McIntire Students Navigate New Cultures and Careers with Summer Internships

November 14, 2017

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Jamie Albert, Ryan Pledger and Taylor Neff

Most would agree there’s no substitute for on-the-job experience. It’s also been said that there’s no stand-in for learning the nuances of a new culture than by actually going and engaging with it directly.

Enter Gema Blasco of global strategic marketing agency Tinkle International. Motivated by McIntire’s longstanding reputation for “creative and skillful students,” the Managing Director reached out to the Comm School, offering immersive summer internships at the company’s offices in Spain, Portugal, and Singapore.

For fourth-year Jamie Albert (McIntire ’18) and recent graduates Ryan Pledger (McIntire ’17) and Taylor Neff (M.S. in Global Commerce ’17), the Tinkle placements afforded them an ideal opportunity to develop professionally while gaining the perspective and experience that can come only from living and working abroad.

Speaking the Same Language
Commerce Career Services jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with Tinkle on developing international internships, and it was through the office’s weekly email to students that Albert discovered the Madrid opening—a clear avenue for connecting her passion for marketing with her interest in improving her Spanish. 

Although anxious about the videoconference interview being conducted in Spanish, she landed the position. In fact, during her internship, Albert’s competence between her native and adopted languages was one of the skills Tinkle relied on her for most often. “I read marketing and consumer behavior reports and made presentations about them for my Spanish coworkers to save them time. A lot of the reports were in English, so it was really rewarding to take the content and translate it for them,” she says.

Albert also notes that her mastery of Spanish improved markedly this past summer, despite a language challenge that occurred during brainstorming meetings: “People would throw ideas back and forth, getting excited, and naturally, speaking really rapidly!” she says.

Pledger also had to adjust to a language learning curve during his internship in Tinkle’s Lisbon office. Although he possessed what he considered “a fairly good command of Portuguese,” Pledger’s was of the markedly different informal Brazilian variety. “Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese from Portugal are even more different than American and British English. And informal Portuguese is used for speaking with friends, not with coworkers or clients,” he says. “Tinkle was very understanding and helped me a lot, but even so, it was still a challenge. Thinking, speaking, and writing in another language all day left me exhausted.”

At a Different Pace
Despite the mentally taxing aspects to functioning in an unfamiliar dialect of a non-native language, the Portuguese culture offered a great deal of stress-free solace, particularly when it came to meals. “In Portugal, if you want to eat something—even a small snack—you sit down and eat it,” Pledger explains. “You focus on the food and talk to the people around you, not on driving, not on your phone, and not on work.”

That unhurried approach carried over into Pledger’s experience with his Tinkle coworkers. It quickly became apparent that while his background embodied the “American culture’s obsession with productivity and efficiency,” that perspective would need to change for life in Lisbon. “I had one assignment to complete by early afternoon, and it was almost lunchtime,” he recalls. “The American in me was stressed, so I planned to eat at my desk while working. My coworkers and boss didn't let me—they told me to have lunch with them and then to go enjoy a coffee. Needless to say, I ended up surviving and still completed the assignment on time.”

Albert experienced a similar shift in time management at her Madrid placement. “Lunch is long and happens really late, from 2 to 3:30,” she says. “At my internship two summers ago in D.C., lunch lasted 20 minutes. In Spain, I almost felt like I didn’t know what to do with all of that time. But we’d stay in the office until 6:30 p.m., so it’s essentially the same amount of time that you would work here in the States, just divided up a completely different way.”

Beyond the contrast in national business schedules, it was the Spanish work style, Tinkle’s ties to Southern Europe, and its unique position as an English-speaking global commerce hub in Southeast Asia that added to the allure of interning at its Singapore office for Neff.

“The fact that the position was with a Spanish company made working on the Asian island nation a clear choice. Singapore is a perfect mix of Eastern and Western cultures, and throughout my travels in Asia, I had never been before,” Neff says. “I have always enjoyed the Spanish work ethic since it’s similar to my own: more relaxed and trusting—as long as you get your work done and keep clients happy. Plus, I have experience working and studying in Spain, so this mix of cultures was just too perfect.”

As a result of his other long-term trips abroad, the Singapore environment gave Neff little in the way of what might be called culture shock. But, rather, it was the set of responsibilities he was entrusted with at Tinkle that demanded the most from him.

“I was entirely new to content creation: writing and posting dozens of social media posts a day for multiple organizations. It was a challenging task, since there was no room for error—a post would be live about two hours after writing it. This was a new and exciting experience for me.”

Expert Prep
The summer placements were conceived to inspire exactly the kind of enthusiasm that the students exhibited by learning on the job and interacting with colleagues and customers in a true business setting. Tinkle’s Blasco says the company’s interns are exposed to “real-world client problems, and over the course of their summer internship, they are equipped with the skill set and tools needed to contribute directly to company projects.”

But as McIntire students, the interns came with a special combination of preparedness and zeal.

Albert credited McIntire’s Integrated Core Experience (ICE) with getting her job-ready: “The emphasis that ICE puts on professionalism really helped me to know how to work with other people, how to make aesthetically pleasing presentations, and how to speak and write professionally.”

Pledger believes his McIntire coursework quickly made it apparent to his Lisbon office that he was capable of increased responsibility and autonomy. Despite his Marketing and Management concentrations, he says the interdisciplinary nature of the McIntire curriculum left him with considerable financial knowledge that Tinkle came to rely on him for to serve its clients in that industry. He also credits his Global Commerce Track for teaching him about the many niceties differentiating the European cultures conducting business with Tinkle.

In addition, Pledger believes the School’s emphasis on group projects readied him for the internship. “Not only did McIntire teach me how to best contribute to a company when working in teams,” he says, “it also improved my communication skills and taught me how to handle office dynamics.”

Neff agrees that group-based assignments were key to his success: “McIntire helped me improve my ability to work with diverse teams on fast-paced projects. Staying on top of my workload and managing multiple clients were similar to having classes with many different subjects and projects to be completed in a short period of time. They were very helpful for multitasking in social media marketing!”

Knowing how to effectively work with others extended to interactions with higher stakes. Blasco says her company “helps interns develop their emotional intelligence to better understand clients’ needs and to more effectively respond to each new challenge.” By combining McIntire’s innovative, world-class education with Tinkle’s philosophy of mentoring interns, all while giving them the opportunity to confront big challenges, students benefit from cultural immersion and invaluable training in digital marketing and global strategy, industry analysis, and many other areas integral to the agency’s numerous lines of business.

Enduring Appreciation
Albert says her experience at Tinkle taught her how to be more patient, open-minded, and a better colleague. “My interpersonal skills are more finely honed after my internship.”

Working with customers improved her ability to deal with unexpected, difficult situations, which she already sees carrying over into her final year of McIntire. “We were discussing crisis management communication in my public-speaking class, which we’re simulating with a mock press conference,” Albert says. “Because one of my tasks at Tinkle was replying to English-speaking social media users, I know how to be professional while responding to frustrated people during a heated situation. That knowledge will definitely carry over into what we’re doing with the mock press conference.”

Pledger was extremely satisfied with his internship and insists that other students should jump at the chance for a similar placement. “The experience you will gain is phenomenal, not only for your professional life, but also your personal life,” he says. “You will form deeper understandings of the world, challenge your personal beliefs, and open yourself to an entirely new way of thinking. Also, there is a huge deficit in the market of internationally competent personnel. Having international work experience on your resume will make you stand out and will certainly be a point of discussion in interviews.”

Though Neff was first drawn to McIntire’s M.S. in Global Commerce Program because of his strong interest in the Program’s structure and multiple locations, the connections and lessons proved inimitable. “I knew I wanted to do a traveling one-year master’s; it fit into what I wanted to do in life,” he says. “I knew I would meet amazing people and learn amazing things.”

Assistant Dean for Commerce Career Services Denise Egan says she and the Commerce Career Services team are extremely grateful to Tinkle for providing students with such a rich cultural immersion and professional training experience. “These internships proved to be a transformative experience for McIntire students,” she says. “Gema Blasco and her colleagues were clearly invested in making these students feel like part of their global team and ensured that their work projects were substantive, challenging, and fun.”

From her side, Blasco says her company couldn’t be happier with the McIntire students. “The directors of each team had only great things to say about the contributions of their summer intern. The Business Director at Tinkle Singapore said it was an amazing experience to have Taylor with us for two months. He’ll be proud to know that one of his projects is already being implemented. He brought energy and good vibes that will stay with us for a very long time.”