My internship in Australia in 2010 was my first travel experience on my own. I was 22 years-old, studying in France when I decided I wanted to do my master’s degree’s first internship aboard. I didn’t know at the time, but this decision totally changed my life in every possible way.
I have always been fascinated by Australia and especially by Sydney. For years I wanted to discover this city. Why? As a kid, it started because of rugby, this is the temple of rugby league!! Then I learned how nice and rich in culture the city and country were. During my master’s degree, I had a 6-month internship to perform and I found out some previous students went over there. I knew going away would be an amazing experience. I also knew that English was important, but I was crap at school and hated it. I was convinced the only way for me to learn the language was to go to an English speaking country. I managed to get in touch with one of the students that went to Sydney and he told me how amazing it was. That was the final push I needed! I contacted the place where he did his internship, gathered information about the visa and started the process.
Get ready for the paperwork!
That was my first discovery, it’s not super easy to work in another country! For a French internship, I needed to sign a contract, and that was it. To go abroad, I had to provide several documents and pieces of information in order to apply for the visa. And when you don’t speak or understand English very well, that can become a big hassle!
I found that some papers were really stupid. For instance, I had to prove I had 5000 AUS $ in my bank account. As a student, I obviously didn’t. So my parents transferred some money over, we printed the bank statement and that was it. Lots of useless effort really. Also, I had to get everything translated by a certified translator… 50€ per page, ouch!
It’s important to know that in lots of countries, internships are not paid. When you go that far away, it can be an issue because it’s obviously expensive, so that’s something to keep in mind. However, I do think it’s worth taking out a student loan… it will be a great investment for later!
Time to go
Packing up a suitcase for 6 months is hard! I was already living alone, but it’s hard to select a bunch of things and leave the rest behind when you are used to having everything you need at your fingertips.
Then it was time to say goodbye to friends and family. It was hard. But at the time, it was so exciting to go away that honestly, it was worth it. If you are a student and you are reading this… do not hesitate, go for it, you won’t regret it! Yes, you will be in an unknown environment, far from everything and everyone you know. But what you are going to learn is so amazing and enriching that it will stick with you for years. And you know, at the end it’s just like going to a new school, it’s rough at the beginning but you’ll quickly meet people and find friends!
My parents were worried because I only booked accommodation for a week in a backpacker’s hostel until I found a nice shared-flat in Sydney. Personally, the excitement was so overwhelming that I didn’t even worry about that!
The journey was pretty epic. Australia is god damn far, 27 hours of flights!! I’ve got to say I was a little nervous, catching my connecting flight in London, with my bad English… but I made it! Some advice for the flights: learn some basic English words for food… otherwise, you’re going to end up like I did and ordering something you don’t like just because the only word you understood was chicken! Oh and careful, sometimes they put marshmallows in hot chocolate, urgh!
Welcome to Australia!
After hours and hours, I eventually got to Australia on Sunday. I arrived at the backpacker’s hostel and here, I got my first big slap in the face (not literally, don’t worry!): I didn’t understand a word of what this young Australian said to me!! He had to repeat himself 5 times. Ok, I knew my English wasn’t great, but I didn’t expect it to be that bad… I thought “shit, 6 months isn’t going to be easy”. That’s the thing, the beginning can be hard, because of the language, the culture and knowing if you have a problem, you’re on your own! But don’t give up! After a while, you’ll be better and hopefully, it will feel like home!
Even though I was tired, I spent the entire day looking around Sydney. I was dying to see the Opera House!! The next day I started my internship at the University of Technology of Sydney in a robotics lab. I met my workmates which was cool because they came from all over the world: Holland, Pakistan, India, Spain, etc…
I spent the first week looking for a shared flat. Here is my advice: avoid people from your own country. If you are abroad to learn a new language and discover a new culture, avoid the people like you as much as you can. Yes, it can be nice because it reminds you of home, but it’s not a good idea. I visited a few flats and refused a couple because they had too many French people in it. I’ve got a funny anecdote here: I found a place I quite liked. I said to the guy I’ll ring him the next day as I wanted some time to think about it. So, the next day I phoned him to say ok but unfortunately, someone else said yes 10 minutes before me… I was pretty annoyed at the time… but the fun fact is: because of that, I moved somewhere else and met my future wife! I will always remember that: sometimes life doesn’t go as you want it to but good things can still come from it!
I eventually found a nice place to live in. A flat with seven people, 3 boys (including me) and 4 girls including 2 Brazilian guys, a Dutch girl, a German girl, an English girl, etc… a nice melting pot!
The language barrier
This may seem like a problem, but it isn’t. I believe there is no better way to learn a language than to go to a native speaking country. When we learn languages at school, the main problem is the people around us. We are scared to make mistakes in front of our classmates, we don’t want to sound stupid… so we shut up and don’t try. But when you are away, when you need to buy food, or do all the things you have to get done, well you just HAVE TO speak! You quickly forget the shame, and you just get on with it.
By listening to TV or just people around you, your ears quickly improve and you understand more and more. You learn more vocabulary, which will allow you to say what you want to say… so you won’t be ashamed to speak anymore and you’ll speak more… it’s a virtuous circle!
The key is at the beginning. You have to dive into it. Humans always look for the easiest way. If you have a friend better than you, you will always ask him to speak on your behalf… and you won’t make progress.
The key for me was to cut myself from any French… e.g the TV, no reading, and no friends. The only French I was speaking was to stay in touch with family and friends back home… apart from that, only English. And it just came! Yes, it was hard at the beginning, but the benefits I have now from speaking fluent English are so worth it!!
Just for you to understand if I didn’t go to Australia :
- I would’ve probably not met or married my wife.
- I wouldn’t have gotten my first job (even if I didn’t use my English, that’s why they hired me and not someone else).
- My current employer would have hired someone else to deal with international business and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to move to Miami.
All of that happened because one day I made a decision to get out of my comfort zone, leave my family and friends, and get away to discover the world and learn English! And believe me, I was SHIT at English at school, so that’s not an excuse!
My internship in Australia
My internship was really interesting. I loved the subject, the environment, and my workmates. As it was in a robotics lab inside a university, I can’t say it was very helpful to learn about the professional world. Also the subject itself I could have done it anywhere else, in Australia or France.
It allowed me to work on other skills:
- Determination: manage my application and a visa by myself was hard (it’s easy to want to go away, but when you see what you have to go through it can be demotivating).
- Adaptation: it’s never easy to adapt to a new place, especially a new workplace when you have no experience. Add on top of that the language issue, it can be tough!
- Sociability: it’s not always easy to arrive in a place where everyone already knows each other. You have to make your place in there. And again, add the language + cultural differences, it’s harder abroad. But at the end, It’s such a great experience to bond with so many different people!
- Self-confidence: after going through all that, I believed that if I managed to adapt to such an unfamiliar environment, I could do it anywhere.
So my point is, the internship subject itself doesn’t make it amazing (I would even say it doesn’t really matter – apart for your professors maybe), it’s the whole experience around it that really mattered to me!
Get ready to open your mind
That was my first experience away, meeting and getting to know foreigners. And it was so interesting. When you are always with the same people or same kind of people, with the same culture, same habits, same way of thinking, well you take it as a normality. What a shock it is to find out that the world is so much bigger and that people are so different!
I didn’t meet many Australians, and as I didn’t travel much around the country so I can’t say I know anything about the Australian culture. But Sydney is a really multicultural and multiethnic city where you can learn a lot! Spending my days with people from the 4 corners of the planet was the best experience of my life! It made me realize so much about myself and my life, it blew my mind!
What did I learn?
- Tolerance: we are so intolerant in France. We judge everyone just on their appearance. As soon as someone does anything “not normal/conventional” you can be sure they will be classified as a weirdo! What a shock in Australia. At the beginning, when I was seeing “funny/weird” people I was obviously looking at them thinking “look at this crazy one”! Then after a few days, I realized I was the only one looking at them, looking and judging everyone in the street. I come from a small village, it might sound weird for some people to read that, but seeing gays, punks, or anyone “unusual” was not normal for me at all. But it was amazing to eventually discover the diversity in the world.
- To appreciate what I have: we always complain, especially in France, we are quite famous for that! We are never happy with what we have. I guess this is a general problem in any developed country. The consumption society always pushes us to have more, get more and want more. It is an amazing life lesson to listen to some people who actually have reasons to complain. I realized I complained about shit: I want this, I want that, blah blah blah. Some people have real issues and real shitty problems, more important than having the latest iPhone or anything else totally irrelevant! Going away made me realize how self-centered we are. We only care about our own little life, complaining about it without taking time to look around and see that millions of people have more important shit to deal with.
I do know that not everyone can go away like that for 6 months while studying. I have been lucky and I am extremely thankful to my parents for the opportunity they gave me. It was expensive because my internship was not paid (when in France I would have earned some good money). So it was a real risk. But I see it as an investment for my future… luckily for me and for them, I didn’t give everything up and I made everything to fructify it so it was worth it.
Going to Australia changed my life. It changed me as a person, it opened my eyes to the world I lived in and it made me want to see even more. It took me a while, but 7 years later I know what I want to do in my life: travel the world, understand the world and help people who need it. And this is because one day, I took this crazy decision: get away and do my internship in Australia!
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