Virtual internship provides global perspective

Global Commerce
August 7, 2020

A Summer 2020 international business development internship with SGI Group, an electrical equipment supplier and engineering firm based in Zaragoza, Spain, gives Riley Schafer ‘21 practical knowledge about import price parity and working in cross-cultural teams.

Schafer, a rising senior Global Commerce major (Europe global focus), had planned to be in Zaragoza interning this summer but the COVID-19 global pandemic forced a change in plans. Rather than changing course completely, she worked with her internship employer to pivot to a remote internship experience. Midway through the summer, she shared more about her experience in an internship Q&A:

What are you doing for your internship? What are some of your main responsibilities?

There have been three phases to my internship work so far. In the first phase, I was researching potential markets for a specific piece of tracking equipment for tractors and farming machinery. This particular phase correlated really well with the knowledge and skills I gained in Dr. Burczak’s GC 301 “Global Financial Markets” class that I took last fall. I looked at GDP and import price parity when considering what countries would make best sense for SGI to target. I consulted with Dr. Burczak a lot during this phase.

In the second phase, I needed to collect contact information for Parker Hannifin stores (our partner distributor) in all of the countries that I identified in my market research. Thanks to the spreadsheet management skills that I developed in GC 201 “Elements of Commerce”, I was able to utilize Excel to organize all of this data.

In this final phase, I am now contacting our clients at Parker - this includes clients in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Belize!

What do you like most about your internship so far? What have you learned about yourself through this experience?

I enjoy applying my knowledge of global commerce and having hands-on experience with the global marketplace. I’ve learned that staying organized by using Excel and other resources allows me to stay on top of my projects and do things with maximum efficiency. I’m most proud of learning how to be an independent thinker and developing my problem-solving skills in a work setting.

In terms of career goals, I’ve learned that I would love to work abroad and learn a variety of languages so that I can communicate and interact with a wide spread of people on a more personal level.

What are some challenges you have faced during this experience and how have you overcome them?

It’s been a challenge to be in different time zones. Since Spain is a six-hour time difference, my supervisor and I had to test out a multitude of ways to communicate. Also, everything workwise is in Spanish so it is pushing my language skills and I’m having to learn new vocabulary. I’m continuing to sharpen my Spanish listening skills. Working out communication and time zones has definitely been part of the learning!

Six months ago you were planning to be in Spain for the summer; have you still been able to make a personal connection with your internship colleagues in this remote setting? Has this been a meaningful global experience despite being virtual?

Yes, I feel very connected. My supervisor is a family friend so that helped in the beginning. Coming into the internship with Spanish language skills makes personal connection possible. I’m learning from them and they are using me as a resource when it comes to English translations. I definitely think I am having a meaningful global experience even though I’m not physically in Spain. I’m still learning a lot about Spanish business culture and I am having conversations about current events in the U.S. and in Spain with my co-workers. It’s not just U.S. focused or even Europe, I’m contacting and networking with clients all around the world; I’m truly gaining a global perspective.

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