London Internship Program 2016

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Working across the pond

I went into work my first day at Works4U with an open mind and a positive attitude (mainly because I did not get lost on my way to work). I did not think my experiences would be different from my summer jobs in America. Boy, was I wrong. I was immediately surprised with the relaxed and easygoing attitude that my co-workers had towards their work. Instead of being shoved assignments as soon as I walked in the door, my supervisor made sure I was comfortable with everything by giving me small tasks that allowed me to grow acquainted with the work I would be doing. My supervisor’s approachable attitude made it easy for me to ask questions about my work. I would sometimes feel nervous or embarrassed to ask questions at my American jobs, but I never felt that way at Works4U.

It was interesting to compare my workplace with what I read in Kate Fox’s Watching the English.  The “muddle rules” and “importance of not being earnest” were prevalent in my workplace. If I ever wanted to stay late to finish an assignment, my supervisor would say I was working too hard and that it would be there when I returned. I also was allowed to work from home a few times, which I have never done before. It was great I was entrusted to do this, but I found it was a lot easier to focus in an office environment then from my apartment.  A lot of my co-workers would ask if everything was okay if I ever looked too serious. At first it was a bit annoying I was just trying to concentrate, but it was nice that they wanted me to have fun while I worked. My supervisor would often jokingly complain about her work, but I always knew that she cared about it and that she took pride in what she accomplished. Although it took me a few weeks to understand the Brits’ approach to their work, once I did I appreciated it. I wish more American workplaces would have a more relaxed attitude towards their work as it did make my experiences at Works4U enjoyable and stress-free.



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.



Work to Rule, and Some Humor

My work experience this summer in the United Kingdom was a significantly different experience than I have had in my previous internships in the United States, but it was a useful step to help my professional development.  When I first started working, I could tell my office had a laid back and casual work environment, but I assumed this was due to the fact that my company was a non-for-profit and a small organization.  However, after learning more about the work rules in England and speaking with other members of our program, I realized that this is due to the English corporate culture.

One main difference I noticed while working in the United Kingdom was how the English want to avoid the stigma of being workaholics.  While working in the office, my coworkers often socialized with me; however, rather than speaking about work we often spoke about our personal lives and my experiences while in London.  Additionally, I noticed that most employees were lackadaisical about the time they arrived at work.  Once the employees arrived, they often spent the first thirty minutes of their day socializing, getting coffee or eating before starting up their work.  Lastly, I realized that my co-workers rarely worked overtime, hence while the people in my office were efficient and got their work done, they wanted to be seen as well rounded people who work to live, rather than live to work.

Another material difference in the English work environment was the prevalence of humor in the office.  My co-workers often used self-depreciating humor to joke about the ease of their tasks in a way that seemed to minimize their importance.  They would also make fun of themselves as a way to make the office atmosphere light-hearted and comfortable for others.  The office was always bustling with employees taking jabs at one another.  One prime instance of British humor materialized in an encounter with my boss the first day I was back in the office after the Brexit.  We were speaking about regional economic tendencies and before long the topic of Brexit came up.  Then without any hesitation, he quickly pivoted to the US political scene and mentioned that he would much rather be in the UK than to have Trump be his president.  The British are aware of world politics and often incorporate their knowledge of this in their humor and sarcasm.

The relaxed office culture and the ever prevalent sense of humor contributed to a memorable work experience.  The friendly office atmosphere made me feel at home from my first day, and the humor kept me entertained and on my toes throughout my internship.



London Experience Take-Aways

My seven weeks in London have been a fantastic experience, filled with many great memories.  Going into the program, I was excited to learn about a new culture and its political scene, get professional work experience abroad, and to travel Europe, but my weeks in Europe surpassed my expectations greatly.  When I first arrived at Bedford Place, I only knew a handful of the other W&L students on the trip and was in a major international city.  There was definitely a learning curve to get acclimated with my new environment, but the experience was priceless.  I got so much more out of my time abroad that I had ever anticipated.

One of the most exciting things about London was obviously the Brexit.  Our Contemporary British Politics Class gave us an understanding of what was occurring throughout the United Kingdom, but I learned so much additional information about the situation by speaking with my coworkers on their perspective of the current political landscape in the commonwealth.  I found the immediate economic effect of Brexit fascinating, and continued to see the implications of the UK leaving the EU as I traveled throughout Europe the rest of the summer.  Brexit has definitely encouraged me to become more involved in the global political scene, as I have realized how American politics are greatly impacted by other international political events.

Furthermore, my work experience with Business Launchpad was a fun contrast to my previous work experiences.  BLP’s nature was casual and decentralized, with an entrepreneurial spirit.  I had the opportunity to speak to employees in different business fields, such as accounting, consulting, fundraising, and marketing, as well as doing work with their finance manager.  I had great exposure to generic business principles, as well as specific accounting and finance topics that I will be using in my internship next summer.  Over my time at BLP, I saw my understanding of the company’s business model grow and this coincided with more complex project assignments.  I appreciated the great breadth of projects I got to work on, but I also enjoyed the friendly atmosphere that I encountered on a daily basis.  My coworkers were always interested in hearing about my experiences both inside and outside of the office.

Lastly, my time in Europe was filled with tons of travelling, meeting new people, and attending cultural events.  I think it’s safe to say there was never a dull moment for me while I was overseas.  I travelled to four countries and visited 6 major cities in these countries on free weekends during the program.  It was challenging to plan these trips, but I am so glad I got out to explore Europe.  We participated in a wide range of activities from local pub crawls in London, to a music festival, to the world famous tennis tournament Wimbledon.  I got to know the people on our program very well through these trips and it was a blast.  The field trips to cathedrals, museums, and parliament were also great chances to see the historic aspects of English culture.

In conclusion, my time in Europe far surpassed my expectations, as I learned about many other cultures and I had the time of my life.  Having spent my entire life in Maryland and Virginia, the opportunity to live in a different continent for an extended period of time was an eye-opening and refreshing experience.

 



What A Time To Be Alive

This summer was an incredibly formative experience for me. I took a look at the application I did for the program over winter break to get a sense of my goals and expectations for the trip. I gathered a few main goals from that application: get fully immersed in a foreign culture, step outside of what has been my comfort zone, contribute to my course of study and provide a contrast to the American-centered politics courses I have taken at W&L, gain first hand work experience contributing in a small and intimate workplace, and explore Europe and places I otherwise would not see.

Despite the shared language, England had a decisively different culture than I had become accustomed to in the States. Every day brought a new experience and the phrase ”cheers” will follow me back to Lexington. I had given little thought to studying abroad before the trip and now completely understand why everyone I talk to is so keen on it.

On the same note, and as our stories and “learning curve” demonstrate, there is something to be said for being almost purely independent in a foreign country (especially one as expensive as the U.K.). Many mistakes were made but I learned an awful lot from navigating the big city with my friends.

The contemporary British politics class with Dr. Blick certainly exceeded my expectations. I have a much more aware and informed sense of global politics and was struck by how different our systems of governing are. The timing could not be better with the Brexit and the issues that caused domestically and abroad.

Work-wise, I am glad I was not a soccer coach as I feared. I really did gain some invaluable work experience that I hope to translate to an internship next summer and I enjoyed my time at Let Me Play.

Lastly, the opportunity to visit Scotland twice and Budapest especially, were eye-opening experiences. While it is possible I return to these places in my adult life, it may not be in the cards and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so this summer.

All in all I could not be happier with the summer I had. It is amazing how fast it all flew by. I did not include this in my goals, but the fellowship I have gained with new friends and old will stay with me for a lifetime.

Cheers,
Jack

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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?

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The Perfect Jump

I never really thought I would study abroad. I mean, I always liked the notion of it. My parents always promoted studying abroad, as did W&L. But for me personally, it always seemed more like a fantasy than a reality. Besides a spontaneous trip to the Caribbean last summer, I hadn’t left the country. Going abroad sounded like an incredible adventure, but maybe too big of a leap for me. Leaving home for college was a big deal. Leaving the state of North Carolina was an even bigger one. Leaving the nation seemed too much. However, after continual convincing from Julia and Witt throughout fall term, I decided it was worth it. How right they were.

These 7 weeks studying and working in London have far and beyond exceeded my highest expectations. The mixture of work, studies, and play wasn’t just good, it was perfect. At times, it was almost overwhelming.  I was worried about going too far outside my comfort zone by traveling to Europe and leaving the comfort of my local summer job. Then, I was worried that studying abroad in an English-speaking country like the UK was such a similar culture that I wasn’t challenging myself enough. As it turns out, London was the perfect leap for me.

My internship in Parliament was fascinating. But interning in Parliament during the political fiasco of this summer, that was nothing short of incredible. I learned more than I thought possible, about both politics and the work world. Our class in Contemporary British Politics opened our eyes to a side of London and the UK that would have been hard to find elsewhere. Professor Blick was wonderful, and the afternoon trips were more than worthwhile. These parts of the program really were great, but it was the rest of the trip that was the most memorable.

In our time apart from work and class, that is where I learned the most. I learned about the city of London, and I learned what living in an urban area was like. I learned about culture, and not in a cliche way. I met white people, I met black people. I met Indians, Germans, Scots, Italians, Somalians, and many many more. I tried cuisine that I didn’t before know existed. Thanks to my time in London, I can now order a beer in 3 different languages, and say thank you in 4. There is so much more to see beyond our lives in America. Now, I think I truly understand that. I had close friends on the trip before leaving Lexington. With them, I became much more close. Even better, there were people on the trip that I wasn’t close with, or didn’t know at all. We’ve all made close and long-lasting relationships through this special time we’ve shared together, with memories I hope to never forget. I’ve learned a lot about others, and maybe most surprising, I learned a lot about myself. My biggest takeaway from this trip: I’ve become comfortable with the uncomfortable. This trip was the perfect jump away from the life I’ve always known. I’m beyond thankful for everybody that put their time into making this program exist. I’m grateful that Julia and Witt peer pressured me into giving this program a chance. And now, I’m looking forward more than ever to what is going to be my next jump.



Looking Back

This morning, I’ve been sitting at home in Houston, Tx at my kitchen table trying to think of what I should put in this last blog post. We did so many things, and there’s so much to say. But, I can think one word that sums up my feelings and experiences over the last seven weeks–grateful.

Zac said it first and best at our final dinner with Prof. Oliver at the Rugby Tavern. After we all talked–and a lot of us complained–about our internships, he reminded us that even though we may have been doing meaningless tasks at our jobs and could think of a lot of revisions we could make to the schedule, this had been an incredible summer. Sure, Bobby may not have thought his internship was helpful for anything he wanted to do in the future, Janie and I may have hated working from home, and Witt may have had a few ideas about how to change the Bath/Oxford weekend trips. But, we’ve all learned and done so much, and we have so many people and experiences to be grateful for.

First, during London Week we got to visit W&L alumni at firms across the city. We go to an amazing school with incredible alumni who wouldn’t think twice about taking an hour or so out of their day and welcoming 17 undergraduate students into their corporate offices. From Facebook to Hearst to Pembroke and EY, our alumni network is greater than most schools can shake a stick at. Second, We all owe a lot to our supervisors and co-workers for employing us and teaching us things about British culture we couldn’t pick up on just from reading Kate Fox’s “Watching the English.” Beyond them, there’s one British person we’re all most grateful for–Sara. She’s the perfect example of a proper British person, and a “mum” we all wish we could take back home to the States. Finally, we have our amazing Professors who had a wild idea years ago to create a pretty much perfect summer abroad experience that combined work, study, and fellowship into a seven week program.

So here’s to Prof. Oliver, Dean Jensen, Ms. Wager, and everyone else who helped make this summer one of–if not the best–summer of our lives. Cheers.

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Reflection on the Seven Weeks

I feel like I arrived on the steps of 16 Bedford Place just a few days ago, but in just seven weeks I went from knowing nothing about the city to feeling like I lived there. My first day in London I was jet lagged, alone and unsure of what to do until 2 o’clock when I could move into the flat. I wandered around the area and found cool pubs, a craft beer place and lots of good shopping. Julia and I hopped on a bus to try an ice cream place that first night as a way to explore the city. It is funny looking back on that first day and realizing I didn’t know I had walked into covent garden, gone to my favorite pub, ordered a coffee at the place I would go before work every day and gone to the ice cream place would become my favorite and the last place Julia and I would go before heading back to the States.
After living in London for seven weeks I felt like it had become my second home, almost like how I call W&L home sometimes in Atlanta, which my mom hates. It took time to get accustomed to British humor, the different work environment and definitely the exchange rate, but I think overall we all grew very comfortable in the city. I am going to miss work and my coworkers. We had become close, which shows the difference between the British and American work environments. I also will miss the ability to walk or tube everywhere. I easily walked eight to ten miles a day whereas at home I drive everywhere. By the end of the trip, I felt like I could get anywhere I needed to without using google maps (which in my opinion is a good measurement of how well I know a city). Even though I could find my way around there was still always something knew to find and explore.
I definitely did not want to leave at the end of the trip, although I did miss air conditioning, cheap food and my puppy. I think what I will miss the most was living with everyone and how it forced us all to become so close. Although I am sure we will all stay friends, it is hard knowing that we will never all be living and doing everything together again.



Reflection on Seven Weeks

IMG_4115It seems like just yesterday we were all moving into our apartments at Bedford Place. Having been in Europe for six weeks already when we moved in, another seven seemed like it may last a lifetime. I was wrong. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Our time in London brought us many experiences and opportunities. First, during London Week, we visited a handful of engaging and helpful alumni doing everything from investment real estate to political risk insurance underwriting. Next, we got the chance to learn about the UK from an exceptional professor, Dr. Blick. In addition, we all worked an internship where we learned to deal with coworkers, bosses, and busy work. We learned about pub culture and English idiosyncrasies as well. We traveled to Bath, Oxford, and Edinburgh with Sara. We tasted this food and that food in Borough Market. We even walked through the House of Lords. When I look back, we did a lot, and I think we did a great job of making the most of our time in London.

One part of our experience I’ll never forget was the Brexit. In 30 years, I bet we look back and tell people “I was there for that.” The vote will have numerous consequences, some good, some bad. It will be interesting to see the impact of the vote over the next few months, especially after we’ve learned so much about the issues with Dr. Blick.

Even after a busy seven weeks (a “lifetime”), I feel like we just scratched the surface of the city of London. I’ve never spent a long amount of time in a place with so much going on. If anything, I
think this sentiment makes for a good excuse to visit again sometime in the future. I look forward to that occasion.

 




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