Joseph Barnes – The only source of knowledge is experienceRome Internships, Spring 2012
The only source of knowledge is experience. (Albert Einstein)
When I came to study abroad in Rome, Italy I knew that I wanted to learn about the Italian business world because I thought that in the future I would like to either work in Italy or for a multi-national corporation that did business in Italy. I realized that working as an intern would be the best insight to the Italian business world because I would be able to experience it first hand. Working together with the IES staff we found an internship with a company operating in the IT field. My boss is American but has lived in Italy for over 20 years and currently runs two companies in Italy. Throughout my experience I was exposed not only to the Italian business world, but also to the Italian culture and lifestyle.
My first day on the job was not easy particularly because of the commute, I had to take a bus, tram, train, and then call my colleagues from the train station to pick me up. This became very natural after a couple of trips and exposed me to the public transportation system early on and that helped me a lot through my experience in Rome. I speak Italian so I was excited that all of my colleagues were Italian and that Italian was spoken in the office. It really forced me to develop my Italian because vocabulary in the business world is different from what I learned in school.
I worked for two companies in the same office, which included an internet-design and consulting firm and a commodity-trading firm. This forced me to learn new languages, computer language. I considered myself competent with computers but I never had to do anything like my internship exposed me to. I have previously had no experience with Internet designing but my colleagues taught me quickly some basics and I really developed my skills because of this experience. I have knowledge on trading, but I particularly knew stocks as opposed to commodities but again, this experience gave me a much greater knowledge on the industry and should help me upon graduation. Some of the work I did included consulting on projects we were doing for the United Nations and Silvio Berlusconi’s party, Popolo della Liberta. I worked mainly on translating these websites into English but working with my colleagues was an opportunity to learn their techniques and develop a personal relationship with them. I also created a new website for the commodity trading firm, which was trying to expand and attract investors and clients.
Another interesting aspect of the internship was the cultural experience. Italian business is much different than in the US. I am used to a cut-throat, time-is-money and every penny counts type of world and Italy has been different. I think that Italian businesses are still successful because they are very highly skilled and make great products but I often wonder how they are able to get as much done from what I have observed and read regarding Italian businesses. I think that it is an environment that I am very happy to work in because it is a little slower paced, which is often times a lot more enjoyable and work is a place where you can really get to know your colleagues on a personal level. In the United States it is not typical to know most of your colleagues on a personal level because you mostly talk about work and when you do take the time to spend time together after work there are a very select few that will have strong relationships. A great example of the differences is talking about family. In the United States it is rare to discuss your family and how they are doing but in Italy I have noticed that it is a very regular thing. People ask how you’re doing, how your family is doing, and what is new in your life because they actually care. In the United States, “How are you” is a rhetorical question where the question asker is ready to respond to “Good, how are you.” I really enjoy bonding with my colleagues and I think a company is stronger when the employees can get along. I think that is an element that only a few American firms have been able to embrace and I think that they are successful because of it. When a company can work together as a cohesive unit they share a lot more information and can achieve tasks together more effectively.
In conclusion I feel that I have learned more in this past semester than I have throughout any semester of college. It is one thing to learn lessons out of a book but I feel like I have developed an incomparable cultural intelligence. No day in Italy was “easy” because each day is a new experience in a foreign country. I have tried so many new foods, talked to tons of people, learned so much about the world, and learned a lot about myself. This overseas experience has been the most rewarding experience of my life and I think that the internship was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had being in Italy. I am so happy that I have experienced this semester overseas because I have gained knowledge that could never be taught to me any other way than through experiencing it.
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