Casey Morgan Luc, ‘17, The George Washington University, shares his experience of studying and working in Paris, France during his first semester.
On my first morning before my internship, I was nervous as I represented my study abroad program, the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) in Paris. It was the first time CIEE had offered the opportunity for students to pursue an internship while studying abroad. So, I was a guinea pig of sorts, and there were no rules written about the student fellowship. In that regard, my carefully planned outfit with a cashmere beige scarf was symbolic of this unwritten journey, hoping to stand out and make a little name for myself. After all, this is what I had planned for some time.
Last spring, I realized that I had one year left in undergrad and I wanted to do something different. I came across CIEE and their new public health internship program in my study abroad office, so I registered for the program and left the following fall. I brought a couple of pairs of clothes, some essentials, and my laptop. At first, I thought I did not bring enough luggage, but I actually brought too much. When studying abroad, you may acquire many things. In the end, you may have to leave behind some belongings. So, I recommend being frugal with what you bring and budgetary with what you buy.
While I am sitting in my favorite French cafe, Café Charlot, drinking a warm café allongé to combat the same cold rain depicted in Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago, I’m reflecting on three months worth of experiences since my first day.
Studying abroad has infinite value, but students who intern abroad will acquire at least three more things. First, experience in the relevant field of study. Second, language proficiency. I learned words and idioms that you would most likely not learn in a classroom. Third, a cross-cultural perspective on the business culture.
I learned it’s challenging to enter a new environment where mannerisms and work styles follow different cultural rules. But, being immersed in a new work culture makes this opportunity so rewarding. I am humbled because I now focus on understanding even the smallest gestures like greetings, and goodbyes. I ask myself questions like, “Is it proper for me to eat in my office alone or do I sit with the rest of the department in the cafeteria?” For French culture, the latter is a necessity. Eating alone and “getting ahead” is seen as somewhat inappropriate and even selfish. After experiencing these new cultural customs, I am more self-aware of my culture. When I return to the states, I am sure I will be more conscious of the way “American business” works, and I will be able to identify and change certain mannerisms that I would have otherwise overlooked subconsciously. I might even bring some of my French influence into the American-working environment.
On my first day with CIEE, I walked into the office, greeted my bosses for the first time, and sat down in my cubicle for training. I was ready, nervous and thrilled, but still excited to soak up an ever-changing experience. I took off my coat and got a pen ready. My boss looked at me funny and said, “Aren’t you going to take off your scarf? It’s rather hot here.”