WHAT WILL MY PLACEMENT BE LIKE?
Spending time in London as a student is a truly unforgettable experience, and choosing to participate in an internship during your academic program will give you the opportunity to connect with one of the world’s great capital cities in a deeper and more meaningful way than most study abroad students, and exponentially more than the casual tourist!
The city’s modern cosmopolitan identity combines a fascinating past with a present bustling with people living, studying, working and playing in its different areas. Your internship could take you into any of London’s neighborhoods, from the distinguished “Square Mile,” home to London’s financial district; the illustrious Soho, the thriving core of the media industry; the hipster flair of East London, home to the 2012 Olympic Park; or any of the many new co-working communities forming in the leafy suburbs, where entrepreneurial start-ups seek a greener quality of life in addition to commercial success.
The most successful students are those who have taken the time to carefully prepare and have realistic expectations for the experience. We know it’s a lot, but taking the time to read through all of this information is the best way to ensure you will have a successful and enjoyable experience.
|Internship Objectives||Academic Assessment and Evaluation|
Intercultural Workplace Experiences
Differences in Industry
Education vs Professional Practice
Company size and “Brand Name” Companies
Cultural Differences in the Workplace
What to Wear
Every student will have personal goals for their experience, but a key objective of any international internship is to help you develop transferable skills, including general professional skills and cultural competence. Unlike specific vocational skills, transferable skills are those that can be transported from one context to another and one field to another. Examples include professional interaction; negotiating meaning; cultural flexibility; and computer, business writing, and research skills. Building these skills in an international and multi-cultural environment will add a crucial dimension to your post-graduation résumé. Success in the international internship and in the overall study abroad experience is heavily dependent upon your ability to manage your expectations and keep a handle on this main objective. Previous FIE interns have cited independence, adaptability, and confidence as most important skills they gained through their FIE internship.
In addition, your international internship can help you define or refine what you hope to do with your future. Some interns learn from their time in London that the area in which they have been working is not something they wish to do as a profession. This does not mean they have had a negative experience, but rather they have learned about where they wish to take their career. Some of the best experiences can be appreciated in hindsight and this is often true of an international internship.
Finally, gaining work experience prior to graduation will enhance your employability. An international internship is a unique cultural experience and one that will help you stand out and impress prospective employers.
The most important qualities of any study abroad student are flexibility, open-mindedness, a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and a willingness to adapt to difficult, unfamiliar and challenging situations. The need for these qualities intensifies if a student accepts the challenge of engaging in an international internship: not only will you be required to live and study in another culture, but to work as well.
Work environments and work practices are likely to be very different than those in your home country. Some students may be coming to the international internship with little or no office experience, and their glamorous visions of the world of work may be met with the reality of the daily 9-5 spent in front of a computer.
An Intercultural Workplace Experience
Interning in a different country is not like interning or working at home. For example, an internship in your home country could be extended into full employment, but if you are on a Tier 4 Visa you are required to return to your home country after your London program.
Additionally, before you can get to vocational training much of your placement may be spent acclimating to the new working culture and learning about industry differences. These important learning experiences aren’t available in your home country – it’s why you are coming to London!
This short, “taster” placement experience will give you a window into the working world of a new culture and a chance to engage with the locals in a deep and meaningful way.
Differences in Industry
It is difficult to generalize, as FIE has such a wide diversity of placements, but industries in the United Kingdom are often very different from those in your home country. This is why all students should conduct research in the areas where they hope to be interning, starting with our Industry Areas pages. Professional fields in Britain can be structured differently and require knowledge that you may not possess. Remember that British and European students, who may have more relevant skills, are also looking for internships in London.
In many cases, your education and work experience will be interpreted differently in London. Opportunities that might be available to you in your home country may not exist in the UK in the same form, may not be to open to international interns, or your educational and work background may not correspond to the needs and requirements of a particular organization or sector. Confidentiality policies, qualifications, and union rules could limit your exposure.
The FIE Internship Team will provide the expertise in terms of developing your choices into the reality of an international internship in London, but potential interns must provide the flexibility and open-mindedness to accept a reality that may be different from expectations.
Education vs. Professional Practice
Within higher education, areas of study are clearly defined and categorized. Unfortunately, life is not as neat and tidy as an undergraduate major. The theories and concepts presented in textbooks are not usually an obvious focus in the day-to-day workplace. Practice does not always reflect theory, particularly in different national and cultural contexts. The FIE Internship Team will work on your behalf to identify the best available opportunities for each student within these environments.
Furthermore, functions represented by the areas listed in the FIE Internship Areas, such as marketing, PR, finance, and accounting, are often departments within businesses and organizations. Therefore, students should anticipate that they may be placed in an organization in which these functions are carried out, like a fashion label, a tech company, or a not-for-profit organization, not necessarily in a firm whose main business is, for instance, PR or accounting.
Please also keep in mind that all placements are entry-level positions. As an undergraduate intern, your tasks will mirror that of a student looking to gain work experience in a field that reflects a future career aspiration. All students should expect to be involved in a variety of tasks in the workplace. For example, a typical accounting placement might include a combination of operations, administrative as well as accounting tasks.
Company size and “Brand Name” Companies
Given the specific requirements and timeframe of your internship through FIE, the opportunities available are limited to those companies and organizations that can comply with our program model. This means that the organizations and businesses we work with are most often small and medium-sized enterprises, as opposed to large companies. This is because most large organizations and corporations in London either do not offer internships at all or run their own closed competitive internship scheme which is not compatible with our program. You are unlikely to recognize the name of your assigned company or organization as most placements that we work with are local to London or operate only within the UK.
However, company size and name recognition are no guarantees of placement quality. We have learned from our extensive experience in internships that in the majority of instances, students get a much more involved and personal experience at smaller placements.
Students are notified of their placements after arrival in London and before the beginning date of the placement, barring circumstances beyond FIE’s control. Students are not informed of their placement until it is confirmed, and this can occur anytime between arrival and the beginning of the placement.
Students usually begin their placements from 2 to 8 weeks after arrival, depending on the program and the term.
- Shorter, quarter and summer programs often start their placements soon after arrival.
- Students participating in 15-week or semester programs usually begin their placement after their mid-term break, typically starting their internship experience eight weeks after arrival. Not starting your internship experience immediately allows you time to adjust to your new surroundings and to the new culture.
The number of days you spend in your internship each week, as well as the duration of your internship experience, is decided prior to your arrival. This will vary from program to program, but the majority of students work a minimum of three full-time days per week for semester programs and up to two and a half days per week for summer programs. The time and commitment you are able to dedicate to your placement directly impacts the success of your experience.
Typical hours of work in London are 9 am to 5 pm or 10 am to 6 pm, but the needs of the company may require that students work outside these hours. It is expected that students will take advantage of any special events opportunities to further their learning goals as well as to benefit their placement. You will be entitled to have up to an hour’s break for lunch each day.
Introduce yourself to your co-workers. Take the time to get to know them, and try to understand what their role is in the organization. If you are invited to attend after work socials, whether it’s a drink in the pub with co-workers or a work-related activity, seize the opportunity – you might make a contact you could use in the future!
Professional contacts can be found anywhere you look – your placement’s clients, your faculty, guest speakers in your classes, people you meet in the pub or at events. Studying in London can be a great time to hone your networking skills, and don’t forget to add your new contacts on LinkedIn.
Cultural Differences in the Workplace
Cultural differences will make participating in your international internship very different from working in your home country. London is the most diverse city in the UK: one-third of residents were born outside the country and the people of the city speak over 300 languages, a diversity which is reflected in the workplace. Learning about different cultures and behaviors is all part of an international internship experience.
There is, of course, no such thing as a typical Briton, but here are a few examples of common observations of British society.
Students work in a variety of different neighborhoods and communities, often away from the affluence of FIE’s Study Center in South Kensington. In the internship experience, you will likely have co-workers from diverse backgrounds and your company may work with individuals from diverse religious or ethnic groups.
You must be able and willing to deal sensitively with these various constituencies. It is not just about being “politically correct,” but being able to show empathy and genuinely respect others, regardless of differing opinions, backgrounds or positions in life. Make sure you are aware of how this translates into your individual workplace. If you have questions, please ask your Internship Mentor or Site Supervisor.
Most people in London travel to work using the Tube (underground trains) and traveling during rush hour is all part of the internship experience. Commuting with other work-bound passengers is a unique experience, and students should expect to commute to their placement. Depending on the location of your placement you may need to travel on foot, by bus, on above-ground or underground trains or a combination thereof. Keen cyclers may want to try the green and healthy option of cycling to work!
The average Londoner commutes about an hour, so interns can expect traveling to and from the internship placement to take anything from 15 to 75 minutes. Certain industries, such as political constituency offices, by their nature, are likely to be further outside central London.
If your placement is located outside of central Zones 1 & 2, you will be reimbursed any additional travel expenses incurred in the daily commute to and from your workplace.
Prior to the internship, many students say their number one worry is what to pack and what to wear. By the end of the internship, most students report they hadn’t needed to be so concerned as they actually anticipated and negotiated quite well! If you can, trust us and try not to worry too much about this part of your preparation.
All students should expect to wear professional office attire during the internship. In general, the type of clothing worn in the workplace will depend on the specific organization you will be working for and will reflect the industry you will be interning in. Finance, legal and business placements often require more formal dress, and if you are an intern in these areas, you may be required to wear a suit every day. Creative industries such as media or the arts tend to be less formal.
Nevertheless, all interns should be prepared to dress nicely for their interview, wearing a suit if necessary. All students should bring at least one business dressy or formal outfit (a suit and tie for men; dress or jacket and trousers for women) for their interview as well as any special events during their experience. After you meet your team and see the work environment, you will have a better idea of what is required for your particular placement. If you need to buy one or two more pieces for your work wardrobe, there are plenty of places where you can get what you need (and you will likely want to buy into some London trends anyway).
Click here to see our full What to Wear guide, including the internship packing list:
- One formal outfit for the interview
- 1 - 3 pairs of nice work shoes
- A couple pairs of nice trousers and/or skirts
- Several professional shirts and tops to mix and match
- Sweaters plus a light rain jacket and a winter coat
- All internship clothes are office appropriate!!
At your in-country orientation before your interview, The Experiential Education Team will provide more specific advice regarding appropriate attire for your placement and help ensure you make that all-important good first impression.
FIE only arranges placements for students participating in one of our approved academic programs, where the placement is an integral and assessed component of the course of study. Additionally, academic and visa regulations require all students to participate in an academic class alongside their placement. Most students will be participating in the International Internship Course (IIC), which combines the placement experience with faculty-led seminars, including written assignments and academic requirements.
The way placement grades are determined may depend on your university’s requirements. In most cases, the work placement itself is not seen as sufficient to earn you credit. Academic reflection and processing is a key component of the overall internship experience. In addition, a student’s performance in the workplace will be evaluated by their designated site supervisor.
Students must also comply with academic and visa regulations by submitting weekly timesheets throughout the duration of the placement. Poor attendance and/or missing timesheets could result in a grade reduction.