Alumni Spotlight: Laura Burnett (Summer Internship Program in Germany)

Laura Burnett is a senior at Arizona State University, studying journalism, German, political science, and international studies. She completed the Summer Internship Program in Germany with Cultural Vistas in 2015. This month, she spoke about her internship experience at the (Re)Discovering Germany workshop at Arizona State University. We caught up with her to find out what it’s really like to participate in the program.

Journalism and international banking don’t have a lot in common, but that didn’t stop Laura from gaining real professional experience interning in Germany.

“I think I was able to somehow relate them,” said Laura, describing her experience interning for a development bank in Düsseldorf through Cultural Vistas’ Summer Internship Program in Germany. The bank, called NRW.BANK, is the second-largest development bank in Germany, and the third-largest in Europe. “I didn’t know what a development bank was before I got there, but I quickly learned.”

Laura Burnett poses with her co-workers at NRW.BANK.

Cultural Vistas’ internship programs abroad allow students to experience the global workplace through customized internship placements. Laura decided to pursue an internship that would allow her to apply her communications skills in a new way. “I worked in investor relations, a section of the bank that was responsible for getting information about the bank out to investors, through their website, emails and presentations. With my previous internships being in communications, marketing, and journalism, I was put in charge of concepting, planning, and designing the bank’s new sustainability report,” said Laura.

For Laura, the first month of the program involved an intensive language course in Berlin, but her language learning did not stop there. Laura described how her office was particularly insistent she practice her German:

“I had great bosses and co-workers, who being aware how much I wanted to improve my German, would speak only German with me, and challenge me to speak as much as I could, and with as many people as I could. I spent the two months with a host family who didn’t speak much English, so I was able to have a very authentic German experience.”

At the (Re)Discovering Workshop, she described one interaction in particular: “On my first day, my colleague was introducing me to 50 people on my floor and said, ‘No no, she’s here to learn German. We’re only speaking German.’”

Participants who begin the program with an intensive language course usually stay with a host family for the first four weeks of the program, and participants secure their own accommodations for the internship portion of the program. Laura used this opportunity to find her own host family through her employer. “That’s where you really get the culture,” she said. “It wasn’t a study abroad where I was having a university experience…I was really immersed in the German culture. I feel like that came with my host family.”

Laura says goodbye to her host family at the airport.

What made Laura go to Germany in the first place?

“I wanted to study abroad, but I thought it was going to be in the way of my coursework, and then […] I read the paper [about Cultural Vistas] and thought, “Okay, yes, I can do this!” And they were so thorough going through, “You need this paper,” or, “This paper was late”—anything I needed help with. They were so helpful every step of the way, when you had questions or when you needed help.”

What’s next for Laura? “I’d like to work for an international company and spend at least a year of my professional life abroad. Being able to show that I’ve worked abroad (successfully, according to my recommendation letters) will assure companies that I’m less of a bet than someone who hasn’t had an experience like this before.” According to some of her colleagues in Germany and the United States, “It shows that I’m willing to try new things and challenge myself and not in small ways.”

Laura experiences a German Biergarten with other program participants and friends at Cultural Vistas’ weekly Stammtisch in Berlin.

The experience was not just about adding to her resume, however. Laura spoke about the personal benefits:

“Being surrounded by a language, culture and being in a completely new environment made me learn so much about myself, about the language and about the world. To appreciate my own way of life, I have to see what others do and I brought some habits and new ideas back about how to live a better life.

Getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow, and there are limited times in life when opportunities like this come along. I’m beyond grateful that I found the program, got such a good internship, and had a near-perfect experience.”

Watch Laura’s full presentation at our (Re)Discovering Germany Workshop here.