Archive for Experience Abroad

Team Building

Team building is a technique used by companies in which the team work has a great relevance for the success. It aims to create a group between the people who work for the same project or tasks, and to develop partnership and communication, cohesion and sharing objectives. It can build a harmonious, efficient and productive work group.

According to Arnold Bateman of the University of Nebraska “Team building is an effort in which a team studies its own process of working together and acts to create a climate that encourages and values the contributions of team members. Their energies are directed toward problem solving, task effectiveness, and maximizing the use of all members’ resources to achieve the team’s purpose. Sound team building recognizes that it is not possible to fully separate one’s performance from those of others.” (1990, Team Building: Developing a Productive Team ).
In a company, the team building is used to reach the best performance as possible.

Team building can be categorized or as developmental if it works on weakness or particular needs well identified, such as workshops and professional team-building exercises with specific goals and issues, or as fun, to enjoy the group and create a group identity with, for example, sport and theatrical activities, camping trips or sailing boat. Some examples of team building can be: survival scenario (your plane has crushed in the ocean near a desert island, and there are 12 items you need to survive: which items you want to take and how you rank each item); ice breaking: each team’s member has to write in a piece of paper two real episodes of his life and one not true, and the others has to guess which is the lie; cooking class; rugby; a day in a farm and urban safari, a kind of treasure hunt in the city.

With these activities and games the team can define the roles, analyse the problems and find the solution through problem solving, manage the group’s communication, active listening, feedback and brainstorming. These elements could be examine patiently afterwards in the office.

Whether or not the type of activity, the purpose is making the group a real team, increasing the trust to the colleagues, releasing the creativity, developing a relaxed climate for communication and knowing each other.
Team building can work best if there is a high level of interdependence between members, if the leader has positive people skills, if the members are clear about goals and their roles in the team, if everyone wants to contribute and is prepared to take risks, and if the team has capacity to create new ideas, to examine the errors and weaknesses and to learn from the experience.

The simplest examples to understand the team building, and what it could reach, are represented by team sport activities: they are a perfect metaphor for the company life. As in the sport, in the business world there is competition, competence, faith in the team, loyalty to rivals, strategy and tactic plan. If you want to play, you have to respect the company and management’s rules: you should know them as well as possible to reach the team’s objectives.

If you play as a team, you will win as a team.

Experience of a life time

Before going to university or the like, most individuals are protected within the family nest. They are often naive and do not imagine what is in store for them just a few years later. Only after arriving at university are we abandoned to ourselves to gain experience for our perfect future job. At this point people really are more independent and conscious that each oncoming step will be important for their life. Although they most generally arrive at university with the same baggage, from that moment on they all start to follow different paths.

Student employment or odd jobs
Firstly, students often have to work during their university life in order to be able to provide for themselves. Work experience is rarely, if ever, very exciting before getting a degree, but it is a first significant insight into the world of work. It can also be a real motivation for obtaining a degree – as it is often deprived of interest other than observing the real world’s hierarchy – to then have the possibility of getting a more interesting job. You can also possibly make contacts who can help you with finding other jobs later.

Secondly, students are often required to do an internship, which is a good way of discovering what their potential future job could be. An internship is a few months’ experience in a company in which you could gain a permanent post if both parties agree. This experience is very useful as the work is supposed to be closely related to your studied field in order to help you build further related skills, and hence a probationary report should be written at the end of the work experience as evidence of what you learnt. Then you are ready to enter real working life. Thus, making contacts during the internship can be quite important.

Finally, the last experience before the end of your studies, or cool time, is Erasmus. This is an exchange programme intended to improve your language skills as well as your knowledge of a foreign country’s culture. It can last from one to two semesters depending on your university agreement. Moreover, as you are a foreign student, courses you attend there should not be very difficult – often first year courses – and will leave you time to meet new people, party and explore the country. What is important to remember is that being a somewhat new, intense and long experience you will be sharing with new people, you are more likely to create strong affinities with these people.
But, it can lead to a post-erasmus depression that many people experience. Abandoning this new life that you have established away from family and with a new circle of friends is hard; after one year of settling in, having new experiences and being a foreigner, going back to the previous routine is disorientating.

After all these experiences, you should be ready to enter professional life with a thorough knowledge of what awaits you.

Cultural Conflict – what we can learn from communal living

Most of us interns normally live in small families, with their boy- or girlfriends or completely on their own, so it can be a drastic change when we are suddenly constantly surrounded by people, especially when they have diverse cultural backgrounds. However, every new and challenging situation can teach us something about ourselves or other cultures.

Recharge your batteries
Some cultures emphasise collectivity and community more than others. In these cultures it is normal to share and spend time together, while in others respect for the private sphere and property is more important. If you belong to the first group, life in community will probably be easier and less exhausting for you, because you get your energy from interactions with other people. Members of individualist cultures – even though they generally enjoy the presence of other people – may need time alone in order to recharge their batteries. However, it is essential not to isolate yourself. You do not have to take part in every activity or join every party, but at least prepare a meal and eat with the others or suggest watching a movie together instead of watching it alone in your room. If you share a room, you will have to find alternatives to spend time alone. For example, by going jogging on your own you kill two birds with one stone: spending some time alone and at the same time doing something beneficial for your health.

Learn to compromise
The more people involved in a decision-making process, the more difficult it becomes to find a consensus that is acceptable for everyone. These decisions can be trivial, such as what to cook for lunch or what to do at the weekend. While it is next to impossible to find the perfect solution, we can always aim to find one that is acceptable for everyone involved in the process. The key is to be willing to compromise and not be stubborn – but do not be apathetic either. Communicate your opinion clearly instead of simply not caring about the outcome. Finding a compromise when there are contrasting opinions is challenging, but finding a solution without a clear point of view to begin with is impossible.

Think outside the box
Your culture is like a pair of glasses that determines how you perceive the world and other people’s words and actions. It is impossible to imagine how other people perceive their surroundings. Two people might call a colour by the same name, but we cannot be sure that both see the colour in the same way. Likewise, we might use the same words in a situation but have different mental concepts, which are culturally shaped, attached to them. Even though we cannot change our perception of the world, we can become aware of the fact that our way of seeing things is neither the only nor the best one. In an unclear situation it is better to ask the other person for an explanation. In this way, you can avoid a misunderstanding and a possibly resulting conflict. The other person will be happy to share something about his or her culture and you will have the chance to learn something new and broaden your horizons.

Life in community bears considerable potential for conflict, but if you are willing to compromise and are aware of the fact that your way of thinking is neither right nor wrong, but simply different, it is a chance to learn a great deal about others. You will become more tolerant and open-minded in dealing with members from other cultures, which is beneficial for your career prospects. Being a global player, someone who knows how to mediate between different cultures, is a skill that recruiters look for in applicants nowadays.

No risk, no fun

Finally, school is over and holidays begin. On the one hand, there are many students who use their spare time to relax and to go on holiday. Of course, this is their good right and they have really deserved this recreation. And on the other hand, there are young people who already want to start working on their future and therefore do internships in all kinds of companies. Both solutions for spending your time during summer are quite nice, but have you ever thought about doing something different? Something that not everybody does? What about opening up your own business?

I know that it may sound frightening for some people to own a whole company but it can be a great opportunity to work on a project you really enjoy. You do not have to start with borrowing $1,000,000 on the bank and risk your whole existence for this business. You could also start small with a smaller amount of starting capital. For example, if you produce clothes at home and sell them on the internet, there is for sure not that much capital necessary to start. Being your own boss means that you have many freedoms. You can work whenever you like to and decide on your own how you want to solve different problems.

Do you really think that it is a coincidence that the richest 2 % of adults in the world own more than half the world’s wealth (according to a study released by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University)? I think that in order to live an outstanding life (at least in terms of money), you have to become an entrepreneur – and you can start laying the foundation when you are still at school.

With a Positive Mental Attitude – short PMA – you can achieve everything. I know this sounds kind of naive but you will be surprised what you are able to do if you try to look at things with the right perspective. And who knows… Maybe you even have some employees in your own company in the future. Then you can show your leadership skills, which is really exciting – much more than being an average employee.

Of course there are also many negative sides of being an entrepreneur, but for every problem there is a solution. Do not be afraid of asking other people or your employees for their opinion or advice. This is no sign of weakness but of strength – and every great manager will confirm you that a good boss recruits professional people that are better in a certain department than himself.

If we always go the safe way, we will never experience how adventurous life can be and how thrilling an adrenaline kick can be. No risk, no fun.

Goodbye Erasmus, Hello Erasmus+

What’s new

Thinking about doing an internship abroad? Well, you could not wish for a better time to do it: the world-known Lifelong Learning Program Erasmus has been improved this year. The new program is called Eramsus+, let’s see together what is new.

What is it?
Erasmus is a European program that provides scholarships and subsidies for students and staff mobility between universities. The upgraded version Erasmus+ will not only offer the chance to study and train abroad, but also to volunteer and gain working experience. Erasmus+ is a big project that brings together the seven programs currently in place: Eramsus, Leonardo, Grundtvig, Comenius – which constitute the Lifelong Learning Program – and Edulink, Comenius, Alfa, Grundtvig, Tempus, Leonardo, Erasmus Mundus – which constitute the International Higher Education Program.

The objectives of Erasmus+ are improving skills and modernizing education, training and youth work while providing international experience. In fact, the overall goal is bridging the worlds of education and work to fill the gap of skills and the lack of working experience in order to improve employability. This is particularly relevant to tackle the tough time that Europe has been facing in these past years: 6 million young European people are unemployed – some countries are challenged by a youth unemployment of over 50% – and at the same time there are 2 million vacancies, due to lack of skills, as most employers report. Last but not least, having the chance to get to know a new country, new people and new cultures is a motivation booster which contributes to addressing the issues related to university drops or poor rates of enrolment.

What’s new?
1. Erasmus+ not only offers the opportunity to do an internship abroad to students who are still enrolled, but also to new graduates (within 12 months from their degree).
2. Everyone is entitled to up to 12 months of Erasmus abroad. So if you have already benefited from an Erasmus scholarship for less than 12 months, you can still leave for another Erasmus! For example, if you have been in Erasmus for 3 months, you can still apply for another 9 months.
3. Grants are organized in a three-tier system and range from 430 to 480 €, depending on the cost of life in the hosting countries.
4. Besides, covering all fields of studies, there is a new entry: sports. The new Erasmus+ will also support sport projects and address challenges such as doping, racism, violence and match fixing.

Bigger numbers
Erasmus+ is not only improved with better and streamlined application procedures, but also higher numbers. First of all, the budget amounts to over 14.7 billions Euro, which is 40% increase, reflecting the EU’s commitment to invest in these areas. Secondly – and most importantly – the numbers of grants are almost doubled: in the seven past years Erasmus allowed 2.5 million Europeans to leave, whereas Erasmus+ aims at providing opportunities to over 4 million Europeans. 125,000 is the number of institutions and organisations involved in implementing this initiative.

Applicants and hosting countries are:
-Member states of the European Union;
-other European countries that are not member of the EU, such as Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Turkey;
-for a limited number of projects also some other countries are involved, such as Russia, Eastern European countries and countries on the Mediterranean Sea, like Tunisia and Morocco.

Requirements are always listed in the regulations of the institution where you apply and might change according to the hosting institution: make sure to get well-informed.

So, Erasmus+ has become an even greater opportunity to live a life-time experience in an international environment, from education to sports, from training to volunteering. It provides more chances, simplified and more user-friendly funding rules, fairer and more appropriate grants. Do not miss this opportunity!

The importance of languages and experience abroad

Globalisation has brought cultures together, which also implies the need for communication. For that reason, nowadays speaking languages is vital, not only for our personal lives but also for our professional careers. The earlier you start learning and practising your language skills, the easier it will be for you and the more opportunities you will have in the labour market.

On a work experience abroad such as an internship, students will be exposed to the language in a more technical and specialised environment and will be able to gain confidence in speaking and using their communication skills. Moreover, work experience abroad not only shows your passion for languages, travelling and your disposition to learn, but also it presents you as a mature and motivated person when you go to an interview looking for a job.

With such an experience you will have the opportunity to experience the local way of living and also, you will meet people from all over the world, which means you will get in touch with different cultures and ways of thinking. This will help you to be more open-minded and to grow-up personally.

While you acquire these aptitudes and competences you also become more competitive from the labour market point of view, since extra-curricular activities are becoming more important than ever to help you stand out from the crowd. In addition, this will train you to be a future global leader, who will be more effective in a professional environment, respectful with other political and economic systems and willing to take a more global view, not just those which benefit a specific country.

For students who want to their time abroad to make a great impact on their career potential, results indicate that they should choose an internship as part of their curriculum. You will be able to count on your supervisor’s support and encouragement for help in developing independence, problem-solving skills and self-reliance.

It has been always said that the longer the stay, the greater the benefits and this theory holds true, even though shorter programmes can also be enormously successful in producing academic, career, personal, social and inter-cultural developments. There are some choices that have potential to increase students’ long-term language and career benefits, such as limiting the time they spend with students from their own country, going out and forcing themselves everyday into a situation where they have to speak the foreign language and if it is possible, staying with a host family that does not speak their language at all.

Few other experiences in life have proven to have such a positive and sustainable impact. Therefore, if you have the chance you should immerse yourself in your language of study by studying abroad or looking for an internship or job suitable for you. There are plenty of different ways you can maximize your language skills while you are abroad, but remember, the most important thing is to step out of your comfort zone!

How to break down language barriers?

When you go abroad, whether it is for work, with Erasmus as part of an internship or just for sightseeing, that you will meet people from other countries is an unavoidable truth. During conversations with these people, it may be difficult to understand each other. However, in the early exchanges, communication techniques can be employed to help solve this problem.

An experience abroad connects people from different belief systems, cultures and backgrounds. That is why it is so hard to build a mutual understanding in the beginning. The language in which exchanges are made is naturally English, the international language or lingua franca. A great number of the present travelling population have learnt this language to a more or less functional proficiency. Indeed, some people are bilingual thanks to certain past experiences, others are at a school level and the many have only a grasp of the fundamentals. These differences are apparent during every conversation, even the basic ones. Sometimes, a comprehension problem can occur because everyone involved is thinking in his native language before talking. In this way, we construct sentences using the same syntax, or sentence structure, as that of our mother tongue, so when we want to use a relatively idiomatic expression for example, we translate it word for word. But, we often forget that expressions are not always the same in each language. This leads in many cases to misunderstandings as well as to memorable giggles.

Living in a foreign community with strangers will teach you to build up, whether consciously or not, communication techniques to help you gain a better comprehension of others and establish relationships with them. Much of this will rely on faux sign language and gesticulations used to point out or mimic objects, or to express an emotion. Later, when a word is missing from your vocabulary, the technique often used is to define it using other words you know. Finally, a last resort is to say the word in your own language – often a surprisingly effective solution. Indeed, European countries have common linguistic origins so sometimes words are similar or bear a strong resemblance.

If you go abroad do not be afraid of being misunderstood or not understanding others. There are numerous ways to communicate with others with whom you don’t share a common (native) language and these communication techniques will establish themselves over time. Then through making the effort to understand others,you will finally improve your vocabulary style of talking and communicating – mainly in English naturally.

What are internships in France like?

Internships enable students to apply all the theory they have learned at school in a new context: the working world. The purpose is to gain their first work experience related to their career. Moreover, since the 9th September 2010, only internships within the framework of a tripartite convention (between a student, an enterprise and an educational institution) are legal.

For this reason, an agreement in which all the information of the internship is relayed is now required: start and end dates, internship’s duration, weekly working time and the internship’s programme including the tasks and the targets. Also the amount paid, social security, insurance and the name of your tutor.

The duration of your internship will depend of course on your studies (Certificate d’Aptitude Professionnelle -CAP-, Brevet de Technicien Supérieur -BTS-, professional baccalaureate, business school…). In addition, in the case of an optional internship, it cannot last more than six months (article 9 of law nº2006-396 pertaining to the equality of opportunity). However, there is nothing written about mandatory internships.

Regarding the remuneration, there is no salary but rather a gratuity which is optional for internships which last less than two months – you can negotiate it with the employer. On the contrary, it is compulsory for internships which last more than two months. The quantity is set depending on the enterprise agreement. If there is not any agreement, the enterprise has to pay the maximum amount – which since 2013 is 2.875 euros, meaning 436.05 euros per month if you work 35 hours a week. If the internship is extended, the employer is obliged to pay the intern the money of the first two months.

The intern still benefits from the social security he purchased when he registered in university. Nevertheless, it is recommended to purchase supplementary insurance for accident and liability risks. Moreover, the intern has the right to have the same working rights as the other employees at the company (working time, weekly rest, protection against discrimination and harassment, etc.).

Yet, the intern is not entitled to paid holidays since he has neither an employed status nor an employment contract. On the contrary, it is possible to take days off if your internship extends or if it is a long-term internship – but, again, you have to talk to your employer.

Foreign interns have to take some extra steps in organising a placement– nothing too complicated though. The intern can also receive a temporary residence card bearing the words “intern”. In order to obtain it, the intern must perform an internship in an enterprise within the framework of a training programme in his home country under a school or university programme, vocational training, a European Union cooperation programme or an intergovernmental programme.

Finally, it is important to remember that an internship cannot in any circumstances replace remunerated employment. In the event of abuse or dispute, do not hesitate to appeal to the “Conseil des Prud’hommes” (labour tribunal) or even the URSSAF in order to transform your CDD (fixed-term contract) into a CDI (open-ended contract).

Interns are very well protected in France so you are always going to find someone to assist you if you have any problems.

D Day

Studio Solution is an online marketing company which welcomes many students every year.

For every intern of the company, there comes the day when their contract ends and they have to return home. Obviously, this part of the internship is the most difficult, since the intern has to leave all that he or she was doing during the internship; this means saying goodbye to their good friends.
However, as a souvenir of this life experience, the intern is gifted a farewell video called “Thank you party” in which friends and colleagues can leave a message and reminder of the good times they have spent together. What is so charming about this video is that it often includes short messages and films from interns that left some months earlier, leaving nobody out. The intern’s Thank You Party is planned some days before the D Day; the Event Managers tell the Media department the exact date when the intern leaves, as well as his last working day. Then, the media service gathers photos and videos of the leaving intern. There is also a camera they can use to record new video messages during the breaks or during lunch time, since it is forbidden to take videos during the work time.
After having received everything, they compose a video. The videos tend to be shown after the workshops (6 pm) because at that time most of the interns are still in the office. However, some interns choose to see their videos in their house (Hotel, Admiral, Terranova or Foreshore) which allows them to enjoy it even more and to spend one last shared moment together.

How to share a room during an experience abroad

When it comes to undertaking an internship abroad you can be faced with the possibility of having to share your bedroom with someone else. It is neither your brother or your sister, nor your best friend. You may have to share the room with a perfect stranger in the beginning. You will know nothing about them : not at what time they usually wake up, if they are noisy or really quiet, nor if they are a clean person or not…and so much more. It does not matter if you have a single room at home or if you have already gotten used to sharing a room with someone else. You still need to go through a change and primarily be their roommate before becoming a friend. This could be strange, but the first initial difficulties can hide a great opportunity: if the other person is nice and friendly you can build a friendship more quickly than you have ever done before. Waking up together and going to bed together in the evening after watching a movie, or talking, joking and laughing together about the funny facts of the day, and even cleaning together can make you forget about everything else so that you are no longer even suffering from the distance between your family and your previous routine. You will feel very close to your “roomie” even if he/she was a perfect stranger only a short time ago. It may seem weird, and perhaps it is, but you can create a kind of family within a few weeks. Day after day, you get used to a unique relationship and you become fond of a completely new routine that you will undoubtedly miss a lot at the end of your internship, when the time to return home arrives. However, what if you are unlucky and you find yourself sharing with an unfriendly and impolite roommate? First of all do not despair: never judge a book by its cover. Maybe it is just a first impression and they need time to reveal their positive aspects. So wait for a while to see if over time they become friendlier and build up confidence with you. If this is not the case, and they are definitely unfriendly and rude, just bear in mind that we are not supposed to get along with everybody and that once that you have tried your best, you do not have to be sorry for anything. Just behave in the best possible way and look for relationships outside the bedroom. You do not necessarily need to find a special relationship in your room: you can find it outside. Stay positive and keep smiling even at the worst times: never let anyone wipe away your smile, because as long as you keep smiling you feel good with yourself and with the others who care about your happiness.