What I learned taking on an international internship at a start-up company

Carly Kroll, September 28, 2018

Start-up companies are hot: they are young, hip, unconventional, and have unlimited potential. I could have gone to intern at any new technology start-up in California. Despite it feeling a world away and a whole different culture, I would not have needed to face the headache of a visa, German social security card, proving my finances, getting travel health insurance, and many more steps to get to California. But, I thought, now is the time to travel, to go out of my comfort zone, and take it a step further. I set my eyes on international AR start-up companies that were growing, and beginning to expand into the U.S.

Start-up a new adventure

At 27 years old, it may seem a little odd to be starting from scratch as an intern, but I saw this as a chance to prove myself and get my foot in the door to my new career path. My husband and I agreed that this opportunity would be a growing experience, not only professionally, but personally, as I would be away from him and our dogs for three months.

After three Skype interviews, a chain of emails, and impatiently waiting for Visa approval, I set off on my journey from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Bremen, Germany. I moved to a country where I knew no one, didn’t speak the language, and was to be living with four roommates I had yet to meet. I managed to get a basement bedroom in a house with four other master’s students and working professionals. I bought a bike at the local flea market on Sunday and began my way to work on Monday.

Learn on the fly

Start-up companies have a lot of work to be shared by a few workers, this means the interns get ample opportunity to work on larger projects and take part in major company decisions. As an intern, I was tasked with creating marketing campaigns, writing white papers, and assisting with graphics and articles. While peers of mine back home were in internships where they were stuck copying papers and organizing files, I was building a portfolio of diverse work.

I was also able to consult as an international employee, I could provide insight into the buying habits and behaviors of Americans. I was also a helpful editor and collaborator. This uniqueness gave me special qualities that would not have been unique while in the U.S.. Conversely, if I ever join a U.S. company I now have experienced Germany mind-sets and business strategies.

I can do this

I’ve lived abroad before, when I studied abroad for a semester in London when I was 19. Eight years later, I am again navigating cultural norms, public transit, and creating new social circles. I had to manage the anxiety of newness on all fronts.

What did I learn from this? That I can do it! I can manage personal and professional life change all at once. I can learn new work tasks and perform my role to the best of my abilities while being shaped into an independent person outside of the workplace. I learned, that when challenged I can rise to meet it. This sense of accomplishment and achievement will allow me to have the confidence to face what opportunities may show themselves and take them with open arms.

I also learned a work life balance. German workers take ice cream breaks, enjoy lunch together, and have feierabend (free time after work). In American life, we are often go-go-go. As a result, I never learned how to relax, but Germany taught me how. Maybe that is why they are so productive, they give their all at work, and then take a break from it when they leave for the day.

You can do this!

If you have the opportunity, the guts, the chutzpah to do something new, I suggest you take an internship abroad, work for a young company, and get out of your comfort zone. It won’t be easy, you’ll get a lot of flat tires along the way (I sure did, that flea market bike was a bad idea), but you will grow from it. It has taken me three flat tires, but now I can change a bike tire like a pro. Not only that, but I can say I have worked in international marketing, created campaigns, and been a part of something bigger than myself. For the cherry on top, I was offered a full-time position as the PR and Marketing Manager for the Americas! I guess taking chances pays off.

What are you waiting for?