Last summer, I interned for Merck at the health care company’s branch in Rome. The experience taught much more than industry-specific skills, including these four lessons about adjusting to life and business abroad.
Always research the culture differences.
Before I left, I didn’t realize how different the corporate culture may be in Italy compared to a company here in the U.S. On the first day, I learned that it’s customary to take at least three to four coffee breaks during the day even if that means that everyone stays an extra hour.
It was during these little breaks I was able to interact and become friends with my co-workers. If I had decided to skip the cups of coffee, I would not have been able to connect with my colleagues in the same way.
Face challenges head-on.
When I first arrived, I was ready to purchase my Internet access and communicate with my family nearly instantly. Little did I know it takes almost a week to even activate a wireless chip. Instances like this one came up during my entire stay, but it’s important to move past these little hurdles and enjoy the rare experience.
Spend some time gaining basic language skills.
Before I left I didn’t feel like I needed to learn Italian because during my previous vacation to Rome everyone we met spoke English. This isn’t the case in most parts of the city that aren’t the major tourist areas. There were many people in the office who didn’t speak a word of English, so as the summer progressed I started picking up on more and more Italian. If I had done a little more homework, it would have paid off.
Embrace the experience.
While you may not have all the comforts of home, living in a new country can be a life-changing experience. Along with learning more about your chosen industry, you have the opportunity to learn about a different country and more about yourself, too. I definitely feel I gained a lot more independence by spending the summer in Italy.
Not all my problems could be solved with a quick call home. I had to figure out the best solution myself. If you have the opportunity to intern abroad, take it. Just be sure to do some digging into the culture first.
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