Interning in a Foreign Language (+Tips?)

28 September 2014 Concorde, 75008 Paris, France



As with new environments, it takes sometime getting use to things in the working world - what more in a foreign company with a foreign working language!
Honestly, I wouldn't ever dare say that i've been cruising through my internship. I was merely surviving (and occasionally having fun!). Somedays, I dread having to wake up and practically haul my butt to work, other days, i'm pretty chirpy through out the day - all depends on the social situations and amount of work to complete each day. I am in no way qualified to give tips but anyhow, I managed to survive without bursting in to tears, without calling home and complaining, plus I actually kind of enjoyed the process.
I guess this post sort of summarises what I have learnt through my experience, andddd... I hope its useful to at least one person out there!



SOCIALIZING
1 | Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
People on the other side of the world sometimes have very little knowledge about Asia (similarly, people in Asia, myself included, do sometimes have a very limited knowledge about europeans). Much less a tiny country like Singapore. To them, in Asia, there is China, Japan and Korea, and they can't tell the difference in our appearance. Despite that, they wouldn't hesitate to judge you base on your appearance. Or make jokes about Asians in front of you.

Walking along the streets I do face with people going "CHINA? KOREA? JAPAN? VIETNAM?" and they say it as if I'm illiterate and would not understand the phrase "Which country are you from?" Initially I was a little annoyed, I wasn't affected by the fact that they didn't know where I came from,  but more of annoyed they thought I couldn't speak english.
But after a while I realised, its not about me. Don't ever make it about you.
Eventually, I stopped being bothered about people asking me if i'm from China/ All sorts of weird questions about China (as if Singapore was ever part of china). The best thing to do in such situation is to brush it off. When people joke about china or asia, I typically just laugh it off. Its funny because sometimes the stereotypes are true, and there is no denying it!



Sometimes people choose not to speak english even though they can (because of various reasons, some legit, some not), or they cannot speak english/the language you speak, just let it slide. And as much as you don't like it, conversations will go on as though you are not there.
For me I found myself lost in all of the french conversations. Before I left for France, somebody told me this 'Be expected to be treated like a chair - you're there, people know it, but you're just THERE',  it was kind of true, but only when there is a really big group of people. So I played a game of guessing, where I just count the number of words I can pick out in the whole conversation. I do text sometimes (but that's not polite, and you come across as unfriendly, so, try not to do that haha!)
In fact when the other interns notice that i'm trying to understand, they do try to include me in the conversation by randomly asking me the same question in english, or explaining the conversation in english for me. 

Point is - I realised that there are always nice people around, its better to take things lightly, and be thankful for every single time somebody is nice!




2 | Don't Get Involved in/Create Drama
Working in an office with interns, there will definitely be drama, cliques, people liking someone more than another person. ALWAYS take the neutral stand. Especially if you don't understand what they are saying!
(I think this is more of a reminder to myself when I graduate and start working. Dear Future Carina: Don't EVER be involved in politics. Avoid it like the plague. As far as you can.)
If people approach you with their problems, be nice, and JUST LISTEN. Never add oil to fire, don't commit social suicide.
Sometimes you get approached only when people need something for you, always be genuine about helping them. Don't be upset and think they're making use of you  etc. don't create drama for yourself.   I believe, if i'm not genuine, people will know. There is no faking it. Being fake nice is gross - another self reminder.
I actually enjoyed helping the other interns in the company, mostly to read through english stuff, made me feel a little more useful (see point under work)!

Oh, and, if people expect you to be a certain way that you're not, just smile and let it go. I realised, its never a good thing to get upset over that. 


3 | Be Nice and Make Friends
This is pretty obvious. If you want people to be nice to you, you should be nice first. Truth be told, it's hard to make friends when you speak a different language. Somedays you just want to shut up and not try, but, sulk for 5 minutes, listen to your favourite song, and then put on a happy face and go talk to people (or at least look approachable - I think I struggle with this generally!) 
Most of the time I feel weird cutting in/openly speaking to everyone whilst they are having a french conversation, but, when there is a smaller group, or if I'm speaking to one or 2 people at a time, I tend to open up a lot more! 

Whatever it is, I think interacting with people as much as possible should be the way to go - I wish i had opened up more earlier and faster! But well, it was definitely fun talking to people who have such different lifestyles and upbringing, be it 1 or 100 new friends, its nice to get to know a part of somebody else's story.  


WORK:
1 | Google(and google translate/any translating device) is Your Best Friend
I think everyone realised this since stepping in to University. But really, I had to google something / look to google for help regarding the work I had to do, almost every single day.

The job scope that I had was nothing related to my major in Uni. Some people may prefer to do something more related to what they are studying, but I enjoyed learning more about business, excel etc, things I otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn whilst studying engineering.

Google has been a great at help.


2 | Keep Yourself Occupied
Unfortunately, working in a big company your bosses don't really have time to bother too much about you, (well talking to my other friends on internship, this seems to be a such norm) or they might be away for a day, a week (a month - french have a 5week paid leave, why do Singaporeans only get 14 days, sigh!) and you find yourself being unoccupied after completing the relevant assignments/allocated workload.


There were a couple of times I found myself browsing thought catalog, chatting up random friends on FB, tumblr-ing for the 100x in the day, and still feeling immensely bored, and just... being very useless.
For most companies, any form of audio/video/filesharing website will be blocked - thankfully for me, facebook and blogger were available - so i spent my free time switching between Doing My French Homework, Editting Photos, and Planning for my Holidays/Weekend trips! Planning for trips are the best, because I do get tips on where to go/what to see/what they liked about the place/where else I should visit etc. from the other interns who have been to these other European cities!

What I found interesting - and this is probably a better tip - was that the other interns proactively approach other managers and ask if they could help in any sort of work. I admire them for that. Typically not done in Singapore I guess?  Well I have never heard of it until then - my ignorance maybe. But its nice being more proactive and not just doing nothing when your supervisor is on holiday right?

Other ways to keep yourself occupied can include reading Ebooks or listening to Audible - But please FINISH your work first.



LIFE:
1 | Learn the Language
I cannot stress how important this is. People are nicer when they see that you try. Besides, learning a new language = being able to meet new people from class! Living in a huge city alone, its hard to find friends. Going for language classes is the best way to find other people like you, plus its always fun to learn something new! I met really nice people whilst learning french. Nice and interesting people with such wonderful stories to share! 

The down side though, is people have different schedules, so sometimes they leave class after a couple of weeks and come back later/go to a different class, but I'm so super thankful to have met  such nice people whilst studying french, and hopefully we do meet again sometime in the future!



2 | Explore. Even If You're Alone.
I was such an enjoyable time exploring the city alone. That experience will be one of my most cherished. I gained a ton of independence, and NAVIGATION SKILLS - thank you citymaps2go. I would say the only I wish I did was travel to a different city alone. I did not have the guts to do that. But well, Paris is never boring, so weekends alone, was how I discovered more about myself, learned to live alone, and gained a lot of confidence.



Not many people know, but my relationship with myself was a wreck for quite sometime, and I depended a lot on others to feel worthy, but living alone sort of changed that. I am happy with myself and what I have. Thankful, and hopefully more appreciative. My mum noticed I became a lot more confident as well. It wasn't that I was not confident before, but now I am more comfortable with myself, I have accepted myself for who I am. I feel like I've learned how to take care of myself, love myself, and be proud of myself.




3 | Have Little Reminders of Home
I'm not very dependent on my family, and I have never felt homesick even on school trips/camps/overseas with friends etc. but I being able to do things that reminded me of  my lifestyle back at home helped a lot.
Back in Singapore I watch a lot of american dramas, sitcoms, etc. Being able to do that while having dinner, really made it feel as though I was back at home. At least for that hour.
Then again, I didn't have the stress of having to study and keep my grades up, so more on this topic when I officially start school in London. I hope I cope just fine!
Time to pack pictures and bring some dorm room decorations along :)




If you actually took the time to read everything in this post, THANK YOU! Do share with me any tips/stories that would help with my year abroad. I hope this was not too much of a bore, and if it was too wordy, at least the photos made up for it! Thats all from me about Paris, hopefully I get to go back again as a full fledge tourist sometime in the future.

Pictures from a lazy sunday out in the Louvre/Concorde Area of Paris

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