Beyond an Intern: Feeling Like a True Employee Abroad

Dec 26, 2016 1:30:00 PM / by Julie Ritz

A CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Rachel Long

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Meet CAPA alumna Rachel Long, a public relations major who studied abroad in London during spring semester 2016. Below, Rachel talks about how her internship with ThinkersPR drove her to find a particular aspect of PR she loves, how misconceptions of international cities can be broken in ways you might not expect, and how she feels truly found a home in London that she could return to later on.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
RACHEL LONG: My name is Rachel Long and I am a public relations major and an international business minor at SUNY Oswego. I am from Hopewell Junction, New York (near Poughkeepsie). I studied abroad with CAPA London in spring 2016. I went to Italy, Greece and Turkey in high school, which ignited my love of travel. Studying abroad furthered my love and I visited 10 different cities while I was in London. My hobbies include playing and watching sports, baking, and currently, watching the X-Files.

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CW: Why did you choose the CAPA program and why London specifically?
RL: I actually did not choose CAPA; my housemate who went abroad with me decided to do the program. She needed to take certain classes to graduate and CAPA offered them. I just planned on going wherever she was going. After looking into CAPA and realizing they offered internships, I was very excited about the program we had chosen. We both agreed on London because we wanted to live in a hustle-and-bustle city. We also wanted to study abroad in an English-speaking city. London appealed to me because of the culture, the opportunities and the completely different culture than where I attend college.

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CW: Talk about academics abroad: Which classes did you take in London? How were you able to connect your experience of the city itself and your academics?
RL: I took two classes: "International Marketing" and "Advertising & Communication", along with the mandatory "Learning Through Internships" class. My favorite class was "International Marketing". Our professor, Wilson Ozuem, was one of the most knowledgeable, engaging and fun professors I have ever taken a class with. I learned so much and I continue to apply the knowledge I gained in that class to other classes in my minor. Because we were learning about international marketing while living abroad, it was easy to see examples of it all around us. From products with different names than in the US to different marketing techniques being used, it was easy to apply my academics to the city while I explored London.

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CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad. Why was this an important experience for you to have as part of your study abroad program?
RL: I interned at ThinkersPR, a public relations and marketing firm that focuses on luxury, lifestyle and fashion. I was the public relations and marketing intern and I worked with a team of seven PR professionals. I interned 20 hours a week, eight on Monday and Tuesday and four on Wednesday. It was about a 40-minute commute, 35 minutes by Tube and five minutes on foot to the office. I worked in the borough of Islington, near Angel station. I did not mind my commute; I was able to just sit and listen to podcasts while someone else drove me to work.

Interning at ThinkersPR was the highlight of my study abroad experience. I wish I could have worked every day. Having an internship experience as a part of my study abroad program was not necessarily something I looked for at first, but once I found CAPA, I realized how amazing an opportunity interning abroad would be. The internship program allowed me to become more immersed in London’s culture than any class or trip could let me. I have had internships in the past, but this internship experience was different. I learned how to adapt to a different style of work, learned completely new skills and furthered my personal development more than I ever had before. I cannot imagine my study abroad experience without my internship experience.

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CW: What were some of your responsibilities and accomplishments at your internship? Walk us through a day in the life of a CAPA intern.
RL: At ThinkersPR I was treated like a coworker, not an intern, so I had plenty of responsibilities. Here is a quick rundown of my Monday at work:

We would start the day with a meeting to go over everyone’s priorities, talk about ongoing projects and go over the newspapers that we looked through to discuss any relevant articles. Part of my job was to create media lists, compile research for campaigns, cold-call publications and any other odds and ends the PR team needed my help on.

My main task after working there for about a month was creating, planning, and managing social media for our clients. It was my responsibility to create Twitter content for three of our clients while also creating content to promote our brand as well. There was a marketing calendar listing promotions, events and and other relevant topics that I based my content around. I would schedule the content in and also track new followers and analyze the content through engagements and impressions to see what style was working or not working.

At other times, I would also write for the blog, work events, attend pitch meetings and even did a little HR work for my boss. Once I got into the swing of things, I had a defined role in the company.

My "Learning Through Internships" class (LTI) was helpful because we discussed the differences in the workplace and why things are done certain ways based on the culture. It was fun to reflect on an international workplace while actually working at one.

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CW: Let's talk about everyone's favorite topic: food! What new foods did you try in London? Favorite dishes? Anything you miss? Any restaurant or cafe recommendations? 
RL: I knew London was a global city, but I underestimated how much of a global food hub it was. Everyone in the US talks about how bland and gross English food is, but they are very wrong! London is full of cuisine from around the world that it is impossible to call “bland” or “gross.”

There are three different foods that I miss dearly everyday. First, is the traditional fish ‘n’ chips, but from a specific location: Kerbisher & Malt. K&M was right around the corner from my flat and my flatmate and I would go there every other Sunday for dinner. I would order the battered haddock, chips and onion rings. The onions used were pickled first, which made them the best onion rings I have ever had.

Second was falafel. I lived in a predominantly middle-eastern area so falafel was prevalent everywhere. The best falafel sandwich I had was on Leather Lane and only cost me £2.90. I can get falafel in the States, but nothing compares.

Lastly, the lamb box. I dream of this dish and I miss it everyday. My internship supervisor introduced be to this decadent street food. For £5 you would get a to-go box containing a pita stuffed with fresh hummus, couscous, pulled spicy lamb, shredded greens, yogurt sauce and chili spices. If I could eat this everyday, I would. The next time I’m in London, my first stop will be Exmouth Market to pick up my favorite dishes.

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CW: Did you feel like London was a good fit for you? Did you feel comfortable and at home there? Why or why not? 
RL: London is my home and I miss it almost every day. I could have not picked a better city that I would fit into. I truly consider myself a Londoner, even though I only lived there for four months. I felt extremely comfortable there within weeks of moving abroad. I fit right in with the hustle and bustle style of the city. I enjoyed the work environment more than I ever had in the US. London is full of different things to do, people to meet and different cultures around every corner. I am not one to sit around doing nothing and London let me do something new almost every day. As someone who does not like to drive, London’s public transportation system was a dream come true. I fell in love with the sights, the culture, the people. A part of me will always be with London.

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CW: What do you see yourself doing when you graduate? Did your experience abroad in any way shape your career goals and aspirations? If so, how so?
RL: After graduation, I plan on getting a job somewhere in the philanthropic area of public relations. I have been leaning toward that area of public relations for sometime now, but studying abroad has changed my goals and aspirations. After studying abroad, I now aspire to work for an international company or corporation so that I may spend part of my time here and part of my time abroad. I want traveling and experiencing new cultures and places to be an aspect of my career. Studying abroad in London has also opened my eyes to my love for cities. I now aim to begin my career in NYC, Boston, Philadelphia or in another large US city (or maybe a large UK city!).

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CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your London" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
RL: One of “my London” places was where I lived in Shepherds Bush. Goldhawk Road station was “my stop” and the little Sainsburys below our flat was “my grocery store.” Shepherd’s Bush was special to me because it was my little London home. Another one of “my London” spots was Old Spitalfields Market. It wasn’t overrun with tourists like Camden Market but there were still plenty of great vendors, food and non-food alike. It seemed like a secret place that only Londoners (and CAPA students) really knew about. Greenwich was also a place I loved to go because it was so green and beautiful, which gave me a little bit of fresh air when I wanted a little less city in my day. Lastly, Exmouth market in Islington was my place. I’ve mentioned it before and I’m mentioning it again. It was a little gem of a market tucked away nicely near my work, where I could enjoy a delicious cheap meal.

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CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you?
RL: Personally, I find myself to be more independent than I was before I studied abroad (and I thought I was really independent beforehand). I am also a lot more confident. I am a better decision maker and more likely to step out of my comfort zone. Professionally, I am more driven to do what I love and succeed in my field. I am excited to take on new challenges and explore new places thanks to CAPA and the study abroad program. After studying abroad, I don’t feel like I am a new person, just a better version of myself.

Thanks, Rachel!

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Topics: London, England, Interviews