Unconventional Lessons

Over the past few weeks, I have found myself speaking with the other interns here about how quickly the time has passed since we arrived here. When I first landed in Paris in May, the month of July seemed so far away and I believed that I had so much time ahead of me. I had so many attractions and locations that I wanted to visit, and as we enter Week 6 of 8, I realize that I will not have nearly enough time to see them all. One of my first plans was to visit the city of Rouen, which is only an hour and a half away from Paris by train, during my first weekend abroad. However, plans quickly changed as I made friends and realized just how interesting and complex Paris was on its own, and it was only this past weekend that I finally made it out to Rouen. I was able to visit the Cathedrale de Notre Dame that Claude Monet painted (as well as one of his original paintings of it), along with the prison cell where Joan of Arc was held and the square in which she was executed.

As I have learned with my failure to keep up with my original plans for weekend trips, even some of the best-laid plans can be difficult to adhere to. Instead, the true value can be found in adaptability and flexibility according to the situation. Between my work at my internship and the process of adapting to life in Paris, I have learned many lessons that have helped me grow as a person and as a leader.

Speaking about leadership skills from my current position seems a bit ironic. As an intern, much less a foreign and unpaid intern, I am in many ways at the bottom of the period at my internship. I do not have the language fluency, cultural familiarity, or the industry experience to give anyone at my job any formal orders. Similarly, even in daily life, I am still very much learning about the culture, customs, and expectations. In most situations, I am the one listening, learning, and following others, rather than acting in a way intended for others to follow or copy. However, even despite this, I still believe that I have developed numerous useful skills that will augment my leadership in the future, whether in the US or abroad.

As mentioned before, one important skill I have learned is adaptability and resilience in the face of unexpected changes or challenges. In the position of a manager or other leader, it is inevitable that initial plans will be thrown off, and new problems will arise suddenly, but it is crucial to be able to navigate these things successfully for the sake of your subordinates and team. At my internship, I have had to work with my coworkers to overcome sudden challenges like broken facilities, dissatisfied customers, or late staff members. Meanwhile, in daily life, I have also had to work around issues like delayed metro trains, riots/protests, and changing work schedules. At first, I was prone to becoming stressed and losing my focus, which only made finding solutions harder. Fortunately, I became more comfortable with ambiguity the more I experienced it, and now I can more confidently navigate issues as both a team member and hopefully a leader.

In addition, in perhaps a counterintuitive fashion, I believe that learning humility while abroad will be one of the most critical factors in improving my leadership skills. Living in a country where a completely different language is spoken has truly taught me to put my pride aside in many situations. I cannot always express myself exactly as I hope to, and there are many times where I make mistakes either in behaviors or words. Instead of getting angry or embarrassed, however, I am only able to learn by keeping an open mind and letting others help me with advice or feedback. Similarly, a leader must be able to get over their own ego in order to be helpful and effective. Very little can get done with a leader who thinks of themselves as the single most important member of a team; instead, teams function much more efficiently when a leader can humble themselves enough to let themselves learn from others, even those considered ‘below’ them.

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