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EUSA Comes to Prague

A new player has arrived on Prague’s budding internship scene: EUSA, a non-profit internship organization that has been partnering American students and universities with European companies for over 30 years.

After opening in Prague last September, EUSA is currently in it’s first functional semester this spring, working with two Universities: The College at Brockport: State University of New York, and New York University, based in New York City. Though the program is smaller now, it will likely expand over the summer to include students from 12 or 13 different Universities, according to Jana Kolaříková, the Prague Director of EUSA’s Academic Internship Programs.

The program in Prague is unique, compared with the already existing programs in London, Paris, Madrid, and Dublin, because it is the only English program in a country in which English isn’t the dominant language.  “It’s the first city for more adventurous students,” Kolarikova said.

However, this language barrier can sometimes place limits on the internships available. “Some sectors are tough to get into because of the language and skill sets accompanying those job fields, “ Kolarikova said. “For example, it’s hard to find internships in politics or medicine for American students. Most politicians in the Czech Republic will speak Czech, not English.”

Despite this challenge, EUSA has managed to place a political science major into an internship this semester and maintains that internships are available in a wide variety of fields such as business, music or communications, to name a few.

In many cases, the fact that American interns speak English is a benefit to the company. “The company can get an English speaker who can influence the team, improve employee’s English skills, and offer a fresh and knowledgeable perspective on the U.S. market,” Kolarikova said.

One current intern, Lilly Rada, who is interning at the clothing store Van Graaf, feels that she makes a valuable asset to the team because of her American background. “At my internship, I have participated in analyzing the similarities and differences between American customer service and Czech customer service, spoken to American customers in Sales, and have composed emails in English to inquiries sent to the office by clients in English,” she said. “I feel most valuable when I am put to this work because I am the only one on the VAN GRAAF team that can offer this service,”

She added that she thinks that due to her perspective Van Graaf can “perhaps integrate my ideas and improve customer service, demonstrate the availability of resources in the form of correspondence in customer’s preferred language, and profit from some sales done from one American to another in their store.”

Another current participant in the program, Amanda Clevinger, who is interning at the Bridge Publishing House, feels like she brings energy to the workplace. “I like to think my enthusiasm for work is valued,” she said.

Both Clevinger’s and Rada’s supervisors, have been pleased with their performaces so far. Rada’s supervisor, Martina Gernes, who is a sales associate, highlighted a cultural difference between Rada and Czech workers. “Lilly is totally self confident when she communicaties with people and customers and I think that’s really cool,” she said. “I think the Czechs are really humble but can sometimes have an ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I don’t have time for that’ attitude,’ but I think the American attitude is that they have time for anything!”

This was a pleasant surprise for Gernes, since she was initially nervous about taking on an American intern. “At first I was like no way, it’s too much work to teach her, and I didn’t know how she would be. I thought she would be some crazy American Barbie girl coming to Prague,” she said. “But Lilly’s totally different from that stereotype, so I’m really happy.”

For Gernes, the hardest part of supervising Rada is simply that she needs to prepare tasks for Rada to do, but sometimes because of the language barrier, it can be difficult to set up jobs that Rada will be able to carry out. It’s getting easier over time though, and Gernes added that her company is definitely planning on hiring more American interns in the future through EUSA. “It’s really fun and it’s a new experience for me,” she said. “I think it’s really important to hire American interns.”

There are challenges for the interns as well. For Clevinger, some of the biggest challenges can be small changes such as learning how to use a Czech keyboard or computer.

One challenge that Rada faces is communicating with her Czech-speaking colleagues, since she has a limited Czech vocabulary. “A lot of times when my colleagues and I try to communicate ideas to each other, we end up laughing at the difficulty or rejoicing once the idea get across, and that in itself is an endearing, intimate experience,” she said.

Rada has been enjoying her work environment at Van Graaf, which she says is more focused on kindness and good work relations than in the United States, where the work environment is more competitive and stressful. “From what I see at VAN GRAAF, the Czech work environment is a serious place, but it’s also not a place to feel chained to during work hours,” she said. “The work environment is relaxed and people are not in competition. It isn’t a place to dread.”

Fellow American, Auburn Scallon, who is Bridge’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief, and who is Clevinger’s supervisor agreed with this comparison. “In America, I always felt that if I wasn’t bleeding or unconscious, I should go into the office,” she said. “In the Czech Republic, I’ve always felt that my health and happiness were as much an employers’ concerns as my output, which as a result has made me want to work even harder for them.”

Rada’s favorite part of her internship is learning more about the Czech culture and interacting with Czech people. “Going to school abroad doesn’t really cut it. I find myself going from the metro, to the dorm, to school, to the grocery, again and again and never really meeting and developing relationships with Czech people,” she said. “With my colleagues at work, I get to do that and in our conversations we compare and contrast our cultures, and it’s been insightful!”

This is exactly what the EUSA program aims to do, according to Kolarikova. Their main goal is to give students experience within their chosen fields while gaining enriching perspectives and insights from a different culture. She said, “I love to see the students getting the experience of working abroad.”

On the other side, EUSA hopes to benefit companies that participate in the program by opening their minds to a more global business culture and develop their skills in managing and teaching interns.  The second aspect is especially important in Prague, where the internship culture is still budding and where employers can sometimes be afraid to hire foreigners.

“There were some companies that were afraid because they didn’t know what to expect, but we’re hoping to open the Czech republic up more to the global business culture and to the internship culture,” Kolarikova said.

By expanding the internship culture, EUSA could also improve opportunities for Czech students looking for internships and improve a company’s ability to take on and train interns.

EUSA supports the companies by handpicking interns after a rigorous application and interview process, so that the companies don’t have to devote any resources towards finding the interns. Additionally, companies do not have to sponsor or pay for the interns, as the interns are sponsored and insured through EUSA. Each participating American University foots the bill for their students’ participation. If companies encounter a problem with their interns, supervisors can reach out to EUSA to seek a resolution.

There haven’t been any major problems yet though, and all Kolarikova has heard so far is positive feedback.

For example, Scallon was full of praise for her intern, Amanda. “She has been incredibly flexible and willing to try any project thrown at her,” she said. “I think the biggest challenge when working in a media outlet abroad is adjusting the voice and language to suit an audience that may not be primarily native speakers, but Amanda has picked up on some of those subtle differences quickly.”

This adjustment is key for working in a new setting, and is what leads Kolarikova to enjoy working with Americans. She said, “It’s actually easier for me to work with Americans sometimes because their attitude is very much just like ‘Alright, let’s do it!’”

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Author: Amanda Morris, - Prague, 23.03.2016 

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