By Rachel Mintz, Communications Intern, Global Ties U.S.
Last month, I had a virtual networking event with interns from Global Ties U.S., Global Ties Detroit, and The International Center. One of the topics we discussed was the impact of virtual programming compared to in-person programming. Luke, the intern from Global Ties Detroit, shared how, during his summer so far in Detroit, he has spoken with global leaders in business and government and received advice from foreign diplomats, the very people whose careers he aspires to have one day. After meeting with these internationally focused professionals and visitors, Luke wondered how this more casual conversation and networking could occur in a virtual environment and asked us if we thought virtual programming could compare to the in-person experience.
In response to Luke’s question, I mentioned the lessons I’ve read about in the Exchange Matters articles written by the Global Ties Network on exactly this topic. I stressed how virtual programming has made international exchanges more accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to participate for either financial reasons or disabilities that prevent them from traveling. Virtual programming also allows participants to have real-time conversations with experts who otherwise would be very difficult to meet with when programming in person.
After answering Luke’s question, I couldn’t help but ask myself the same question, but about my own virtual experiences as an intern. Did these same benefits and challenges of digital programming apply to my experience virtually interning with Global Ties U.S.?
On the first day of my internship, I put on my business casual shirt and sat upstairs in my family’s home for a quiet and private place to work. I wasn’t sure what to expect. At 9:00 a.m. ET, I didn’t walk into an office and introduce myself to my team. I simply sat in my quiet room and sent a message via Slack to my new supervisor, Erica.
Later in the morning, I met Erica via Zoom and jumped into the tasks expected of a Communications Intern at Global Ties U.S. As I worked, I realized that I had much to learn. Global Ties U.S. used many platforms that I was unfamiliar with, and I felt a little overwhelmed and nervous that I was taking what seemed to be forever to get simple tasks done for the Communications Team.
The first day of my remote internship with Global Ties U.S. was definitely the hardest. There is a learning curve to understanding the jargon and writing style of an organization and, when working remotely, it can be difficult to know how to ask for help. Through Slack and email, however, I regularly checked in with my supervisor and the Communications Team. Through our weekly team and all-staff meetings, I learned more about the culture of Global Ties U.S. as an organization. Soon, I felt comfortable asking for help or offering help to those who I thought might need it.
What makes my virtual internship experience special at Global Ties U.S. to me was the emphasis on professional development. During my first couple of weeks interning, I regularly met with different teams within the organization for a meet and greet to have a better understanding of what Global Ties U.S. is and what our Network does. Throughout the summer, I have reflected on my own goals for this internship and how the work I am doing now can benefit me in the future. I met with Erica to speak specifically about these goals and how I can connect the topics that interest me to the work I am doing. This reflection was extremely valuable to me and, in my opinion, should be essential in any in-person or virtual internship.
In comparison to the in-person experience, I believe that remotely interning does face similar challenges and has similar benefits to virtual programming. While I have had many opportunities to learn more about the communications field and Global Ties U.S. as an organization, I have missed out on many in-person interactions, including networking events and on-site coverage of our Network’s programs. While I have been able to live on a budget at home and gain communications skills while working remotely, I did not experience the dynamics of working in an office space. Considering all these factors, I believe that my remote internship was challenging yet also more accessible and a smart financial choice. While these challenges might have inhibited some traditional office interactions, they also allowed me to reach out to coworkers for virtual coffee chats and meet and greets. Being remote also meant that I could work with a Washington, DC-based organization, do research with the communications department at the University of Michigan, and live at home in Florida during the summer—all of which would have been impossible with an in-person internship.
For future virtual interns, I believe that the best way to ease their learning curve and facilitate more people-to-people interactions is simply through more communication. For example, reaching out to my supervisor for help or to different teams across Global Ties U.S. to explain their role within the organization tremendously helped me create a sense of community within the organization. While I learned more hard skills through working on projects and asking for help from experts, I believe flexing soft skill muscles is essential in a virtual internship for interaction with coworkers.
Now, as I reflect on my experiences watching the Global Ties U.S. team pass around a virtual cowbell to congratulate others on good work, checking in with other interns via our Slack channel, or catching up with Erica to make sure I feel comfortable with all my assigned tasks, I have realized the value of my virtual internship. Although I was not able to visit the office in person or grab a cup of coffee with a coworker in person after work, I’ve learned many valuable skills. For example, I learned how to use essential software in the communications industry, the inner workings of a nonprofit, and ways to make the stories and memories created by Global Ties Network members accessible to a large audience. I’ll carry these skills with me in the future and always look back fondly on my summer with Global Ties U.S.