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My Unique Study Abroad Experience Before a Global Pandemic Took Over

July 28, 2020
by CEA CAPA Content Creator
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(This article was originally published on LinkedIn on May 23, 2020.)

As I write this from the comfort of my apartment in the New York City borough of the Bronx, I feel annoyed, angered, and disappointed. And here’s why: The global threat known as COVID-19 not only took away my first time outside of the United States, but also snatched my first time interning in my field of study, marketing. In addition to this, the virus has also taken my summer away from me as I am in the United States epicenter of the virus. I am annoyed because like many of us did initially, I did not take this as a big deal and never thought it could or even would reach the US. I am angered because I was not able to complete my opportunity of interning in Rome. I am disappointed because I did not get to see the countries and cities I had planned on visiting. My study abroad internship shifted from in-person to online to nonexistent all within a two week period… a four-month experience that was abruptly ended after just six weeks of in person meetings. Despite this, my experience will forever remain unique, and I still have work to showcase the time and effort I put into it. 

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January 20th, 2020. This is the day I began my internship at the Roman advertising agency, Walk In. Everyone there welcomed me with a smile, and despite the language barrier, all the employees seemed to enjoy having a young, eager to learn, American student in the office. They would always offer me coffee and they loved practicing their English with me. I had to report to two supervisors: one employee who was one of the younger people in the office, and the other who was the owner of the firm and had remarkable experience in the marketing realm. I did not know this at the time, but the younger supervisor was soon on his way out of the company as he took a position elsewhere. For the first three weeks, I was reporting directly to him and doing A LOT of secondary market research. The research was for the agency’s new healthy chocolate product that they wanted to release by the fall in European markets. This consisted of target market research, product research, and the “Why” behind consumers and their health desires. However, this was not the only thing I was doing under his tutelage. The younger supervisor really wanted me to reach my full potential within the business world, so he was giving me lessons for the GMAT.  Yes, you read that correctly. He wanted me to one day obtain my Masters in Business Administration. I still do not know why he spent most of his time with me in the office going over GMAT questions rather than the marketing work I had to do. Maybe he wanted to inspire me before his departure? Perhaps he truly did see something in me. Whatever the reason was, I am more than appreciative of this, as it really did open my eyes up to potentially pursuing my masters (albeit not an MBA, but maybe a masters in IMC).

February 10th, 2020. This was the first week after my original supervisor's departure. I began reporting directly to the owner of the agency and this is where I truly learned the most about my field. After weeks of research, the owner finally assigned me more concrete and frankly, more interesting work. The last three weeks consisted of me developing a PowerPoint with all my research, deciding the elements/placement of parts of a label for the chocolate product (which counts as product development), and creating web pages for the new product through Photoshop. The owner of the agency was so knowledgeable and every time I came into his office with what I thought was my finished work, I would always come out with newfound knowledge about consumers and marketing. Take the label for example. At first I thought it would be much easier than expected. However, after sending in my first draft, I was more than wrong. I had to pay closer attention to what the customer sees first during their shopping experience while still communicating the most important aspects of the new chocolate spread. 

February 24th, 2020. This was the start of week 6 of my internship, and I felt like I was finally striving in it and doing work I was proud of all while challenging myself to grow and learn more. Then, I received an email from CEA about the increasing COVID cases in Italy. I had a choice to make: either stay in Rome and see what would happen, or return home. After consulting with my mother, I had no choice but to go back home. Everything was in question and the only word to describe how I felt during this time was confusing. At the end of the week I was told my internship would continue remotely, and I completed what would be my last assignment of creating the web pages. By the time the second week was over, I found out my internship had been cancelled due to the COVID crisis getting worse in Rome. And just like that in a matter of two uncertain weeks, a virus took away my study abroad experience AND my internship experience, all at once. I didn’t even get to fully experience it remotely. Despite the loss, I was still able to gain new knowledge and skills and as I previously mentioned, I have the work to show for it. 

Overall, this taught me a very important lesson that I am sure many people have learned these past few months: NEVER TAKE WHAT YOU HAVE FOR GRANTED. It can all be taken from you so very quickly that you'll be left wondering, "How did it all change so quickly?"

On the bright side, I'll have a unique experience to talk about in future interviews!

Junior Holguin is a CEA Spring 2020 alumnus who studied and interned abroad in Rome, Italy. He is currently a student at Ithaca College.

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