Many months ago, determined to equip myself with all the necessary skills to build a career in theatre, I sat in my tiny box room in France and applied for an internship back in Birmingham with the International Students’ Advisory Service. While this might not seem the most obvious training for my desired career, I knew that the opportunity to gain skills in events organisation, administrative work, researching and writing resources, and developing my communication and computing skills would prepare me for the less glamorous realities of my ideal industry, as well as many other areas of work. The fact that there had been little support for international students during my own year in France added fuel to the fire, making me yet more determined to get this internship and ensure students from around the world fall in love with the University of Birmingham the way I have.
Fast forward five months and here I am, typing away at my desk with a view of Old Joe, my inbox full of (responded to) emails from students in Trinidad and Tobago, Hong Kong and Malaysia, and with a much better understanding of the workings of the University. My job title is International Welcome Project Intern, which means my job primarily revolves around preparing students for their arrival and the organisation of the Welcome Week events. Over the last four and a half weeks I have set up and managed online booking systems, collated bookings and student data in to spreadsheets, written formal invitations to police, border force and other high profile individuals, written the welcome speech for arriving students, prepared training documents for temporary staff, liaised with departments across the University, laundries and airports, come up with games and activities for the University’s International Day and answered a lot of phonecalls and emails. On the rare quiet day I have also had the chance to use my initiative to research, write and edit a range of PDF leaflets on topics such as Culture Shock, Setting up a UK Bank Account and Bringing a Family to the UK. It has been very satisfying to create something new that will be of great use to students, and something I would have liked to have had access to on my own Year Abroad. I also greatly enjoy writing, so this was a particularly enjoyable task.
I work in an open plan office, with eight permanent staff all of whom I get along well with, and between the hard work Great British Bake Off and Game of Thrones gossip abounds. They have been extremely supportive as I’ve settled in and I really feel like part of the team here.
So far, I have learnt a great deal of administrative skills, from how to manage an online box office, to how to properly gauge the tone of an email and respond professionally, to numerous little spreadsheet tricks on Excel that make my life easier. More than just practical skills though, I have learnt a lot about time management, prioritising, rising to the challenge when the ‘to-do’ list looks far too long, and balancing protocol with consideration for the individual. Working an ‘office job’ can sometimes sound unappealing to creative or people-driven people, but I’ve come to realise that while from afar an office looks like ‘just another office’, it’s what’s going on on the screens that matters. Reassuring an Indonesian student that prayer facilities will be available to them, finding guest speakers for Welcome Receptions and organising afternoon Cream Tea events to introduce students to British culture are all in a day’s work, and I’m relishing the diversity each day presents.
By the time I write my next blog I will have spent a lot more time out of the office, so expect stories of airport runs, International Days, Welcome Marquees and Cream Tea!