Interning in Italy
What to Expect, and How to Make the Most of Your Experience
Chasing after Silvio Berlusconi, the then-Prime Minister of Italy, with a microphone in hand. Re-creating a 17th century painting through the streets of Venice. Attending fencing tournaments, filming an Italian dating show, and slipping behind-the-scenes at a protest rally. These were only some of the many experiences I found myself having during my summer internship with The Movie Company, a video production company in Venice, Italy. Before I began the internship however, I had no idea any of this was going to happen.
Fresh from my semester abroad in Padua, I started my job—which I had obtained through my host mother, a broadcast journalist for RAI (the Italian public service broadcaster)—not expecting much. I knew only the basics: I would be helping out a camera crew as it filmed various segments that would appear on network television. I didn’t know my hours, my job description, or who my co-workers were. With little information, I expected to simply follow the crew around, set up equipment, and learn a bit more about the Italian culture I loved so much. Little did I know, however, that I would soon be granted such an up-close-and-personal look at life in the country. From translations on the spot to formulating interview questions for journalists, to stopping what felt like every half hour for an espresso, the internship gave me a unique opportunity to see the inner workings of the Italian media.
And it is through such internships that students can really immerse themselves in another country’s way of life. “The value of an internship is immeasurable in terms of cultural integration,” explains Dr. Rosa Cuda, the Director of Middlebury College’s School in Italy, “More than any other, this type of environment will truly allow a student to experience all that Italy is, in all its facets.” And while this is one of the most important reasons for doing so, beginning an internship in general can be daunting, let alone doing so in another country. There are so many things to consider, it can easily become overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. So, what can you expect from your internship in Italy? Here are a few key points to aid in preparation:
Expect to have the opportunity to speak lots of Italian. The quickest and easiest way to learn another language is to immerse yourself in it, and having an internship will allow you to do just that. You will discover the language outside of the classroom, the way it is truly spoken, and this alone will greatly increase your comprehension. When I began working, I was pretty confident in my language ability. I had no idea, however, the extent to which I would increase my understanding and become comfortable communicating in such a fast-paced setting. By the end, I had even picked up a few words in the difficult Venetian dialect! Even if you you’ve only taken a course or two in Italian–don’t be discouraged. “Italians are really open to helping students who have difficulties expressing themselves and are really encouraging to foreigners who try to speak the language,” says Dr. Cuda.
And while you can be sure you’ll learn lots of Italian, it is important to know that English can help you in your internship as well. Italians must often communicate internationally in both tongues. Offer to help translate documents, write letters or proofread reports and materials written in English. This will not only help the company, but also help you master the ability to seamlessly switch from one language to the other.
On the Job
A key fact to remember when beginning your internship is that the very idea of an internship, or stage, as it is known in Italy, is a relatively new one in the country. As a result, common practices such as defining your duties in detail or having a list of daily responsibilities, might be rare. “The concept of internships is not as well established as it is in the U.S.,” explains Dr. Cuda, “so students should expect some difficulty on the part of the provider to offer a well detailed and stimulating variety of tasks to be carried out.”
While some internships might have a very set plan of action for students, others might require the student to openly express what he or she is interested in doing. Don’t be afraid to ask for more work or to volunteer your services where you think they are needed. Any boss, in Italy or elsewhere, will look favorably on an employee who is eager to get involved.
While on the job, another point to remember is that, in general, Italians begin working at a later age. Since University is longer, and internships are not the norm yet, many companies are not accustomed to younger workers. According to Dr. Cuda, as a result of this, students “...can also expect to be given less complicated tasks, especially in the beginning. For many Italians, it is hard to believe that one can be ‘work savvy’ at what Italians perceive to be such a young age.” Do not be offended if you find yourself making copies or running errands. The more effort you put in, the more you will get out of it. Like anything, interning in a foreign country is largely what you make of it.
Hours and Schedule
Before you start your internship, make sure to speak with your boss and set a schedule that works for both of you. If the internship is during the academic year, set aside enough time to go to class and tend to schoolwork. If possible, try and leave some room for travel, both in Italy and the surrounding countries. Again, since interning is a fairly new practice, you might find yourself having to set your own schedule and then having to present it to your employer.
One major difference that I personally found while working in Italy was that the days were often less intense than those I experienced while working in the United States. In my previous experiences, I ate lunch at my desk and came into work at least half an hour early. In Italy, we regularly stopped for espresso, and lunch was always a sit-down affair—no eating on the go here. While every internship is unique, you can expect to notice a variety of cultural differences.
Interacting with Co-workers
Interning in Italy presents a prime opportunity to meet and interact with locals. Whether you are in a small town or a thriving metropolis, you will find most Italians are eager to show you where and how they live. Even if you are much younger than your co-workers, take advantage of your situation and talk when there is down-time or ask for recommendations on what to do in your adopted city. If some co-workers are close to your age, invite them to lunch or to have a drink after work.
However, while forging friendships is beneficial to your experience, it is important to keep in mind that the Italian workplace is still quite formal. “What tends to surprise people the most is the level of formality within the workplace. In the beginning in particular, maintain the use of the polite form of speech and respect the hierarchy,” notes Dr. Cuda.
Keep an Open Mind
Throughout your internship you might find yourself thinking, or even saying: “At home, we do it this way,” or “our way is more efficient.” People have a tendency to compare what they know to what they are experiencing, and in doing so, you will only lose out in the situation. “Comparisons to one’s own country are natural,” explains Dr. Cuda, “but what a students really needs to do is not to expect that things are the same or should be the same as at home.” Be open to experiencing everything that your Italian internship has to offer. Sure, making copies or typing documents might not land you your dream job, but demonstrating the know-how and the ability to work in a foreign country very well could. You are in a position that many people dream of, so expect to take the good with the bad, the mundane with the invigorating, and the entire experience as one that can be life changing.