London Internship Program 2016

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Final Reflections on the Study Abroad Sink or Swim

It feels like I got off my plane in Luton and arrived at Acorn for our first day of orientation just yesterday, let alone landing in Copenhagen three months ago. My first blog post on the similarities between London and the States also feels like it was written just a day ago. After a few learning curves in Copenhagen during spring term, I thought life in London was going to be a breeze. However, I quickly learned no experience abroad comes without its set of challenges. During our first internship class, one of my classmate’s made a joke about something being “sink or swim,” and I think this idea describes studying abroad perfectly. If done right, like in this program, spending time outside America presents, new experiences, challenges, and opportunities for us to push outside our comfort zones. I think I gained a lot out of my “sink or swim” moments this summer, and I’m glad I had them.

I think this trip did a great job highlighting the common links and differences between the United States and United Kingdom. With the common language and big-city culture, I found it easy in the beginning to call London “New York without the high rises.” However, the combination of the Contemporary Britain Class, weekend trips, and internships highlighted the attributes that make London and the United Kingdom unique. The weekend trips, especially, presented opportunities to visit cities I wouldn’t have otherwise. Bath especially was such a cool city, and somewhere I would have gone on my own accord. Being in the United Kingdom during Brexit made all of these experiences even more meaningful by linking what we were learning about the British economy and political system to a landmark news event.

London week was an important component of this program as well. Being in a variety of business environments before beginning the application process next fall gave me a better idea of what areas of the business realm I want to focus my attention on. Visiting firms in London rather than the states made the the process more interesting by showing the globalized nature of the modern-day work environment.

Finally, one of my favorite aspects of this program was the people I met and the friends I made. This summer was full of incredible experiences, and I wish I could re-wind to June and do it all again.



Leaving London

As I sit alone in the apartment that once housed nine more members of my class, I’m thinking about all of the adventures that happened over the past seven weeks. It seems like time flew by so fast. During the first week, we visited so many different firms across the city. We’ve learned so much about British politics and culture it now seems weird that we’ve never paid as much attention to our own. I wonder if when we return, we will make all sorts of social and anthropological observations about America now that we have studied a society in-depth.

While working at the TaxPayers’ Alliance I was treated to firsthand experiences with British politics as the firm is an influential lobby group. My experience there has helped me to better understand how people in politics gather and present information to back up their positions and legislative initiatives. It was truly a treat to be here in London working for a lobby group at this uncertain time in Britain’s politics. I have benefited so much from being here through the Brexit referendum and the selection of a new Prime Minister. I’ve learned so much about the British parliamentary system which presents a stark contrast to our rigid constitutionalism in the United States.

While I certainly loved working at my internship, it’s perhaps my weekends that I will remember most distinctly. I have such a vivid memory of barely arriving to our first contemporary Britain class on a Monday morning. I came into London on a train from Derby at 8:00 am. I had sneaked off there on Sunday in order to attend a music festival which featured Iron Maiden as the headline act. That was just one of the opportunities we had in this country. We spend a full weekend in Edinburgh and managed to visit several Scottish regions while there. We spent a weekend in Bath and Welles. I even was able to go horseback riding in Windsor Park last weekend while only making reservations a few days in advance. London, one of the largest cities in Europe, offers so much that we have yet to discover.

I don’t doubt that many of us will return to England as soon as we can. I do think however, that I will attempt to spend more time in the countryside while “on holiday” as they say here. While London may be great, I know there is more still to England to Great Britain as a whole.



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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Dress Codes

Our first week here, a group of about eight of us went and sat in a circle right in Russell Square park. A friend from W & L was on her way, but did not know the area and was worried about finding her way and picking us out in the park. She spotted us from the street before the entrance to the park and took a panorama picture. It showed from left to right people in all dark colors, kind of blending in before a sudden shock of color hits the screen. There was no need to worry about finding us. Yes, W & L is as a whole very preppy, but in London it is laughable how much our group stands out. It did not take long for us to realize that we stood out as Americans before we even said “Hello”.

As a whole, Americans generally wear colors British people wouldn’t. Different brands are popular, which is obvious but worth mentioning. We wear shorts, they really don’t. Haircuts are wildly different. As Fox pointed out, summer fashion here is less important, because summer isn’t really as much of a thing. One thing I have noticed about European fashion in general, however, that I find amusing, is the fixation on the U.S. People in London who have a hippie-type, trendy-look wear clothes that have American cities written on them, most often New York. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen someone, clearly not from the U.S. wearing either an American sports jersey or again, a shirt that simply reads “Los Angeles”. My personal favorite was a guy wearing a tank top that said in giant letters, “New Jersey”. That was it. Nothing else. Just New Jersey. I would have taken a picture but I think the guy could have eaten me. While wearing clothes that reference America are cool, being American is not. Talk about disappointing.

I found it interesting that the British are not supposed to take dressing seriously. In America, it is taken very seriously. It is an interesting cultural difference that only begins to make sense after gaining more experience here. I have found that the more time I have spent in London, the easier it has been to understand why certain things like this are.

 

 

 



Playing along

Needless to say, my interactions with British people has changed drastically from the beginning of the trip until now. The two main reasons for this being Kate Fox’s Watching the English and picking up on social queues in every day interactions. One of the biggest misconceptions i’ve identified with my 20/20 hindsight is the etiquette of greetings. Bobby and I discussed how on our first days of our internships we felt like we crushed it with our colleagues in the office.  We greeted them all with a nice big smile, handshake, and introduction. Little did we know at the time this is not how most English greetings go. Sure, there are different regulations for professional environments, but we were completely unaware of the common progression. After reading Fox, however, we were able to piece together bits from different chapters to help find a way to make friendly conversation around the office. Fox opens her book the same way any Brit starts a conversation with a stranger, by talking about the weather. I found the idea of using weather as a common ground for conversation interesting, but have never been a fan of talks about the weather. Besides, I feel like even Brits know that talks about the weather are somewhat forced when people have nothing else to talk about. That being said, I found Brexit as a good substitute for the weather this summer. It can get fuzzy talking politics in the office, but in casual discussion, everyone has an opinion on it they can discuss. It was then easy to implement Fox’s self-depravation humour by mentioning Trump and letting the Brits poke fun at American politics for a little bit to diffuse whatever Brexit rant they had usually started on (one way or another).



Work Hard, Play Hard versus Work Hard, Play Modestly

“Working hard or hardly working?” appears to summarize the British mentality towards work and play. During the internship class that was held on Tuesday, it was interesting to see the different ways in which the work-life balance varied across different classmate’s internships, and the varying influence each business’ practice of this principal had on its office environment. Several of my classmates explained their office culture promoted a work-life balance through a relaxed office environment. “Relaxed” in this context means a variety of aspects regarding the workplace, from a laid-back dress code to getting lunch or drinks with co-workers. On Tuesday, I explained my internship had more of an “American” workplace culture rather than a relaxed British one. However, after reading Kate Fox’s chapter on “Work Rules” I’m rethinking my previous argument that my workplace isn’t stereotypically British. Fox argued that although the British claim to “work hard, play hard” and have an ideal work-life balance, in practice the Brits have a “work hard, play moderately” policy. I came into my internship with the expectation that Brits had a relaxed culture in the office, and a “play hard” lifestyle after, that they filled themselves up with pints during their breaks and after they leave work. In some cases, maybe this pattern is true, however “work hard play moderately” is far more fitting in my office environment. At work, my co-workers are serious about getting their job done to the best of their ability. Working hard is especially important in a non-profit workplace where doing one’s job effectively has the potential to make a significant difference on the lives of others, and my colleague’s commitment to their jobs and the organization’s mission make it clear they are aware of this significance. However, there is a life balance, and a “moderate play” to the office culture as well. I’ve seen my office alter employee hours for religious holidays, one of my co-workers is an avid painter in her spare time, and my offer to check work emails and make a phone call during a travel weekend was thought of as “absurd.” Consequently, based on my office experiences and those of my classmates, I agree with aspects of Fox’s chapter that describe the British office environment being more relaxed than that of America. However, the extent to which her proposal that the British have a more relaxed work environment varies. Overall, I think there is a happy medium between “work hard play hard” and “work hard play moderately” that exists in the British workplace. It will be interesting to compare and contrast office environments in Britain with those in America as I hold consequent jobs at home.



The English Home, DIY, and Uber Drivers

Honestly, do-it-yourself decorations and home improvements are things I have never had the patience or artistic prowess to create. I tried to make a ribbon wall for my Polaroid pictures in high school, but I kinda gave up a tenth around my room, so it just ended up making my room look very awkward. I quickly learned how much the English were into DIY projects when I was researching how-to-do lists for gardening/decorating/fixing the Heron Way allotment. I researched how to make squash arches from PVC pipes, chicken runs, pallet furniture, and creative ways to reuse old tools. I could not help wondering if it would be cheaper and easier just to buy a tool holder instead of using a pallet to make one.  I guess for Americans like myself, this is the simple (and lazy) approach. But for the English, buying everything would take out the excitement and connection with the task. As noted in Fox’s book, DIY tasks give their home a sense of identity versus buying it off of Amazon, like I do every week. I guess to the English I am “basic.”

 

The English also like to keep the location of their home rather secretive, which Jack and I learned the hard way. The Saturday of the Wireless Music festival I left my keys and Gray’s keys in the backseat of an Uber (not my brightest moment). After calling the Uber driver several times, I finally was able to get an address of his “workplace” where I could go and pick up the keys. Jack accompanied me to pick them up on Monday. We had an Uber drop us off right outside of his workplace, but we found out once the Uber drove away that the side of the road we were on only was even numbered buildings. In order to get to the odd numbered buildings, we had to walk all the way across Finsbury Park. Thirty minutes later, we were outside the rather sketchy “workplace.”  The moral of this long-winded story is that it is easier said than done to find the English’s addresses. Real talk, though thanks Shahu for not using our keys to rob us. You’re the real MVP.

The help request I sent via Uber
The help request I sent via Uber


Work to Rule

Typical-Office

During my initial days of my internship, I found my new work environment confusing and unique from any internship I’ve had at home. As I read further into Kate Fox’s Watching the English, specifically the chapter on work, I began to understand that the things I found “weird” about my workplace, co-workers, and bosses are simply a part of English culture. Exemplifying the English “importance of not being earnest” that Fox stresses throughout the book, my bosses create a relaxed and friendly environment in our five-person studio. Unlike the typical American workplace in which workers sit at their individual desks and plow through work without really talking to their co-workers, my workplace is a very social and integrated environment. We all talk and help one another with work, and we sit down at a large table in the middle of the studio to eat lunch with one another everyday. We generally avoid talking about work while at lunch, making me feel as if I’m sitting down to eat a family meal. Even when I worked as a swim coach at Rice University last summer, the coaches, lifeguards, and I usually ate lunch individually, and our boss definitely never joined us.

While my bosses at my internship care about their business and getting efficient work done, they are also very lenient with arrival times. I attempt to arrive on time at 10AM everyday, but even on the days when I’m running late, I’m often the first one to the studio. My co-workers arrive late almost everyday, and my bosses occasionally run late as well. This further demonstrates Fox’s point that the “importance of not being earnest” rule in English culture extends to the workplace. Fox discusses the fact that if you’re work is interesting, then you are allowed to be interested in it. The nature of my bosses work makes itself thought provoking- they write articles and interview a wide variety of people in the community who they believe challenge the status quo of society. Thus, according to Fox, it is socially acceptable for them to act interested in it. However, Fox also states that while it’s acceptable to act invested in you’re work if it’s interesting, workaholics are still regarded as “sad and pathetic.” My bosses’ relaxation with arrival times and the friendly culture they create in their studio demonstrates that as interested as they are in their work, they avoid the English taboo of being workaholics.

Photo courtesy of Google Images



Shock to the System: the British Workplace

At the completion of my fifth week working in a British office space, I have come to notice that both the overall atmosphere of the workplace as well as the general mentality of those occupying it differ rather sharply with the American outlook. Indeed the contrast is about as stark as it is between the UK and US versions of “The Office”. As a general rule, the American workplace tends to support firm hierarchical structures and uses that as an incentive for employees to work harder. Such is not the case inside of the United Kingdom. Here, the office seems to maintain a decidedly more horizontal power scheme. At the TaxPayers’ Alliance, everyone works in the same room, the boss included, and stand on relatively familiar terms. In such an environment, promotion would likely have little motivational value given that a higher position would not come with any noticeable changes in workplace life.

This approach seems to generate a more casual, less industrious approach to work than we see in the United States. Kate Fox describes what she calls the “Importance of Not Being Earnest Rule” which she asserts describes the British need to not seem overzealous by working excessively hard. While this might raise the eyebrow of an inexperienced onlooker, I learned rather quickly that this is indeed the case. During my first week, I eagerly tackled every major assignment that I could and sought to produce quality results in a timely manner, as any American would. At times, I would complete an assignment that was meant to occupy substantially more of my time and my supervisor would be somewhat surprised. This isn’t to say that the English don’t value hard work, merely that they don’t see the need to push oneself excessively hard.

Moreover, Fox describes another trend which she calls the “moaning rule” by which it is essentially mandatory for one to complain about work and deliberate avoid the appearance of actually enjoying it. To be seen as overly content with a workload or even to actually enjoy it, where one does or not, would be to venture into the territory of being too earnest as mentioned above. It seems the rite of the complaint is not meant as an expression of genuine distaste for one’s assignment but is actually just a staple of office conversation. I was shocked at the casual attitude with which one of my fellow interns loudly declared his inability to focus and that he had not completed any significant work during the previous hour. As the Chief Executive was within earshot, I turned to him with a feeling of dread. Surely, this callous intern would receive some sort of reprimand for such gall? When I turned to him, he was simply laughing. My horrified response to the intern’s declaration seemed to have generated substantially more interest amongst the staff. It seems to me that, though the collective attitude towards work in Britain seems to be more casual with a collective acknowledgement of the ardors of work, the British workplace does maintain a level of professionalism necessary to operate a thriving commercial sector.



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.




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