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14 Insider Tips for Interning Abroad in England

London, sights

Congratulations! You scored a highly valuable internship in England, and that’s not an easy task. Your merits, achievements, and hard work have gotten you this far, so don’t lose momentum now.

Securing the internship is one thing, but making sure you rock it is another.

Securing the internship is one thing, but making sure you make the most of it is another. You'll want to make a great first impression, stand out among the crowd, and leave your English employers so thoroughly impressed with your performance, they'll be begging you not to leave.

It's a lot, I know -- just a couple of years ago, I was you. But after returning home from an internship in London, I realized there were quite a few things I could have done differently. Be more prepared than I was. Read my insider tips on interning in England get ready to make the most of your time abroad.

1. Get Thoroughly Acquainted with the Company

This could be said of an internship anywhere, but I'll say it again because it really is that important, and something a lot of interns overlook.

Before you arrive in England, learn as much as you can about your future employer. Explore the company’s website, look up projects they’ve been involved in, their history, mission statement, and individual's roles. It will save you hours in training, and make you look like the most knowledgeable and ambitious intern they’ve ever laid eyes on.

2. Learn the (British) Lingo

Luckily, most of you won’t have to learn an entirely different language while living in England or work in a second language. This will make the transition significantly easier, but there are still certain terms that the British use differently or are even entirely absent from American English.

Knowing them will save you from some embarrassment -- and hey, learning some new lingo is waaay easier than studying up on a whole new language! You've got the time for this.

Girls in London
For example, in England:
  • Pants means underwear, and trousers means the clothing on your legs.
  • Fanny means vagina, not the small, unfashionable sack strapped to tourists’ waists.
  • Pissed means rip-roaringly drunk, not rip-roaringly angry.
  • CV (curriculum vitae) means a resumé.

3. The English Aren’t Coddlers

Don’t expect to have your hand held through your internship. Britain is just as efficient and focused as the U.S., so they expect you to learn and adapt quickly.

If you feel lost, speak up to your manager about it, rather than wait for someone to address it. Take initiative to learn more, complete more tasks, and have a positive attitude about it. This could benefit you in numerous ways, even after the internship is over.

4. Learn to Love Tea... A Lot

You know the stereotype about British loving tea, but it's a stereotype for a reason. The British really do love their tea, and you'll have to learn to love it too.

What you likely didn't know, is that how people have their tea (with lemon, lumps of sugar, milk, or black) can even be an indicator of which region they came from. Most British offices will have a tea-making area, and it is not uncommon for employers to allow their staff tea breaks throughout the working day.

While you're interning in England, learn to love tea and don't distance yourself from fitting in by never learning to love tea.

5. Take the Internship Seriously

Drinking Tea, London

Though you should fully take advantage of your weekends to go travel around the UK and Europe, remember that your priority is to be a successful intern.

Don’t show up late, hungover, or tired. Don’t skip days to go travel. This will surely result in bad references, thus negating the main objective of participating in an internship abroad. This is definitely a easy mistake to avoid.

Instead, treat this internship as you would any other serious job. Save your exploring for the weekend or directly after your internship ends.

If you do want to take a short trip during your internship, make sure you ask about time off when you start. Even if you're just there for a summer, you may be given a day or two off. Just be sure to give your employer a couple weeks notice before you go!

6. Save Money on the Tube with an 18+ Oyster Card

If you're interning in London, the tube (London’s underground subway system) will be your best friend. Taking a taxi is far too expensive on an intern's budget, and prone to traffic jams.

The tube is safe, reliable, easy to figure out, and has a wide network all over the city. It’s best to get a monthly pass, allowing you to swipe your card every time you ride, instead of buying individual tickets. Depending on your student / work status, you may qualify for an 18+ Oyster card, which saves you 30% off normal fares.

7. Get Familiar with Public Transportation

Both inside and outside of London, the English are still heavily dependent on public transportation, so it’s best to check out the bus, train, or trolley routes when you first arrive. Also important to note that English don't appreciate striking up a friendly conversation on any means of transport. It makes them nervous, and it’s better just to remain silent for the commute.

8. Set Goals for Your Internship and Follow Through

Before you arrive, you should identify a few key things you want to learn or accomplish. Once you meet your employer, talk about their expectations and make sure these goals align. Throughout your internship, pay careful attention to how these objectives are being met, and keep track of your progress.

You'll be able to... congratulate yourself on how focused you were to achieve your goals.

At the end of your term, you’ll be able to analyze your strengths and weaknesses, see where you could have done something different, and congratulate yourself on how focused you were to achieve your goals.

9. Be Prepared to Drink on Your Lunch Break. And After Work

Frequenting pubs is a huge part of English tradition. It’s common to go with your co-workers to a pub for a special occasion or just to get out of the office for lunch.

In America it is strictly frowned upon and shameful to drink on the job, but not so in England. Having a pint or two or a few is totally acceptable, just as long as you don’t act like a drunken hooligan (or, in other words: don't get pissed.)

10. Be Comfortable with Dry Humor

It’s a well known stereotype that the English aren’t overwhelmingly friendly and outgoing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to have a great laugh.

They have a dry, witty sense of humor that is only enhanced by their accents. Learning to adjust and appreciate to this is key, so you don’t feel offended or left out.

11. Show Your Appreciation

British Man, London

Sure, you are helping the company out for most likely no monetary benefit, but you still get to learn a lot about the industry in a totally different environment. So be grateful! And express it!

It's a custom among the British to send “thank you” cards, so it wouldn’t hurt to send one to your employer at the end of your internship for hiring you and guiding you throughout your time there.

12. Learn a Few Cultural References

Whether this means binge watching episodes of Downton Abbey, or muddling through a Charles Dickens classic, or just quickly scanning Wikipedia, it helps build relationships with your co-workers if you have a few cultural tidbits up your sleeve.

Learn about their history, the Royal Family, football, cricket, and any other parts of British pop culture that interest you.

The cricket and football part is especially important! The various cricket and football (soccer) teams and leagues in Britain are taken extremely seriously, and nearly everyone has a favorite.

Picking a team to follow, even if it’s not your co-workers favored team, immediately draws you into the rivalry and friendly banter that can help build relationships, networking opportunities, and possibly an invite to a game.

13. Know the Difference Between England, Great Britain, and United Kingdom

England is just England. Great Britain is England, Scotland, and Wales. The United Kingdom is England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Ireland does it’s own thing and wants no one to forget it.

This stuff is serious. Make sure you know the differences before you go, and use these terms right.

14. Network and Make New Connections

During your internship abroad, you'll meet many people who are experienced in the field you are interested in and who have lots of other connections in the industry. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of this, and network 'til you’re blue in the face.

Keep in touch with your superiors and co-workers, because you never know what could come of maintaining a positive relationship.

This could prove invaluable to you later when you’re looking for a full time job, especially an entry level job abroad if you want to continue living abroad after you graduate.

The connections you make now could either put you in touch with the right people or provide great references, or both. Once you're home, keep in touch with your superiors and co-workers, because you never know what could come of maintaining a positive relationship.

Get Out There and Rock Your Internship

Not many people get the opportunity to prove they can rock an internship in England, but you have earned the chance. Being aware of this fact will help you make the most of your internship abroad. Following these guidelines will help you along the way, but remember it’s entirely up to you to make this experience positive, worthwhile and beneficial. Good luck!

Photo Credits: Tim Morris, Lies Thru a Lens, August Brill, Kayla Sheely, and Beth Levin.
Mandi Schmitt

Mandi has studied, volunteered, interned, and lived abroad in all sorts of fascinating places, including Rome, London, India, Costa Rica, and Tanzania. She started writing for Go Overseas as a Columnist before coming on full time as the PR & Special Projects Director. Keep up with her on @Mandi_Overseas and Google+.