Interning in Quarantine: How a Swiss Intern Living in Brooklyn is Making It Work

On March 11, Adelaide Ernst saw on the news that travel from Europe to the United States would be suspended after March 13.

But Adelaide was scheduled to fly from Switzerland to New York just four days later.

Through the IAESTE United States program, Adelaide would be interning at Cultural Vistas to recruit host colleges for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. To ensure her international internship wouldn’t be delayed, she rebooked her flight and landed at JFK airport just in time on March 13.

Since then, Adelaide’s entire internship experience has taken place exclusively out of her apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She’s never met anyone in the office in person. She hasn’t explored the city. She’s only really left her apartment to get groceries.

The situation is far from ideal, but Adelaide and her team are making it work. By communicating and connecting, Adelaide is quickly making incredible contributions to the CBYX team.

Adelaide Ernst in front of her internship work-from-home station in her Bushwick apartment.

What It’s Like to Do a Virtual Internship Abroad

Adelaide always knew she wanted to have an international career full of international experiences. While she had already worked for international companies from her hometown of La Sarraz, Switzerland, this would be Adelaide’s first time living and working in the United States.

It’s safe to say that this is hardly the experience Adelaide was expecting. “On the first day of a new job, normally, you walk around to be able to meet everyone,” says Adelaide, to get to know staff outside of her immediate team. Unfortunately, working remotely makes that a challenge.

While it has been more difficult to get to know staff from across the organization, the CBYX office is making her feel part of the team, even from afar. One of her more surreal experiences was celebrating her birthday. “It was the weirdest birthday of my life,” she said.” Her team held a birthday party for her via Zoom and sang “Happy Birthday” to her as she blew out candles over her home-baked birthday cake. 

The team also starts every team meeting with a non-work related question, such as what is your favorite food, to build camaraderie. “It helps you feel more part of the team,” says Adelaide. 

Zoom call of intern and coworkers

There are some upsides to working virtually. Other than the nonexistent commute, a positive development has been the broader acceptance of video calls over simple phone calls. In the past, talking to host colleges would mostly be over the phone. Now, these calls are more likely to be video calls. This switch has made it easier for Adelaide to communicate and build professional connections with international student offices around the country. 

Working virtually also requires great time management skills, which can be a good learning experience. “If you want to start your own company in the future, I think these are good skills to develop,” says Adelaide. 

Tips for Success for Working from Home

So how does Adelaide make working remotely work for her? In general, “Self-motivation and time management are the two most important things,” she says. 

Here are some specific tips for making a virtual internship work for you.

  1. Have a routine
    At first, it was a challenge to manage her time. Now, she tries to start her day like she’s going into the office, putting on makeup, and changing out of pajamas.
  2. Maintain regular communication
    Every two days, the whole team gets together to share what everyone is working on. This is in addition to daily check-ins with her supervisor and constant instant messaging communication throughout the day.
  3. Get to know coworkers virtually
    Adelaide admits that she misses the ability to chat with coworkers in the hallways and over breaks. That’s why she says “socially, it’s important to speak with someone almost every day.”Organization-wide, Cultural Vistas has tried to replicate this water-cooler talk with virtual coffee breaks. Employees log in to a Zoom call for a break and are randomly put in breakout rooms with a coworker for five minutes to chat.

    See how social distancing is bringing Cultural Vistans closer together at the office

What’s Next?

Now, Adelaide has returned to Switzerland temporarily to continue her work. Her parents were supportive of her coming to the States, but “they’re happy that I’m coming home,” Adelaide said.
The team is used to working on a European time schedule, so she doesn’t expect there to be too much of an adjustment. Adelaide hopes to come back to the United States once it is safe to return to the office as an intern.

She wouldn’t choose to do a virtual internship over an in-person one. However, this experience has helped show her, and the team, that virtual work can work.

Lauren Aitken

Lauren Aitken

Lauren Aitken is a communications professional focusing on international exchanges, language education, and public diplomacy. She has worked for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Cultural Vistas, and Meridian International Center. Lauren has a Master's Degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Bachelor's Degree in International Relations and Economics from American University.

View all posts by Lauren Aitken

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