When and where did you intern abroad? What was your position?
In the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to travel to Madagascar to complete a three-week internship with Lecofruit, a subsidiary of a French conglomerate. The company specializes in the export of produce (mainly green beans) to France and various other countries around the world. As an intern, I was tasked with researching carbon methodologies currently available and comparing them to other methodologies (including the one that was being used by the company at the time). I had the opportunity to present my findings to the general manager on the last day of my internship.
What made you want to intern abroad?
I had completed an exchange semester in England prior to my trip to Madagascar, and wanted to extend my time abroad as much as possible.
What was the biggest surprise about your intern experience abroad?
I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of involvement I had with the workings of my company during the internship. During my first three days I shadowed an agricultural engineer, with whom I traveled to three different villages outside the capital of Antananarivo. Villages had no running water or electricity. Seeing them was an eye-opening experience, and one that I never would have had without the internship.
What made your experience abroad a success?
I was open to trying new things. Having lived abroad for the better part of five months, I was accustomed to foreign environments where I’d have to adapt and step out of my comfort zone. This mentality made my internship in Madagascar a huge success. I wasn’t afraid to travel, try new foods, or get my hands dirty helping the villagers.
What was the most important thing you learned about communicating in a foreign culture?
In the office where I was located, there was a mix of Malagasy and French employees; and their communication styles and responsiveness to communication were drastically different. At first it was a challenge to communicate with the Malagasy employees, but I quickly realized that I’d be more successful if I made the effort to adapt. It is important to realize that when you’re in a different country, you must change your approach in order to comply with its cultural guidelines. One thing I noticed was that Malagasy people tended to be a bit more easygoing and willing to rely on others to complete tasks, whereas the French employees were much more independent.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Persevere. It is incredibly difficult for one person to organize an internship abroad. There are various factors to consider and things don’t always work out. Companies, while willing to help students, have other commitments that are much higher on their priority lists and perseverance will be your greatest asset.
What did you miss most about home?
Friends and family. I found it particularly difficult to maintain my focus, having been away for six months without seeing them. However, with Skype and other programs online, I did have the chance to talk to the people I care about. (Although this was not always simple, since Madagascar is not known for its technological connectivity!)
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I hope to complete an International Master’s in Business Administration (iMBA) in the near future, but I plan to work in France or a French-speaking African country (because I am fluent in French) first. This experience will add significant value to my application for the iMBA.
Yannish had a front row seat to the realities of doing business in a developing country. His answers and reflections capture a number of the essential ingredients for being successful, including a willingness to step out of one's comfort zone. I particularly appreciated the insight: “Persevere. It is incredibly difficult for one person to organize an internship abroad. There are various factors to consider and things don’t always work out. Companies, while willing to help students, have other commitments that are much higher on their priority lists and perseverance will be your greatest asset.” This is so true, and I encourage anyone reading this to heed Yannish's advice. The value of time spent abroad is in what you learn in terms of cross-cultural communication skills, not in what you accomplish professionally during your first internship abroad. I encourage anyone in a similar position to stay focused on the goal of working in business in or with developing countries. Expand your cross-cultural skills, and be sure that you can articulate the specific challenges and benefits of the cross-cultural business environment.
- Check out our section The North American Identity.
- Also consider reviewing the resources in International Business Careers While the advice articles for this section are still under construction, there are two great Resource Lists: Cross-Cultural Skills and International Trade Resources that will help you get a feel of the parameters of an international business career.
- If you want to apply your business skills by working in a developing country, check out the articles and resources (especially NGO listings) in NGOs & International Development. Consider volunteering or interning with anyone of the numerous French NGOs headquartered in France, Belgium or Québec; we have extensive listings in all these areas.