Columns, Opinion

HAUSER: Interning at a French nonprofit

After a week of peaceful rest and visits to tourist attractions with my boyfriend, my spring break here in Paris came to a close as I geared up to start my seven-week internship. The design of the Paris Study Abroad Program stuffs three academic courses in the first half of the semester before spring break, which leads to two incredibly busy months. Now the second half of the semester is just my full-time internship, which in France is considered 35 hours a week. My internship is at the administrative headquarters of a French non-governmental organization, Le Mouvement de la Paix, or “The Movement of Peace.”

Unfortunately, the office is located right outside of Paris in a northwestern suburb called Saint-Ouen, which is on the exact opposite side of Paris from where I live. My commute is about an hour each direction on the subway, which involves changing trains once on the way there and once on the way back. Luckily, my internship does not start until 9:30 a.m., so I do not have to wake up absurdly early. The hour-long ride to work gives my brain a chance to wake up a little and prepare for the French mode I go into for the rest of the workday.

Each day I work from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and get a one-hour lunch about halfway through the day. In the United States, I remember jobs that gave me lunches as short as 25 minutes. The hour-long lunch here fully allows me to relax and take a break from my work. I usually pack a lunch, but the first day I went to a local bakery with my coworker to get a sandwich. While in the United States, this sort of trip to get lunch would take up the majority of your lunch break, the mandated hour allowed me to walk to the bakery and back, while still having time to eat for another 40 minutes with my coworkers. This personal time with my coworkers allowed me to use my French and learn new words, especially international relations-related words or slang that my college-age coworkers shared with me. When I go back to the United States, I will definitely miss this view that restful breaks are important.

Of course, when I am not eating my lunch, I am working. I realized that many internships in France don’t have orientations to get you acquainted with the office. You simply just start and have to learn how the office functions and what your responsibilities are. For example, to see where my competencies are, my boss assigned me to write a research article about the American presidential election system. On my first day I completed this article after researching statistics and general election trends on primarily English websites, then wrote the article in French. While it might seem easier to do the research in English and then translate it into French, I sometimes found that it’s easier to pull from French articles, especially because there is no need to do extensive translating afterwards. This first paper was about three pages long, single-spaced with two small charts explaining the Electoral College, which fit within the requirement of it being around 8,500 characters. While in the United States we tend to ask for page limits or word counts, this organization in France instead has character limits. After having finished this first task, my boss just let me help another coworker sort through old files. The next day, she sent me a list of new tasks to do since she had read through my first article and deemed my French writing skills good enough to continue writing more articles. I thus learned that French bosses are a little wary at first, and you have to gain their trust a little bit.

Another way to build trust with them is to do a very French thing — say hello to every single person in the office when you arrive and say goodbye to every single person when you leave. Once you become more comfortable with certain workers, this greeting is done by doing La Bise, or the two-cheek kiss, but right now I simply say “bonjour” to everybody while slowly working my way into the normalcy of the office. This simple exchange of words in the morning is a small but important ritual of the French office, and by doing it, I feel more and more a part of the French workforce rather than a visitor in it.

Overall, I would say my first week in the office was a success, especially given that one of my coworkers invited me to go to a political rally with him this weekend to get more of an insight on the French election and the threats to peace carried with certain political parties. I am very excited for the weeks to come and I cannot wait to learn what future research articles I will be writing.

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