Settling in to a new home and a new job/internship is hard, even more so when you’re abroad and know nobody at your new workplace. All of my friends I had on this program were all about to go through the same experience which was kind of nice to know that each of us weren’t alone.
I am interning at a London-based non-profit called CLIC-Sargent. They work with children and young adults aged 25 and younger who have been diagnosed with various types of cancer. I work in the finance department, alongside the entire finance team, which is approximately eight people. The finance team is split into two departments, one works mainly with payments, invoices and expenses and the other mainly works with budgeting all of the revenue and donations to make the appropriate payments.
Going into my internship, I’ll admit, I wasn’t too excited. I had found out my placement two weeks before getting on a plane to come here, which was normal, but still at first I wasn’t so sure about the position. I tried keeping an open mind as everyone told me to do and knew I should myself. On my first day, I got back to my flat and just thought, I can’t do this for 6 weeks, 120 hours…but, things quickly started to change.
Everyone was super nice and welcoming at my internship, so that helped in my placement. Don’t get me wrong it did take some time to form these relationships that I have made with my supervisors and coworkers. The first week was a little awkward, as we were new and it was repetitive questions of where we were from, what we were doing in London and the UK, have we been here before; nice of them to ask and helped formulate the relationships but still a lot coming in to the workplace.
I started off by inputting invoices into the computer systems they use and while this doesn’t seem like a hard task, there was a portion of it where we had to code the payments to properly allocate the costs to the right departments. All of the current employees already knew most of the codes and where invoices belonged, but for me I had no idea what to do if it wasn’t listed out like it was on some invoices. I quickly learned to look back at previous invoices in the system from the same suppliers in order to find the correct coding strings. I found myself starting to know the codes by memory just a few days after.
Additionally, my experience at my internship placement kept getting better since I was given more project work. There was actually a goal at the end that I would be able to accomplish rather than just repetitively inputting single invoices. One member from the budget team emailed me asking about putting together pivot tables to see the budgets for different locations in a more concise way and which departments were using most of the organization’s budget. Initially I was overwhelmed, but I simply asked a question to clarify what he wanted and that I was doing it right. He gave me some tips, I redid it and then he was more than pleased with the result and I felt slightly more accomplished with my internship. Along with this, I was assigned even more tasks similar to this and felt like I was contributing more and more to the team each day I moved forward.
Something else that I noticed very quickly was just how much of a global city London is. I knew this by being told about it and with prior knowledge, but at my workplace alone there are people from London, other parts of the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and even parts of Africa. Embracing all of the differing cultures while also adjusting to the British culture, specifically in a work environment has truly been an amazing opportunity. It really has been the people I work with, whether its those on the finance team or not, that have played a huge role in how much I started to really enjoy working at my internship. As I commented on earlier, everyone has been very welcoming and friendly from the start, but beyond that, as the weeks went on, I just got more and more comfortable. It doesn’t feel as awkward walking in and sitting down at my desk, and in some ways, it really does feel like I belong there and have been there for longer than coming up six weeks.
As the program is coming to an end, I feel like I have learned a lot about myself, especially when it comes to interning abroad. Some tips I have for future students hoping to intern abroad themselves is to keep an open-mind, seriously don’t be afraid to ask questions, and get comfortable being uncomfortable. If I hadn’t kept an open-mind about my placement I would have been going into my internship miserable and then be paving a path of this attitude. I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of it and seen how much I really did end up enjoying it. Going into internships anywhere people are told to ask questions and everyone that says it, means it. Your supervisors and coworkers want you to understand what you’re doing and succeed so they’re more than happy to help. Questions show you’re intrigued and want to learn more, so it’s never a dumb question if you’re unsure about something. Lastly, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Someone told me this about study abroad during my freshman year and I think it’s some of the best advice. This rings true even more so during an international internship experience. You’ll gain more from your experience if you step outside of your comfort zone, personally, professionally and even academically. Overall, no matter what you do, try your best to enjoy your time abroad. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you’ll remember for the rest of your life!