Tips For A Succesful Internship Experience

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Tips For A Succesful Internship Experience

VACorps alumni have shared their top tips for a successful internship experience:

The first two weeks at your internship site establish the foundation for a successful experience

Supervisors expect you to arrive with a positive attitude and a strong commitment to learning. The initial weeks at your internship site are pivotal for making a lasting impression, establishing clear expectations, and fostering open lines of communication. This period can be somewhat overwhelming as you adapt to life in a new country and culture.

Approach your internship experience with an open mind

This might sound obvious and general, but it really helps. If you have any expectations of how your experience should be, you will not get the full experience. This is because there is so much to learn from your internship site but most of it comes from observing, speaking with others, and taking initiative. These aspects are the only things you can pick up when in the moment, at your site. So, the internship is what you make of it. And the best lessons are learned from moments you don’t expect, so try not to go in with any preconceived ideas. Just jump in head first!

Be patient and keep the bigger picture in mind

Your site may require you to do some menial tasks every now and then, for example: working at reception or in the filing room for a couple of days. Try not to get frustrated and impatient.  This is a wonderful time to connect and bond with your colleagues, as well as illustrate your commitment, character and work ethic.  Treat any menial tasks as stepping stones and a necessary part of your internship experience.

Take Initiative

Approach colleagues and ask to get more involved if you feel like you’re taking the back seat more than you would like,  Most of the time they will be more than happy to help you but were perhaps too busy, or did not think to take the initiative themselves.  Your site supervisors and colleagues will most likely be thrilled when you take the initiative and put yourself out there looking for things to do. So don’t be afraid to ask.

Respect the culture at your site

At times, things at your site are most likely going to be done very differently than at home. Instead of judging, observe the differences. Take note of what is being done differently, and why. You can learn a lot. And maybe at home, or during tea time or lunchtime, you can compare and contrast the different methods. It helps to understand the culture better. Embrace the differences, don’t berate them.

Time manage

If your site is busier at certain parts of the day it will make sense to adjust your schedule accordingly.  For example, if you are working at a clinic that is active and interesting earlier on in the day, try and time your lunch break for later on in the day.  Similarly, try not to take leave or travel time when your site is busy or has important projects on the go, as you will end up missing out.

Be a self-starter

A lot of the incredible and amazing things you get to do in your internship happen because you show interest and ask if you can help. Your colleagues may be so busy doing their own work that they overlook giving you new assignments. They will be very grateful and happy if you take the initiative and ask whether they need assistance with current or upcoming projects.

Say good morning and goodbye

These words go a long way toward establishing connections, opening communication channels, and showing that you are friendly and interested. Even though you may not speak to most people in the office throughout the day, just stopping by their office to say good morning is something that most people will really appreciate.

Make suggestions

At times you may feel that since you are the “intern”, your opinions automatically do not matter. However, you will be surprised how much your colleagues may care about what you think. As a foreign intern, you provide a fresh and innovative international perspective on things.  While there may be a chance that your suggestions are overridden, it is important that you put yourself out there,  show your attentiveness, and bounce your ideas off of your co-workers.

Stay up to date with current affairs

No matter where your internship site is, just being more aware of recent social issues will help you understand South Africa as a country –  something that will harmonize well with your internship. You will also notice most South Africans, including people outside your internship, are very passionate about politics and social issues. Being a little more aware will allow you to have meaningful conversations with the people around you.

Forge Friendships

Talk to everyone who works at your site, from the cleaning staff to the CEO. More often than not, people in your internship site will have incredible stories and valuable advice to share. Spend your lunch breaks with your co-workers. Drop by their office to tell them about a new book you are reading. Really tell them how your day is. Fill them in on your journey in Cape Town. Before you know it, you will be sharing inside laughs, and making meaningful connections.

Create a good first impression

As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” From day one, it’s important for you to dress, speak, write, and behave cordially and professionally. Shake hands, make eye contact, smile, and be friendly, patient, and enthusiastic. Ask questions. The most successful interns are often the friendliest, and most interested. If your colleagues like you as a person, they are going to be more motivated to help you get what you want out of your internship experience. Always arrive with a smile on your face, and greet your colleagues individually.  It might take some effort to learn everyone’s names (some might be difficult to remember) but this really can make a big difference.

Take advantage of your transition time

Take advantage of the transition time at the beginning of your internship to learn, observe, and ask questions. You are not expected to know everything at first. Shadowing and observing in the first weeks is common. Be observant about the various work ethics & cultural values at your site. Ask questions about appropriate behavior when you are unsure.

Stay positive

The work pace may feel very slow or very fast at first. Remember this is a cultural exchange as well as a pre-professional experience. There may be challenging, frustrating or overwhelming moments. The workplace environment is different at every site, so be patient, allow yourself time to adjust, and have a positive attitude. Establish good relationships with your coworkers. Be friendly, polite, helpful, and sensitive. Never engage in office gossip or politics.

Take initiative

Be a self-starter. Don’t always wait for tasks to be given to you. If you see something that you can help with, jump in and get started. Remember that your colleagues and supervisors are typically very busy people who may overlook giving you new daily assignments. Never be afraid to ask your colleagues whether they need help with current or upcoming projects. If you have an idea, propose it. Your supervisors will appreciate you taking the initiative.

Be committed

Always arrive at work on time.  Don’t leave work early unless otherwise arranged.  Make sure you inform your supervisor well in advance if you have any travel/trips planned. Call your supervisor if you are going to be sick or late. You have been invited to be an intern, so your commitment to the organization/company is important to everyone. When communicating with your coworkers choose respectful, tactful, and professional language at all times.

Say yes

To any type of task.  Sites will often start you out with smaller tasks and assignments while you earn their trust and prove the quality of your work.  Many internship sites will give you more significant tasks and projects once you have shown them that you are capable, reliable, and able to collaborate with your colleagues.

Befriend your supervisor

This individual will be the “gatekeeper” to your experience, and will ultimately decide on what projects and tasks are assigned to you. The more they respect, like, and believe in you, the more likely you are to have an outstanding internship experience.

Say thank you

When you leave, be sure to say “Thank you!” Show your appreciation for your experience. Ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation and keep in touch so that you can call upon him/her later when you are in need of a reference.