Working in Berlin

Phoebe Chubb is a current BSc Politics and International Relations with EEA at the University of Exeter.

Phoebe Chubb, current BSc Politics and International Relations with EEA at the University of Exeter, in Berlin.

(This blog post was written before the COVID-19 pandemic.) 

In my second year at University, I went to the autumn term Year Abroad meeting for students studying Social Science. I had always considered doing a study abroad year but wasn’t sure I wanted to be saddled with more debt by signing up to another year of studying. An opportunity arose when I was told about a more financially viable alternative the University offered: working abroad.

One year later, I am working for a start-up in the vibrant capital city of Germany, Berlin. I have been here for three months; I have sampled the food, moved flats three times, joined a netball club and met a number of interesting people from all around the world. To alleviate some of the qualms you may have about undertaking a year abroad, I thought I would share my initial reflections of this unique and wonderful experience the University supports.

“On reflection, the challenges I have faced have moulded me into a more resilient individual who is better prepared to deal with complications that arise, complications, which I have no doubt I will inevitably face in my later working life.”

I managed to procure a digital marketing internship for nine months with Labforward, a company that sells software solutions for scientists: an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) and a Lab Execution System. Now, if you had asked me prior to this internship what both of these were I would not have had a clue. I didn’t study science at A Level, and I do a Politics and International Relations (BSc) degree at University, so I wouldn’t say that I am well-versed in laboratory software. Yet, as a digital marketer, I have found that a large amount of my time is devoted to writing about new technological advancements which revolutionise the way we work, disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Internet of Things, a job which I thoroughly enjoy. This in itself demonstrates the breadth of internship opportunities that are available with this scheme, don’t limit yourself to one sector, try new things, and make the most of the opportunities working abroad facilitates.

“In this role, I have been encouraged to try new things and develop my skills further, and as a result, I have progressed as an individual both in skillset and in character.”

Unfortunately, my move to Berlin has not been without complications. When I first arrived I had a housing issue as the room I had booked was not as pictured. As a result, I had to move rooms three times and deal with frustrating admin tasks to try and solve the problems which I had no control over. Whilst this initially made me miss the simplicity of University life, on reflection, the challenges I have faced have moulded me into a more resilient individual who is better prepared to deal with complications that arise, complications, which I have no doubt I will inevitably face in my later working life.

I realise that I have been incredibly lucky with my internship. In the workplace, I am surrounded by a driven, talented team of individuals who have alleviated all my prior concerns about working abroad. Working for Labforward has made me realise what type of company I want to work at in the future, after all, working for a company where you are content is incredibly important. In this role, I have been encouraged to try new things and develop my skills further, and as a result, I have progressed as an individual both in skillset and in character.

As for those who worry about being away from friends in the year abroad, it is a consideration, yet should not dissuade you from going abroad. Whilst I miss my friends from university a lot, I’ve found that many people in my year have chosen to do a year abroad, choosing either to study or work. I have a friend who is currently somewhere in Japan, one who is in Brussels and another is in Spain. Plus if you make the effort you get to know people where you’re working, since being in Berlin I have joined a friendly netball club which has allowed me to meet people from all over the world.

“This internship hasn’t just helped me transfer academic skills into the working environment, it has been a journey which has gifted me a number of experiences one can only receive by living and working in a different country.”

My work abroad year has invigorated me with a drive to look into new areas of politics that I had not considered before. Writing about technological advancements has made me question what political and social impacts digitalisation will incur, a subject area I am keen to write my dissertation on. Already I have gained valuable experience that I can use to bolster my CV to acquire post-graduation employment. This internship hasn’t just helped me transfer academic skills into the working environment, it has been a journey which has gifted me a number of experiences one can only receive by living and working in a different country.

Interning at the United Nations, New York

Eleanor Nicolaides is a current BA History and Ancient History with EEA (Employment Experience Abroad) student at the University of Exeter, Streatham campus. For her EEA placement she was an intern at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cyprus to the United Nations in New York City.

Eleanor Nicolaides in the Security Council Chamber of the United Nations New York City

This was the best experience of my entire life, and it is really hard to summarise in one post, so I will do my best!

I found out about this internship years ago, through Nepomak, an organisation which aims to preserve Cypriot cultural roots and identity by bringing together young Cypriots in different branches all over the world. They do this through organising events, and running language and cultural tours in Cyprus in the summer. Other opportunities they provide are internships with the Government of Cyprus, the Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation, and the Cyprus Mission to the United Nations.

In 2014, whilst on holiday in New York, I went on a tour of the UN, and was fascinated by what I learnt, and the work that the UN has accomplished. Shortly after I found out that Nepomak offered an internship there, and ever since I had been desperate to sign up. Everything fell into place in October 2017 when Exeter offered the chance to do “Employment Experience Abroad” for the first time, and I realised that this was my chance. My application was accepted and in August 2018 I flew to New York.

“At times, I felt like I was watching history happen right in front of me.”

I was beyond nervous for my first day at the UN, however I quickly settled in. Everyone was so lovely and welcoming, and I greatly appreciate all the support they gave me over the year. During the first couple of weeks, I helped my colleagues prepare for the 73rd General Assembly – for example, by helping the Ambassador plan the President of Cyprus’ schedule for the High-Level week. During this week, my main role (much to my surprise) was to sit in on the General Debate and write this up in a report. I estimate that I saw between 70 – 80 Heads of State in this week, including: Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, and Jacinda Arden (other famous figures I saw throughout the year at the UN include Antonio Guterres, Mike Pence, Amal Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). It was an extremely surreal week. I couldn’t believe that I was already trusted enough to solely represent the country of Cyprus at the most prominent political event in the entire world. My internship had completely exceeded all expectations in just a couple of weeks.

My main role at the UN was write up reports on the meetings I attended which would then get sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These included General Assembly and Security Council meetings, conferences, humanitarian briefings, and resolution negotiations. At times, I felt like I was watching history happen right in front of me. For example, I attended an emergency Security Council meeting in November after Russia attacked Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait and took 24 Ukrainian sailors prisoner. Tensions were extraordinarily high, with Russia trying to justify their actions, and Ukraine threatening to declare martial law. Although the situation between these countries is far from resolved, these sailors were finally released back to the Ukraine this month.

I also attended European Union Coordination’s around three times a week. These meetings were fascinating, as it was a private, behind-the-scenes look at how the 28 Member States work together to achieve their common goals (the way they discussed this never ending Brexit crisis was even more interesting!). One of the most memorable meetings I had here was during the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis. Both Maduro and Guaido were sending delegations to a United Nations conference in Buenos Aires, and the EU needed to decide on a common approach on how to diplomatically act in this situation. The issue was time sensitive, yet they also had to keep in mind how to deal with this in the long term. The cooperation and I saw during these meetings was so impressive!

“Living in New York was also a dream. The city is so full of life and opportunities, with something new to discover every day.”

Living in New York was also a dream. The city is so full of life and opportunities, with something new to discover every day. I made some incredible friends there, and some of the things we did were go to: all of the classic sight-seeing (Empire State, Statue of Liberty, Central Park etc.), Broadway shows, museums (the best is the Met by far), NBC studios to watch live recordings of SNL, concerts and festivals and Instagram popups, food markets, and travel. During my year I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco, Yosemite, Miami, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Washington DC, Virginia, and Philadelphia. I am trying hard to not be too critical of Exeter this year, but it feels so much smaller and unexciting after these experiences.

I am so grateful to the University for giving me the opportunity to live and work in New York for a year. Words can never justify how much I loved it and how much I want to return. To other students, I highly recommend working abroad, as it offers so much more than studying, and will be something you won’t regret!

If you’re interested in adding an EEA year into your course, contact the College Employability and Placement Advisor for your College or email careers@exeter.ac.uk  

Teaching English in China

Natasha Lock is a Yenqing Scholar at Peking University. She graduated in BA History, International Relations and Mandarin Chinese from the University of Exeter. 

Natasha Lock Yenqing Scholar at Peking University and Exeter graduate

I have been studying Mandarin Chinese for eight years and during this period I have been interested in the etymology of Mandarin, the history of China and contemporary political status of the country.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have spent the past five years back and forth from China – traveling, working and studying. I started with a family trip to China in 2013 and was fascinated by the country I had set foot in.

There seemed to be an energy here that was totally different from any other country I had been to, and a real connection between the past and the present. I followed this with a government study scholarship for short programmes (one/two months) spent in Shanghai and Nanjing during my university holidays. Then in 2016, I moved to Beijing for a year to study at Peking University. Since graduating in the summer of 2018, I have stayed in Asia, first to travel, then working for a manufacturing company based down in Southern China.

“Teaching in China has definitely taught me to chase a more hands-on job where I can interact with people, continue to learn and attempt to share my experiences and understandings with others. Academia is incredibly powerful, meaningful and allows for constant learning.”

Transferable skills

Teaching has been an incredible experience. It has allowed me first-hand access to see how the next generation of Chinese doctors, lawyers, academics and workers have spent their teenage education. Study pressures are both real and worrying. As a result, during my role as a teacher I’ve really tried to focus on addressing some of these issues. I try to pursue discussion-based learning, study topics that require the students to ‘think outside the box’ and do not set my students homework. I am also using my teaching experience in China to develop my Mandarin and fulfill my travel desires. There are breaks between lessons and I never work later than 5pm. This leaves a lot of time to study Mandarin, go out with friends and on the weekends and numerous national holidays, travel within China.

Teaching students in China feels like a real privilege. Whilst I am employed to teach the students, I also learn a great deal from them. Leaving school every day knowing that I’ve made a direct difference to someone’s day is extremely fulfilling and rewarding. Teaching certainly builds confidence and character. Standing in front of 50 teenagers for 4 hours each day demands lots of energy, organisation and drive.

The world famous Shanghai skyline

After the programme 

Since 2019 I have been a Yenqing Scholar at Peking University. The Yenqing Academy is an elite fellowship China Studies master’s programme that is fully funded. It takes 125 scholars from all over the world and teaches them in both core modules and their selected academic discipline. The Academy also organizes field studies to culturally, economically, and socio-politically significant regions within China.

The Yenqing Academy programme will be an intense two years of study concerning the International Relations of China and will facilitate my wish to become a more knowledgeable scholar and a better Mandarin speaker. In the past, I have found studying International Relations within China and from a Sino perspective to be absolutely fascinating. Furthermore studying this subject in a country so essential to International Relations is a unique privilege. Studying about China within the nation state has previously been extremely interesting, as aspects of politics were analysed from a Sino perspective and outside of class I could see the very case studies that were being utilized within my course.

Teaching in China has definitely taught me to chase a more hands-on job where I can interact with people, continue to learn and attempt to share my experiences and understandings with others. Academia is incredibly powerful, meaningful and allows for constant learning. Following the masters programme at Peking University, I wish to pursue PhD level studies. It is imperative that leading Sino specialists understand China’s past, present and future – looking at these behaviours through both Chinese and international perspectives. Subsequently I hope to use what I have learned throughout my career in academia or diplomatic consultancy. This balance between Chinese and international perspectives will be essential to bridge the gap between academic research and international policy-making.

Find out more about the programmes offered by Teach English In China or email info@teach-english-in-china.co.uk

Global Leader Experience – Mumbai

Jeeves Sidhu is a current BA Liberal Arts student at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. 

Jeeves Sidhu (second left) and other Exeter GLE students in Mumbai.

In November 2018, I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Mumbai with 30 fellow University of Exeter students to take part in one of Common Purpose’s renowned Global Leader Experience (GLE). After an early rise and a 9-hour flight from London Heathrow, we arrived in sweltering hot Mumbai and endured a two-hour long customs queue before finally arriving at our wonderful hotel. Before the programme began, we had some free time to explore for a couple of days and get fully adjusted to the crazy new environment.

Common Purpose was founded by Julia Middleton in 1989 in order to deliver worldwide leadership development programmes, equipping individuals at various different levels with the skills to work across boundaries in an increasingly globalised world. This was a key aspect of our GLE when exploring the concept of ‘CQ’ – cultural intelligence. It was made clear to us at the beginning of our experience that CQ was a core skill that the team wanted us to develop, as in an increasingly global working environment, it is incredibly important to be able to work with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds.

“My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity.”

Through a range of sessions with local business leaders, visits to multiple NGOs & corporations, and a range of engaging group sessions and activities – we worked towards the following challenge question: How can we make smart cities like Mumbai more inclusive? The week-long programme culminated in us being put into groups and bringing together what we had learned throughout the week towards a solution to the aforementioned question.

My group decided to put together a campaign called ‘Speak Up!’ which was designed to encourage citizens to talk about issues affecting them, in order to break the cultural taboos around a lot of different issues. We came to the conclusion that many conversations we have in the UK around a range of social issues, are simply not taking place in India due to cultural taboos around these issues. We decided that a campaign to encourage conversation around social issues would be the best way to make Mumbai are more inclusive city – contributing to our tagline “because conversation sparks change”. The challenge involved putting together a one-minute video promoting our solution.

Although ours did not emerge as the victorious project, we certainly learned a lot about India, and were really inspired by the changes sparked by many of the local NGOs and businesses. Our experience in Mumbai opened our eyes to an energetic and liberal youth slowly emerging in the country and beginning to take the reins of power, and I feel that this really symbolised the growing power and influence of India which itself is slowly emerging as a major player on the world stage.

Juhu Beach, Mumbai

Why did you apply?

My ultimate career ambition is to secure a place on the Civil Service’s Diplomatic Fast Stream, so I have always been keen to build up as much international experience as possible, and the Mumbai Global Leaders Experience seemed like the ideal opportunity! Furthermore, I had heard really positive feedback from other University of Exeter students who had taken part in previous GLE’s to Philadelphia, Budapest & Barcelona – so was really motivated to get a place on one myself. Furthermore, I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.

What did you gain from it?

One of the most valuable experiences gained from my GLE in Mumbai was the opportunity to interact with local businesses and NGOs such as She Says India. She Says is a grassroots woman’s advocacy group that managed to fight for the removal of the tampon tax and are currently campaigning against the legality of marital rape – their achievements and mission really inspired me personally and revealed to me an activist and truly liberal side of India that I had never really expected or experienced before.

“I felt really inspired by Common Purpose’s goal of bringing people together from different cultures in order to increase cultural intelligence levels, so was keen to build up a more global network through an experience like this.”

Additionally, the fact that our project team working on ’Speak Up!’ was made up of a mixture of both British & Indian students meant that we had multiple perspectives on different issues, and it really taught me the value of surrounding yourself and working with people who do not necessarily agree with you or have the same background as yourself. Whether it was through interacting with my Indian colleagues or stumbling across an awe-inspiring religious festival on Juhu Beach, I was inundated with both challenging and fascinating aspects of Indian culture, unequivocally improving my CQ.

The final day of our trip coincided with an alumni event at the Taj Land’s End Hotel, which was attended by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter Sir Steve Smith, and he very kindly made some time available before this event to speak to me about the challenges Brexit might bring about for our University. After discussing Erasmus, the potential effects on Staff & Students from the EU27, as well as the potential opportunities that could be brought about, we headed down to the event and had the brilliant opportunity to network with a range of Exeter alumni based in India. The opportunity to interview the Vice Chancellor in India of all places was brilliant, insightful and undoubtedly one of my personal highlights of the trip.

How can you apply?

You can find information about the GLE programme and to sign up to the mailing list to receive regular updates here.

A special thanks goes to our chaperones, Bela Coelho-Knapp & the Career Zone’s very own Oli Laity, NMIMS University for hosting us at their wonderful institution, Dr James Smith for arranging my interview with the Vice Chancellor, and Lewis Davidson & The Outbound Team for organising this brilliant experience for us.

Study Abroad – The Netherlands

Mel Watt is a BA History with Study Abroad student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus. 

Mel Watt, BA History with Study Abroad

I admittedly applied to study in the Netherlands on a last-minute whim, frantically submitting my application on the night of the deadline. In a spur of the moment decision to further my career prospects, I found myself studying for the year at University College Utrecht. After two months of settling in, exploring the country and sampling the local food, I thought I would share my thoughts on this roller coaster of an experience.

To me, studying abroad provided the perfect opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and develop those skills you can’t readily find in the classroom. This was the prime time to grow in confidence and self-reliance as I navigated my way around an unfamiliar country. As it stands, I am working towards a career in freelance journalism, with a focus on sustainable living. The Netherlands seemed the obvious place to work on my portfolio: as a low-lying country (where everyone and their dog seems to ride a bicycle), Holland is at the forefront of sustainable innovation.

My choice was also informed by employers’ increasing preference for foreign language skills and familiarity with diverse cultures. Studying abroad would highlight my ability to adapt to new surroundings. During my stay, I have also vowed to try and pick up some conversational Dutch. UCU is a very international campus which hosts students from all over the world. This offered the prospect of networking, developing my social skills and cementing long lasting connections. Embracing a foreign culture would also go a long way in broadening my horizons and perspective on life. I was most excited to get involved with the student print newspaper, the Boomerang, and hopefully get some of my work published.

“My advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to go into the experience open-minded and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Immerse yourself in the culture, even the parts that make you uncomfortable… If this experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that practice makes perfect, and this is easily transferable to the workplace.”

Sadly, this experience hasn’t been all stroopwafels and windmills; adjusting to a new country took a lot of time and patience. If I’m being honest, I found the settling in period very stressful. None of my bank cards worked in stores, I crashed my bike more times than I care to admit, and I even missed a few classes because I read my schedule wrong. To top it all off, my mobile phone broke! Everything that seemingly could go wrong did. Slowly but surely, things worked themselves out and I felt increasingly like I belonged.

Above all, moving to an entirely new country by yourself is an intimidating but worthwhile challenge. Studying abroad has already made me so much more resilient and independent. Whether it’s through addressing any Dutch administrative issues or gaining my bearings in a new city, I’ve continuously shown my ability to problem solve and think on my feet. It’s experiences like these which prepare you for the real world.

So, my advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to go into the experience open-minded and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Immerse yourself in the culture, even the parts that make you uncomfortable. Having not cycled for over ten years, biking in the Netherlands felt like my worst nightmare. After forcing myself to cycle everywhere, it has quickly become my new favourite hobby. If this experience has taught me anything so far, it’s that practice makes perfect, and this is easily transferable to the workplace.

Find out more information about Study Abroad here. https://www.exeter.ac.uk/studyabroad/outbound/