In the last few months, working from home has become normal for office workers across the globe. When Notre Dame students enrolled in the Fall 2020 London Program were told that the program would not be going ahead, they were not surprised, but no less disappointed. However, there was one element of their London experience they could still take advantage of: virtual internships.
The London Internship Program is an opportunity for students to work within local businesses, non-profit organizations, schools and Parliament, giving them professional experience in a different cultural setting. It also allows students to interact with locals and form a deeper understanding of London and its residents. With the pandemic causing the majority of organizations to transition to virtual working, the virtual internships allowed students to learn about working in a different country, while remaining on campus.
Rafael Kuc was pleased to find out that he could still proceed with his internship at C3, an organization that works to prevent chronic diseases.
"When my study abroad program was canceled and my internship became virtual, I believed that at least some cross-cultural aspects of the internship would be preserved," says Kuc. “I also wanted to proceed with my internship because it is so relevant to my interests in health and medicine. I’ve studied global health and epidemics in the classroom setting at Notre Dame, and I now get to play an active role in alleviating health disparities in the real world."
Having never been to London, Kuc’s first task was to collect COVID-19 statistics for the London boroughs of Brent, Harrow, Ealing and Richmond Upon Thames. He also worked on their community-based health monitoring app. Lauren Aucoin also interned for C3, creating blog posts and running their Twitter account. Both students found that they were still able to learn about UK culture during their internship, and gain a good knowledge of the UK healthcare system.
"The UK views some topics in health differently than the U.S. which has been a learning experience for me while working with a health based organization,” reflects Aucoin. “I have learned a lot about ways of life in London through weekly virtual meetings with the team, and have learned about the culture just from listening to conversations that occur before each meeting, and hearing about recent events.”
Another advantage of a whole team working virtually is that it means that everyone, despite their role or location, is connecting in the same way. This has allowed people to connect with their colleagues in different countries more freely and easily, creating a stronger collaborative working environment. This is advantageous for students on the internship program, who were able to get a global office experience.
"Interning at C3 has put me in contact with incredibly diverse public health workers and nurses and C3 has associates in England and France as well as connections all across Europe”, says Kuc. “Everyone works collaboratively on what truly is a global health initiative and a US based internship program would not nearly offer the variety of international connections and perspectives.”
Although personal connection can never be entirely replicated in a virtual setting, the work of the interns remains important for their professional development, and also for the organizations they work with. For Kuc, being part of a talented, kind and driven team was fulfilling, and allowed him to draw on his own experience and skills to contribute to C3’s mission.
"I was given the freedom to choose any topic and have it featured on the C3 website for the public to read,” says Kuc. “I wanted to write about something that I could relate to and offer a personal perspective, so I chose to cover the physical health impacts of COVID-19 on college students amid quarantine restrictions, fitness center closures, and remote learning.”
Nick Brill, associate director for internships at the London Global Gateway thinks that the despite missing out on some of the immersive, intercultural benefits of in-person internships, it’s clear that there is much for the students to gain from these virtual placements, both personally and professionally.
“These internships are a fantastic way to give our interns a taste of the UK even if they can’t be here in person,” commented Brill. “It is testament to the supervisors’ efforts, and to the commitment of the students themselves, that ‘remote’ has never been identified as a downside to these experiences.”
As the world continues to readjust to connecting and working in new and challenging ways, organizations are adapting to become predominantly virtual. While this style of working is not always perfect, it allows us to easily work across countries and time zones. For the students, this means that while they may not be able to study abroad in person, they are still able to develop their understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.