were hilarious, the material from which they drew their jokes could not be more different. The American made dirty jokes about about men and alcohol, while the Brit made dry jokes about working in an office.

And finally,

4.) Americans are the Brits’ easiest and most popular target for the butt-end of a joke. Fox admits this to be true, and it’s hard not to pick up on when living in Britain. Joking about Americans is always in good taste. I’ve even found good use for this area of humor – there have been a few times in my office where I’ve made a mistake, and rather than apologize or be embarrassed, I’ve simply blamed it on me being a “dumb American.” My coworkers seem to love when I do this (it is, after all, a form of “humorous self-depreciation”), and they quickly forget about whatever mistake I’ve made.

Though British humor is quite different in substance and style than that of Americans, I still enjoy it. I find Ricky Gervais to be absolutely hysterical, and feel as if he is a pretty good personification of what British humor is all about. Dryness, wittiness, and irony are the central features of humor in the UK, and I’ve gotta say I really like it.

 



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.



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.

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Cheers,

Alex




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