(This article was originally published by CEA Florence Internship & Student Services Coordinator, Daniele Bini, on LinkedIn.)
The pioneers of Virtual Internships.
The ground under American Study Abroad is shaking, and it’s shaking very hard. Enrollment has been hit like never before, even though this is not the first pandemic the world is experiencing. A case study by the Institute of International Education (IIE) shows the different decreases during the H1N1 pandemic, the SARS epidemic, and the Ebola and Zika epidemics. As suggested by the graphic below, enrollment decreases were mainly registered in the countries of the viruses’ origin. These decreases were momentary and contained, and the number of applications kept on rising in the long run. Even if it’s too early to start projecting numbers because COVID-19 is not under control yet, especially in the United States where we still count tens of thousands new daily infections, we can already predict an academic year (2020/2021) with close to zero enrollment throughout Europe.
We are far from the 2017/2018 academic year when we registered immense enrollment numbers. According to the same IIE case study, a total of 341,751 Americans studied abroad, of which 187,534 chose Europe—Italy was only second to the UK with a total of 36,945 American students in-country.
While facing a great crisis, higher education has sought new ways to help and save intercultural exchange during this new reality. CEA’s new program, Virtual Internships, opened the doors to our success amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The program sparked immediate interest, particularly because it was launched in March, when American students are typically looking for internship and study abroad opportunities. Both experiences are coveted for one main reason: to differentiate one’s resume from the crowd.
"I’m impressed with CEA’s ability to adapt to the [global] changes and ensure a quality experience for students and interns in just a couple of months."
Virtual Internships combine work experience in a company to a six-week intensive academic course that helps students reflect on eight work competencies identified by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) as the main competencies companies are looking for in new hires. Our program began on June 8, 2020 in a Zoom meeting room. Despite the thousands of miles separating all the call participants you could feel the excitement in the room and the eagerness to prove that time had not stopped.
An internship represents for many students the end of their college careers and the beginning of their professional ones. That is why the majority of students decide to do an internship during their last summer before graduation. In doing so, they hope to help their resumes stand out in the eyes of their future employers in less than a year’s time. Mallory, Roy, Judy, Brenna and Angela: they are some of the CEA interns we had the pleasure of working with this summer.
Q. Introduce yourself. What’s your name, what university do you attend, what’s your major/minor?
Angela: My name is Angela Richard, and I’m a rising fourth-year Undergraduate student at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. I’m majoring in Early Childhood and Elementary Education with minors in Foreign Languages and Global Studies.
Roy: My name is Roy Ricaldi and I’m a Junior at The University of Kansas majoring in Business Analytics and Management.
Judy: My name is Judy Ortega and I currently attend Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. I am studying Health Sciences with a specialization in Pre-Physical Therapy and an additional study of the Spanish language.
Mallory: My name is Mallory Lambert and I will be a senior at The University of Oklahoma in the 2020 fall semester majoring in International Business and Accounting with a linguistic focus in Italian.
Brenna: My name is Brenna McClellan and I am a senior at the University of Arizona (U of A). In December I will be awarded degrees in French and Global Studies with a concentration in Human Rights as well as a minor of Environmental Studies. In addition to my degrees, I will be graduating with honors in French due to the completion of my honors thesis: Identifying Climate Change Agency: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the French and English Climate Change Speech Acts.
"Virtual internships still provide students an opportunity to exchange cultures and learn about the international work environment."
Q. How did you learn about CEA’s Virtual Internship program?
A: I heard about CEA’s Virtual Internship program on CEA’s social media pages. Their robust presence on my favorite social networking sites made it easy for me to see what they were offering and how I could be a part of the program.
R: I learned about this opportunity through the study abroad office at my university. They were advertising virtual study abroad opportunities for the summer, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
B: I became aware of CEA last summer, when I participated in my university’s study abroad program in Paris. Although my courses were taught by U of A faculty, the program partnered with CEA; CEA provided our learning facilities as well as helped plan our weekend excursions. After completing a summer in Paris, I knew I wanted to return. Since my study abroad program was a hybrid between the university and CEA, I became aware of the internship programs offered by CEA. Before the crisis of COVID-19, I applied and was accepted into CEA’s in-person internship program. As the pandemic intensified my program was rightfully canceled. Upon receiving my confirmation of cancellation, I saw that CEA was offering a virtual internship. I contacted my internship coach and made the switch.
Q. Why did you decide this was the program for you?
A: I was most interested in this internship because it offered credit together with an internship experience. As I’m finishing up my Global Studies minor this fall, I was excited to see that I could kick start the process a bit by engaging in “The Multicultural Workplace” seminar course as I was completing my internship.
R: I looked through a lot of options. The dates with this [program] was the most convenient as I was looking at programs that offered internships in Paris specifically, since I would like to relocate there in the future. I wanted to stay safe, and the best way to do this was working from home, which is why I selected this program.
J: To be completely honest, I had doubts about gaining approval for this unique program. As a Health Science major and as someone who aspires to work in the medical field, a hands-on experience is not only traditional, but (more often than not), it is required. In the midst of a virtual semester (Spring 2020), I emailed the Associate Dean, the Internship Coordinator, my Study Abroad Advisor, and my Academic Advisor for approval. I knew I could develop skills which other students in our field haven’t typically developed yet. In other words, through this program, I could learn more modernized skills and possibly start a new trend within our department.
M: As an International Business major, a degree requirement is to complete an 8-week international experience. For three years I had been planning on living in Italy for three months this summer, however, when called to adapt to the current global environment, the CEA Virtual Internship program became available to me which was the perfect solution I needed at the time.
"[The Virtual Internship] pushed me out of my comfort zone, but actually made me more confident in my abilities to perform well in a dynamic environment"
Q. Do you still think the virtual internship is the best alternative to an onsite internship program? Why?
A: I really don’t think anything beats the experience of participating in an onsite program. As someone who is in the Human Studies field and really enjoys strong, interpersonal relationships, moving to an online format to complete almost all of my work has been a challenge. However, given the times we are in, I’m impressed with CEA’s ability to adapt to the changes and ensure a quality experience for students and interns in just a couple of months.
J: Yes! This program was a great alternative to an onsite internship program. My primary professional goal was to become a Traveling Physical Therapist and work with patients who might have had an accident or injury of some sort, but after this virtual internship experience, I believe my interests and pathways have slightly changed for the better! Plus, with technology becoming more prevalent and modernized, this experience truly helped me become more tech-savvy!
B: Due to the present circumstances, yes, I think a virtual internship was the best alternative. However, I do not think that virtual internships should replace onsite programs. As an individual who understands the importance of immersion, I don’t think virtual internships could ever provide the same sensations and important lessons of physical interactions. On the flip side, I do think that virtual internships offer a unique opportunity for students that may not be able to afford a summer internship abroad. Although the level of culture exposure is dependent upon internship placements, virtual internships still provide students an opportunity to exchange cultures and learn about the international work environment.
Q. Describe the company you worked for and your role as a Virtual Intern.
A: I worked for a company called La Terraza del Cristina, a hospitality and gastronomical experience company located in Seville, Spain, as a Virtual Curriculum Development Intern. As the fifth most recommended visit in Seville, this company specializes in high quality dinner and experience packages that embrace the gorgeous views and ambiance of Seville. The company is working on a new service, Say Yes In Spain, which offers marriage proposal packages and services that are specialized for tourists. I produced blogs for this new service that are SEO-oriented and will help drive attention towards the new product. I also wrote scripts for tour guides that outline the routes of the many tours offered by La Terraza del Cristina.
R: I worked for Jobaround, a technology company that sells HR management software as a service. My main role was to understand the product enough to be able to create a business plan to sell it in other countries. Each country requires a different strategy, that is something I learned working at Jobaround,
J: I virtually interned for Ormoni System based in San José, Costa Rica. Ormoni Sytem educates and empowers women to embrace their menstrual cycles along with the physiological components that accompany the process and creates specialized workout programs for their clients. In addition to creating specialized workout programs, Ormoni System also offers nutritional advice to their clients, so they know which foods to consume during a particular phase of their cycle. As a Virtual Intern, I researched and familiarized myself with the menstrual cycle, researched the different types of injuries which women may obtain during the different phases, designed a list of exercises which clients can safely execute during these different phases, and toward the end of the program I had the opportunity to post informational videos regarding the menstrual cycle, and demonstrated the different exercises which clients can perform themselves, all on Ormoni System’s Instagram page!
M: My role for my Virtual Internship in Florence was Digital Marketing Intern for a few different hotels, ranging from a large chain hotel to a smaller local hotel and bed and breakfast. I enjoyed approaching the hotel industry on very different levels incorporating unique values into an array of spaces.
B: This summer I interned at Règles Élémentaires. Règles Élémentaires is France’s first charity to fight against period-poverty. Their mission is double: collect sanitation products and redistribute them to women in need as well as breaking the taboos of periods. My main role as Virtual Intern was to uphold the mission of Regles Elementaires by aiding in brand expansion and awareness, specifically in the United States.
“I feel as though I’ve mastered the art of participating in a virtual internship, and I feel ready to meet the demands of the remote working world.”
Q. What were the projects, tasks and deliverables you completed for the company?
A: As a Virtual Intern, I did a lot of writing. I was tasked with writing five blog posts per week for Say Yes In Spain that dealt with a variety of topics, from showcasing adventurous activities in Spain that are proposal-perfect to how to capture a proposal without hiring a photographer. I also wrote five scripts for La Terraza del Cristina that elaborated on tours throughout Seville. The heftiest of these scripts, the Tour of the History of Civilizations, took me a full week’s worth of work to complete and ended up being 28 pages long. The other scripts varied in length and depth, but they all challenged me as a writer in new, dynamic ways.
R: I drafted reports, giving feedback on the software to my supervisors. I worked on plenty of research projects and the ultimate business plan.
J: For the first four weeks of the program, I gathered information regarding the menstrual cycle, as well as the different injuries that women are at risk of during the various phases. For the last two weeks, I created an interactive calendar which simplified the menstrual cycle and included nutritional advice, as well as some emotions which women may experience at a certain point during this process. With this research and my creations, I had the awesome opportunity to post on Ormoni System’s Instagram page AND practice my Spanish communication skills throughout the entire program!
M: I would conduct analyses of the market and make recommendations for expansions or address weaknesses. Additionally, I was able to use my language skills and assist with website consistency from Italian to the English version. Lastly, I was able to write a few articles about activities and events in the region, which was a fun, creative outlet.
B: My largest contribution was translating Règles Élémentaires’s website from French to English. In addition to my translation work, I researched and created deliverables on potential sponsorship and fundraising ideas. I also began the process of forming sponsorship deals with the sponsors I found during my research. The most nerve wracking and challenging deliverable was presenting in French at my company.
Q. On a professional, personal and cultural level, what did you accomplish during your Virtual Internship?
A: When I set out on this internship journey, I wanted to gain more confidence. I wanted to be more self-reliant, as well as be able to convey myself in any matter I needed to. During this internship, I had to be extremely adaptable and flexible, which not only pushed me out of my comfort zone, but actually made me more confident in my abilities to perform well in a dynamic environment. Professionally, I’ve learned about SEO marketing and tactics, which is something I never would have dabbled in on my own. I’ve also developed great communication skills, as being both virtual and international pushed me to adjust to new methods of communication and increase my availability as a professional. I took opportunities to research the environments I would have been in had I been able to travel to Spain. I feel as though I’ve mastered the art of participating in a virtual internship, and I feel ready to meet the demands of the remote working world.
M: On a professional and cultural level, I was able to grow my adaptability through intercultural communication. As an International Business major, it’s imperative that I gain necessary experience and skills to navigate that industry. Focusing more on the professional aspect, the format of the internship and course is very dependent on self-execution. I already had sufficient organization skills, but this challenged me to expand that even more. I had to take a relative assignment and create tangible milestones in order to accomplish the task on time as well as ensuring quality work.
B: My professional and personal development grew the most out of this experience. Professionally, I became aware that nonprofits, foundations and philanthropy is not my desired field and that I do foresee myself continuing in my academic studies, in the realm of environmental policy. I also learned that there is still a large disconnect between the professional and academic spheres, at least from an American perspective. Personally, my self-awareness has grown tremendously. Lastly, cultural expansion was a bit of a challenge for me personally. Much of this is due to the fact that I have studied in France already and my second major is in French. Therefore, much of the exposure that other students may have experienced from working with the culture for the first time was not present. And there is a limit to an individual’s ability to learn about a culture from textbooks and the comforts of their own home. That being said, I did find myself questioning whether a particular action or communication style was due to culture or the individual’s personality. I think the only way for me to get clarification would be to work with another French company and team.
"CEA Staff is wonderful. Every single staff member I’ve interacted with has been warm, understanding, and enthusiastic."
Q. What do you think of the CEA Staff who worked with you? Include the Instructors of the course.
A: CEA Staff is wonderful. Every single staff member I’ve interacted with has been warm, understanding, and enthusiastic. My Internship Coach especially, Sadi Foltz, worked with me on a number of levels to ensure I was able to get the most out of this experience. My Onsite Director, Victor Gonzalez, worked tirelessly to place me with an organization that ended up welcoming me and appreciating what I brought to the table. All around, from course instructors to coaches, CEA Staff have been exceedingly helpful and ready to assist with just about anything.
J: The CEA Staff has been the absolute best support system I could ever ask for. At the start of this virtual internship experience, I was finishing another course for my home institution, and to say the least, I was extremely overwhelmed with that course, starting the internship itself, assuring that I would reach 20 hours per week, as well as successfully complete the internship course. My Onsite Internship Supervisor, Karina Tapia Navas, my Internship Placement Coordinator Maggie Banchs, and my Internship Coach, Sadi Foltz helped me balance everything on my plate. A few weeks later, I aced my final exam for the course and ultimately received a 100% in the overall class.
M: All the staff I worked with throughout the application and interview process in addition to the actual program were more than accommodating. In many different instances they offered themselves beyond what was expected to ensure that the experience as a virtual intern was everything it was expected to be. Daniele Bini, Christine Weiler, Sadi Foltz, and Christopher Edwards were the four people I have been in contact with the most. The feedback they all provide is incredibly valuable and I feel like they all have made a significant investment in my personal success.
B: This summer I worked with Christopher Edwards, Daniele Bini, Jacqueline Ménoret and Christine Weiler. Throughout my experience I felt that I was supported as a student and that the staff at CEA had my best interest at heart. Personally, I enjoyed the feedback from the instructors. Much of this comes from the new perspective of academics. This new perspective comes from the fact that the course was international as well. This was mainly reflected in grading feedback. As an American student much of our education system is built of right and wrong. This has personally hindered my ability to accept that improvement is necessary, and that perfection does not exist. I particular remember asking my professors about how I lost points or what I did wrong on an assignment. The response I received was remarkably different from a typical American academic response. Prof. Edwards addressed that my grade does not reflect what I got wrong but that there was room for improvement. This comment resulted in my reflection of the United States academic culture as well as how I should view my grades in the future.
"This has personally hindered my ability to accept that improvement is necessary, and that perfection does not exist."
Q. Can you describe the course CEA interns take as they intern with a company? Do you think the course adds value to the experience?
A: I absolutely love the seminar course. I may even like it more than the internship. The seminar course focuses on the 8 NACE career readiness competencies. Over the course of the six weeks, specially designed and scheduled modules walk interns through the eight competencies with activities that build on each other to get us truly thinking about every aspect of our internship experiences. Had this course not been a part of the internship, I don’t think I would have thought about many of the concepts addressed in the course. The course connects the internship to a learning competent in a meaningful and intentional way, making them fit together seamlessly. I’m really glad I’ve participated in an internship with a course component, because it has really made the experience purposeful with many opportunities to learn and reflect.
R: The course does add value to my experience. It is completely online, which I can appreciate, since it keeps all students safe, giving them the flexibility of learning from home. The course is divided by modules that are assigned each week. The online Moodle Platform works perfectly, made it a lot easier for me to organize myself and keep up with assignments
M: The course is a great tool to solidify intercultural skills and professional preparedness. I felt like it was a great platform to reflect on my own experience and personal goals which also provided the opportunity to collaborate with other interns and their own unique experience.
B: The course that accompanied our internship emphasized career development skills, specifically the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 8 career competencies: Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Oral/Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Information Technology Application, Leadership, Professionalism/Work Ethic Career Management, Global/Intercultural Fluency. The course was a modular format and each module covered one of the 8 competencies. In addition to the online course, students participated in Zoom discussion groups; One weekly NACE check-in and a bi-weekly cultural discussion. I found that having a community to share my experiences with was helpful and comforting.
"I’m really glad I’ve participated in an internship with a course component, because it has really made the experience purposeful with many opportunities to learn and reflect."
Q. If you could choose 3 highlights of the program; what would you choose?
A: 1) Your internship is chosen to meet your needs and goals, making it personalized and a great fit for you. 2) You have the opportunity to work alongside fellow interns in the program, which allows for great connections to be made.3) You have the support of CEA every step of the way!
R: 1) The sessions with Christine 2) the sessions with my supervisor at Jobaround 3) the moment I got my first client to respond at my LinkedIn request.
J: 1) The Weekly Coaching Calls 2) The Bi-Weekly Cultural Discussions 3) the overall care which the CEA staff continuously provides are remarkably valuable and advantageous.
M: 1) The independence and lack of oversight allows the intern to take the lead more often than normal. 2) The interaction between other interns creates a unique support system. 3) The flexibility to create your own schedule.
B: 1) Building international connections. 2) A stronger self-awareness 3) Experiencing the industry of nonprofits, foundations, and philanthropy.
Q. Would you suggest the CEA Virtual internship program to your peers?
A: I would suggest the CEA Virtual Internship program to my peers. Even if I’ve had hard days during my internship where I thought it was not the absolute perfect fit for me, I’ve taken these thoughts and feelings as opportunities for growth, as well as a way to realize what I truly want out of my following positions. For those who are unsure of what they want out of a career, participating in this internship is a great way to strengthen your professional career orientation and discover what appeals to you. And, doing so virtually is a feat not many can boast, setting you apart from others in a modern yet advance way.
R: Yes, it is a great way to learn and stay safe. It provides you with an international experience while from home, it does not get better than that.
J: Absolutely! Though I personally faced some challenges in the beginning of the program, I would not hesitate at all to recommend CEA’s Virtual Internship program to my peers. Although we do not have the benefit of traditionally interning in a country abroad and first-handedly amplifying our global perspectives, I have learned so much vital information and gained a new set of skills which I know I can utilize in the future. While this can also be done through a traditional internship abroad, the opportunity to network on a global scale and expand your professional portfolio, internationally, is extraordinarily rewarding. I have no doubt that with this involvement, with the CEA Staff’s dedication to their students, with your own hard work and determination, each student who fulfills this program will become more well-versed and an overall enriched individual.
B: Yes! I would definitely suggest the program to my peers, especially to individuals that lack the financial means or are not ready to commit to the uncertainty of studying/traveling abroad. As a global student, I strongly believe that any exposure to cross-culture exchange, whether it be in-person or virtual is necessary to truly understand the human race as a whole, as well as oneself.
We at CEA did everything in our power to offer students the closest opportunity to an in-person International Internship, but our Summer 2020 Virtual Interns are the real pioneers. They believed in it. They showed us that if you’re willing to put your heart in what you do, nothing is impossible. They made it their reality and thrived. It is for this reason that today, now that the program is over, I decided to write and publish an article to give them a platform to tell us about how this experience empowered them.
The success of the Summer 2020 Virtual Internships has inspired CEA to offer similar opportunities to students in Fall 2020 as well. Stay tuned to hear more about a new round of interns.
Daniele Bini is the Internship & Student Services Coordinator.