How To Be a Less Awkward American Intern

This summer, I had the pleasure of interning at K.lab – an EdTech startup that works on digitizing learning materials for teachers through their platform meinUnterricht.de. As their single American intern, I sometimes felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb – especially, at the beginning of my internship. By the end of my internship, I’m proud to say that I am a lot less of the awkward American intern that I once was. Although I definitely still had my moments, I like to think that I did a good job at becoming apart of the my team at K.lab. Here are just five tips that have helped me along my own internship and have helped me foster my relationships with co-workers.

  1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE SMALL TALK:
K Lab Internship Group Photo
Participating in a photo shoot with several co-workers!

Small talk! Most of us hateee it, but as an American intern, this will be YOUR EVERYTHING. Don’t expect to be questioning the meaning of life with your co-workers right from the bat. You may get to that level of friendship one day, but this all starts with the age-old question: “How was your weekend?” Try talking to a new person in the office everyday. Even if it’s just a smile and a polite greeting, it’ll be a relief to your co-workers when they find out you aren’t actually mute. In the beginning, it might help to speak English – the language that you’re most comfortable with. You’ll definitely have to weigh the odds of speaking English over fine-tuning your foreign language skills, but if it makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin, I’d say just go for it! You can always ask to change back to your foreign language once you’re more comfortable. One little line I’ve found useful is to ask if anyone wants coffee whenever you go and re-fill your own. They rarely say yes, but I’ve found that the polite and small consideration can make quite the lasting impact!

  1. SAY “YES!”:
Food brings everyone together.
Food brings everyone together.

If you hope to one-day break out of your little awkward American shell, this three-letter word is going to have to be your best friend. Whether it’s to lunch, after-hour drinks, or some other invitation, jump on every opportunity you can and say “YES!” At the beginning of my internship, I’d often politely decline lunch invitations. Thankfully however, I got tired the salads I was packing for my lunch and started going out with different co-workers whenever I could. Sure it wasn’t the best decision for my wallet, but I like to think that it was a worthwhile investment. It’s hard to get to know your co-workers only in the office, and you’d be surprised how far lunches can take you. To be completely honest, it’s not even worth fretting about conversation topics – your presence is going to speak for itself.

  1. OBSERVE AND LEARN:
Attend meetings and don't be afraid to just observe and learn.
Attend meetings and don’t be afraid to just observe and learn.

I’m sorry if I’m the first one to break it to you… But you’re not the star of this show! Your co-workers are going to be busy and they’re not always going to have the time to play babysitter. With that said, the best thing that you can do is embrace a role as a wallflower. Rather than trying to hog the limelight and tout everything American, focus on just observing and learning. I’ve found that it can be a great relief on your co-workers and supervisors, to see you’re independent and don’t need to be constantly looked after. Try your best to blend in! It’s not always easy having an intern in the office, and the more you adapt to the office space, the less they’ll see you as an awkward American intern.

  1. INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR FRIENDS:
My co-worker Sander meeting Cultural Vistas Fellows Jon and Lindsey at TOA.
My co-worker Sander meeting Cultural Vistas Fellows Jon and Lindsey at TOA.

Don’t be afraid to collide your worlds and introduce your co-workers to your friends! I’ve found that introducing your friends is often a great way to share your personal life. Being with your friends will make you feel more like yourself, and your co-workers will get the chance to see you in your natural element. Very often, your co-workers are curious about how you spend your time out of the office. Rather than list every movie you watched or restaurant you ate at, it’s more insightful to just introduce them to the people you went with.

  1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF:
Jon buying his dinner: 1. Kit Kats 2. Coca-Cola 3. Oreos 4. Apples. Since this picture, he graduated to making sandwiches for himself. Go Jon!
Jon buying his dinner: 1. Kit Kats 2. Coca-Cola 3. Oreos 4. Apples. Since this picture, he graduated to making sandwiches for himself. Go Jon!

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to take care of yourself! I cannot express the importance of this one enough. Being in a new country can be so chaotic, and with the businesses of a new life, it can be so easy to completely lose track of your health. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself eating bags of Haribo candy for dinner (s/o to my #Charlottenbro Jon). Unless your last name is “Van Brunt”, you need to eat right and exercise regularly! In that same line of thought, it’s totally fine to sacrifice a Friday night and stay in if you’re feeling exhausted. If you aren’t feeling well, you’ll never be in the mood or have the energy to put yourself out there and charm your way to becoming the smooth American intern that you know you can be!

 

Learn more about the Cultural Vistas Fellowship and how to apply.

 

This post originally appeared on the Germany 2015 cohort’s blog Discovered in Translation.

 

Timothy Young

Timothy is a student at the University of California, Berkeley majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies. During the summer of 2015, he had the opportunity to intern in Berlin as part of Cultural Vistas Fellowship program: an experience he says that has accelerated both his professional and personal development.

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Timothy Young

Timothy is a student at the University of California, Berkeley majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies. During the summer of 2015, he had the opportunity to intern in Berlin as part of Cultural Vistas Fellowship program: an experience he says that has accelerated both his professional and personal development.

View all posts by Timothy Young

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