The most important lesson I learned when interning abroad last summer was from a colleague who said, “The experiences you have here are what you make it, that makes the biggest difference.” What he had said was insightful and helped me comprehend my experiences abroad. I completed my internship in Hong Kong working with a non-profit organization called HeroesToo. The organization focused on providing environmental education programs to local schools in Hong Kong. While I valued and supported what the company was achieving, my internship experiences were not as structured as I was expecting. It is not unusual for people to go into internships with high expectations and to then be disappointed. That is how I saw my internship at first, a failed internship. It wasn’t until after I was reflecting over the past two months that I realized I had gained so many skills and lessons subconsciously over the course of my internship. The biggest difference between interning abroad and studying abroad are the things you learn while interning abroad are less quantitative. When interning abroad, it is not typical to return from abroad knowing all the course material from ECON 144, Principles of Economics, or any course you might fulfill abroad. It is more about the experiential learning that happens when interning abroad and the lessons taught and learned from those experiences.
My internship with HeroesToo was a unique experience. As a non-profit organization budgets were small. The team mainly comprised interns and a couple of permanent employees. Often, there would be several outside specialists who volunteered to help on a certain project that we were planning. Due to the very collaborative nature of the organization, I was able to work with several people from various backgrounds. I was also able to work in a very open and collaborative workspace. I worked in a building run by a real estate company called WeWork. WeWork offers several flexible workspaces customized towards your type of work and team. HeroesToo operated in a coworking space that, in our case, almost resembled a very functional and trendy break room. Occasionally, different companies and organizations would hold pop-ups or presentations for anyone in the building to attend, both during and after the workday. The layout of the space had various coworking space options with couches, more traditional desks, long tables, etc. People would also use the space to eat lunch and socialize. It was the unique and collaborative workspace I had ever worked in. It was a very lively working space with so many opportunities to learn from other people and companies with different origins.
The variety of people who worked in the same office space would vary often. There was a range of people who were local Hong Kongers, interns from the United States, and other countries, expatriates, and travelers on a business trip. This diverse community allowed me to learn how to work in multicultural workplaces. During my internship with HeroesToo in such a diverse workplace, I learned to consider all perspectives and develop pros and cons for each. Coming to intern in a different country from your own, it is important to come with an open mind to consider all the differing perspectives. Attempt to control your biases and arrange the pros and cons of each idea. In many situations, it is best to keep an open mind, but it is practically essential to really have an open mind in multicultural workplaces. Another point to keep in mind is the fact that you will not always agree, but you will have to learn to work with each other, regardless. During my internship, some of my fellow internees could never agree on any topic. This hindered their internship experience because they could not get their work completed. They could not resolve the disagreements to come with a plan to work on the project cohesively. It is important to realize there will be things you do not agree with but must learn to pick your battles and remember the goal and the big picture of the project. I believe the biggest issue between my two colleagues was the fact that they let their drastic cultural differences impede work and lost sight of the big picture and the ultimate goal of the project. Recognize why everyone is where they are today and remember to acknowledge the similarities along with the differences. Take the opportunity to learn from each other, learn more about yourself, and how you react to these situations and what you can do better in the future. Do not be too discouraged by all the changes and differences because navigating and experiencing multicultural workplaces will speak louder than you think when applying for jobs in the future.
The opportunity to work in such a collaborative and multicultural workspace was my favorite part of my internship. I felt that I learned so many things from working and navigating such a unique workspace. I truly believe multicultural workspaces are one of the best work environments to be in. The space is so open to new ideas and perspectives that will really allow you and your colleagues to thrive if you make the best of it. In spaces like these, it will force you to learn more about the people around, but also yourself. It is best to embrace multicultural workspaces because I believe it is an environment that supports growth, innovation, and creativity.