Let’s talk about the realities of, not only interning, but interning in a foreign country.
Coming to terms with my internship was a challenge I faced even before landing in Italy. I am an International Studies and History major, so my expectations were to work at a museum or with refugees, these being some of the internships advertised to me. When I received my placement, however, I had this overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I was to be placed at a radio station. Obviously internships are meant to develop a skill set you might not necessarily possess, but a focus on communications was not what I had in mind. I dreaded the thought of explaining to graduate admissions why I spend a semester interning at a radio station when I could have done something that more clearly benefit my future goals.
Now, from an outside perspective, this is a very irrational and ungrateful response. I mean, how many people can say they’ve interned at a radio station in Rome? An opportunity like this should be valued, of course. This is the point where I must explain a vital aspect of study abroad. There is something to be said for allowing an individual to respond to their study abroad experience as organically as possible. Outside criticisms of living life in general are hard to chew, but when one is out of their element entirely, outsiders have no basis for judging if ones reactions and actions are right or wrong.
So, yes, my initial reaction was disappointment, but like any unexpected situation life throws at you, you eventually see how it can be worked to your benefit. My major responsibility at the radio station was going to be hosting a weekly English-speaking radio show on whatever I wished. I soon realized this offered me the freedom to tailor my shows to my future aspirations and interests. If anything, it allowed me to explore multiple different areas of focus, something that maybe a singular internship at a museum might not have. Coming to this realization just took me a bit more time than someone who was viewing my circumstances from the outside.
However, like any situation in life, once you think you’ve gotten ahold of the reins, you get knocked off the horse again. By this I mean let’s discuss working in a foreign country because it’s a whole lot like trying to ride a horse that’s had a bad day. Every intern I’ve talked with in Rome works in very a different environment, so it will be beneficial to describe to you the nature of my radio station. Rome 3 radio station is a student-based volunteer station. What does this mean for me as an intern? It means there is no stable footing for me to rely on. I am the only static student at the station.
That being said, the first three weeks were a mix of the movie Groundhog Day and purgatory. Every morning my first week I was greeted by six new faces, meaning six new people to play the “do you speak English” game with. Working among people who you cannot verbally communicate with creates this odd sense of isolation. On one hand, you’re surrounded by people, but on the other, you can’t immediately find common ground which makes you feel like you might as well be the last person on Earth. Even as I was making relations with my co-workers as best I could, I was still trying to figure out my place, not only at my internship, but in Rome. As you can imagine, this is a very daunting task. To sum it up, it was a mix of culture shock and crying, sprinkled with gelato binges and naps.
Now’s a good time to describe to you the difference in American and Roman work ethic. The movies that depict Italians as walking through life smelling the roses and living these leisurely, romantic lifestyles isn’t far off. I’ve come to realize Romans don’t feel haste and don’t find importance in procedure. If anything, this experience has made me realize I am more type-A than I ever suspected. The clash of work ethics has made finding my place at my internship even more challenging.
It was after the third week that I finally snapped. I snapped out of feeling weak and depressed and decided to take charge. Again, it’s something that can’t be controlled, but everyone breaks out of their low period eventually. And this is the position I find myself at now. I’ve taken control of my experience and am making it work for me. Do I still feel the need to have obscene amounts of gelato to cope with the day to day stresses of living in a foreign country? Absolutely. But the hyper speed growth and emotional periods that come along with studying and working abroad are just some of those things you can’t possibly be prepared for.
The truth is, everyone's reality will be different, but what matters is how you are able to reflect on your experience and grow. I think that has been the most insane aspect of this experience so far. This time in life allows you to clearly see your past, see how far you’ve come each day, but also alters your path so dramatically that you can’t imagine what your future will be like. It’s a strange and wonderful time in life where you become hyper aware of yourself, and realize that the world isn’t limited; you are not limited. Interning abroad really is as heavy as this post might have felt, but that might be the reason it’s one of the most important experiences in life.