Most people will only share the good parts of their time abroad, but not me. Whilst living in Spain was wonderful, interning in Spain was a new kind of painful.
As a communications student, I was lucky enough to land myself a “digital marketing” internship with a film production start up. I had such high hopes for this opportunity. I imagined myself waking up each day, enthused to be learning something new and practical about my future profession from someone with years of expertise.
It was supposed to be my ‘big break’ as some might say.
Here’s where it all wen’t wrong.
I’m not usually one to complain about these kinds of things. After all, good work can be done in almost any environment. But when I tell you that the “co-working office” I had to work in was depressing, I do quite literally mean that it made me depressed. See, this office was actually an empty factory, devoid of natural light… actually lacking in any sort of light, really… but the worst part was the temperature. The inside of this place was as cold as the wintery streets outside. There were times when my fingers froze over so bad that I could barely type on my keyboard. All this, however, would have been forgivable if I had a decent mentor.
The lack of guidance
I like to consider myself to be a self-starter, someone who takes initiative and seeks learning opportunities on my own. But, for my first ever taste of the communications industry, having a mentor who knew at least something about digital marketing, social media or content development would have been really useful. Instead, I was thrust into the deep end and expected to know how to swim from day one. Whilst I did learn about competitor analysis, internal analysis, writing web-copy and taking advantage of Instagram, I feel like my learning would have been more effective if I had someone to point me in the right direction. In fact, this experience had me feeling so lost that I started to question whether this career path was right for me.
The living situation
Points one and two would have been somewhat bearable on their own, had I not been naive enough to think that my insomniac-self could sleep in a twin share room for an entire month. Whilst I loved my roommate, Jenna, her snores sounded like the long blasts of a foghorn (so, at least nine decibels louder than the level at which a person starts to feel pain). Sorry, Jenna. Being the sensitive sleeper that I am, this meant that I didn’t fall asleep until around 4-5am each night. Sadly, I was then woken up around three hours later by my roommates who loudly got ready directly outside of my bedroom door.
The cumulation of each of these elements weighed more and more on my shoulders each day. But, each time I came close to crumbling from their pressure I reminded myself why I was there – not to be perfect, but to learn, to grow, and to experience.
My advice to anyone who finds themselves in this situation? Be selective in the opportunities you accept, prioritise your wellbeing, pack warm clothes, and look on the bright side whenever possible.
A final note
Undertaking an internship abroad doesn’t have to be a bad experience. I definitely have some very fond memories of my time away (read about them here). With the right planning, considerations, and advice from someone who’s been there and done that, your experience in your international workplace could be spectacular.