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What My Internship in the UK Taught Me About Food, British Workplace Culture, and Professionalism

Jun 29, 2020 9:39:00 AM / by James Nightengale

James takes a look back at his internship in London and shares what he learned about British workplace culture and food culture, which he found to be deeply intertwined. Learn more and see what restaurants James recommends in London! 

The CAPA Internship is the cornerstone upon which much of my abroad experience was built - it was the element of my time abroad that required the most dedication and effort, and was the focus of an entire course dedicated to making the most out of our time as an intern. I can confidently say that my time working as an intern helped me learn far more about myself and greatly clarified my professional goals. In choosing to intern abroad, I was pushed to rely much more on my own resourcefulness and flexibility than I might otherwise have done in a program without the same kind of rigorous focus on a genuine internship experience. I was asked to think critically about my performance onsite as well as reflect on my work through written and oral presentations in class. Now that I am quarantining at home and my internship is set squarely in the rearview mirror of my mind, I have had time to organize the avalanche of emotions, experiences, and thoughts surrounding the CAPA Internship Program.

What has stood out to me more than anything else more than anything else was how much food culture and work culture were often deeply intertwined in my day-to-day life as an intern. Though London is not a city that is necessarily known for its spectacular cuisine (besides the Indian restaurants, which were consistently excellent), their more relaxed rules surrounding mealtimes led to an unexpected emphasis on socialization and quality time spent outside the office, which I was not at all anticipating. I know many of my friends have had similar experiences at their internship sites, and I wanted to highlight the ways in which this unique combination of great food and welcoming co-workers led to such an impactful and eye-opening semester abroad. 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Sky News Center of CampusThe center of Sky News’ sprawling campus beneath yet another cloudy day in London.

The organization I interned for was called ‘Mama Youth Project,’ a media company located on the Sky News campus in the borough of Islington, about an hour’s commute away from my flat in West Kensington. The journey could be easily accomplished with a single bus ride which would take me from the bus station in Hammersmith to the far-off neighborhood of Islington. Because I was above ground the whole way, I always had cell service, a small blessing which allowed me to stream as many songs or podcasts as my heart desired. When I was feeling more pensive, I could simply watch the streets of London from the giant windows of the upper floor of the H91 bus, eating a loose apple or energy bar I had grabbed after a rushed breakfast. 

Because Sky News is one of the largest television news channels in the UK, the area on which they operate is stretched over an enormous campus the size of multiple city blocks, and contains several large office buildings, meeting rooms, and (most importantly) eating halls which each come with their own menus. While the sheer size of the place felt a little overwhelming at first - it even has its own mini tram system - I soon built up the confidence to navigate on my own and discover my favorite nooks and crannies. It helped significantly that my coworkers at Mama Youth Project were so friendly and would invite me to eat lunch with them each afternoon I was working. They would show me a new eating area each week- my personal favorite was ‘The Restaurant,’ the aptly-named space providing a slightly fancier eating experience (because waiters would take your order and bring your food to you). And since all of the eating spaces were all subsidized through the government, the food was shockingly cheap! 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Sky News FoodThis was one of my favorite meals, which we ordered at ‘The Restaurant,’ - some kind of sweet potato falafel dish with a delicious, creamy sauce. As you could probably guess, eating at work quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day.

Though the food was always great, what was really striking about these meals was the shared company and enjoyable conversation. When I first envisioned interning for this organization, I imagined sitting at a desk, doing research, and occasionally chatting with members of my team - all things which occurred often and I could prepare myself for. What I did not anticipate was how much time I’d be spending with my coworkers outside of the office, often over a shared meal. The daily lunches became a treasured break away from my desk where I could really get to know the people I was working with, and through them, understand the city in a more profound way - we would complain about the tube, or compare our favorite films, or share secrets about the best nightclubs in Soho. Unlike other professional jobs I’ve had in the past, there was no strict expectation about when I needed to return from my lunch break, which allowed these conversations to flow naturally and showed me that what my coordinator was really interested in seeing was not that I come back to work immediately after eating but that I was engaging with my assigned tasks thoughtfully and working through them completely. 

While my specific experience may be unique in that not every CAPA intern will work at an organization which lives on an enormous campus with multiple different eating destinations, I have heard dozens of stories from my friends who took advantage of the area surrounding their internship to find new places to eat or simply to experience a different kind of neighborhood than the one they lived in. When I visited one of my friends at her internship organization, she showed me around the office and introduced me to various coworkers, but then immediately brought me to a small restaurant a few blocks away called Indian Veg, a buffet-style Indian place serving solely vegetarian cuisine where we proceeded to have one of the best meals I’ve ever had in London.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Indian VegThough I forgot to take a photo of the restaurant while I was there, this picture from Time Out London captures its essence pretty well - no frills, no overly attractive signage, but an enormous emphasis on good food and good prices.

My friend put it succinctly when she told me that though all her office work happens at the desk, “This is where the real work gets done - this is where I discovered my coworkers were more than just a smiling face across from me, that they were also fun and smart and had lots to share about their experiences in London. I’d be lost without this place and all of the conversions it helped create.”

Of course, my experience exploring different kinds of food in London goes beyond work culture and coworker socialization - it was an essential part of getting to know my flatmates and finding the people in my program I felt the most comfortable around. Plus, there are just some really cool places to check out in London! One of my favorites was Sketch, the endlessly iconic tea shop in one of London’s most posh neighborhoods - perhaps as far away from a place like Indian Veg as you can get. Still, my friends and I visited on our last day in London for a kind of farewell meal, and though we were overwhelmed by all of the different options and by the large price tags attached to all of the entrees, we giggled our way through the afternoon and emerged happy and satisfied. The experience highlighted everything that food, at its core, does best: bring people together and get them to connect.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Sketch#1Our fancy meal at Sketch consisted of elegant tea and small finger foods - all delicious, but the real draw was the elegant atmosphere and high-class presentation. It’s not a world I visit often, but it was fun to be a part of it, even if we probably annoyed the other attendees in the process.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2020_London_JamesNightengale_Sketch#2

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading.

-James

 

Thanks, James!

James Nightengale


James Nightengale is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2020, sharing his story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Psychology and Screen Studies major at Clark University, he is studying abroad in London this semester.

James' journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA London Program

Topics: London, England, Internships Abroad