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It’s the first day on the job and you wake up feeling eager to start your internship. You crowd into the tube and are jammed close in between two complete strangers. Arriving at the office early to make a good impression, you find nobody there to let you in to the building. Time to twiddle your thumbs for an hour until your employer gets to work. You are overdressed. Your dress shirt, tie, and slacks make you stand out like a sore thumb to your coworkers in jeans and sweaters. Does this sound familiar to you? If you worked as an intern in London like me, chances are you have had a similar experience on your first day. If you have any interest in working in the UK, here are some things that you ought to know.
First, the work atmosphere abroad in the UK is very relaxed in comparison to most internships in the US. In London, I had the ability to develop my own work schedule and determine what days I was going to work, and for how long each day. Coming into the country under a Tier 4 Working Visa, it was only required that I work 15 hours per week. My employer, Emily Barnes at Design for Me, pretty much allowed me to show up to work whenever I wanted to as long as I met the Tier 4 requirements imposed by the UK government. Also, as previously mentioned, my coworkers in the office always dressed casually, which I didn’t expect at all in an office setting. Needless to say I will not be loading my suitcase full of dress clothes next time.
Second, there is a greater level of autonomy given to interns in the UK than in the US. My employer gave me tasks and typically allowed me to determine the best way in which I felt they should be completed, rather then telling me how she expected it to be done. At Design for Me, I wasn’t in charge of grunt work that most interns in the US have to undertake such as mindless data entry or proofread documents for my employer. Instead, I took a direct role in the growth and progression of the company by drafting the marketing section of my employers business plan to investors. One small setback during my internship that I noticed was that my employer rarely ever gave feedback to me after I had completed a task. This at times frustrated me and prevented me from feeling like I was really adding value to the firm.
Finally, I found that I got to personally know my coworkers a lot better in the UK than during previous internships in the US. Rather than being stuck in my own cubicle that isolated me from the rest of the office, I sat directly across from my coworkers and had the chance to chat with them multiple times each day. Personally, in comparison with the United States I feel that the company culture in the UK is a lot more focused on creating a sense of community, and places an emphasis on the growth on the organization as a whole.
After learning some of the main differences between my US and UK internships, do you still want to find an internship abroad? If so, contact the DU Office of International Education to find out how you can start the study abroad process. It will be a decision you will not regret!
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