We were spellbound by Marilena Goldenbaum's enthusiasm when she stepped into our mentoring seminar a few weeks ago. The 21-year-old business student from Germany was thrilled to be in London with the Internship Programme, an Erasmus+ funded initiative introducing vocational students to foreign job markets.
As it turns out, it wasn't Marilena's first time in the UK. After finishing school, she worked as an au-pair near Reading and travelled all over the country to explore the most famous sights and cities. This time around, she was adamant to make the most of her time in London and get to know the city and inhabitants from a different perspective than that of a tourist passing through. Working at Friends House, a company that provides meeting rooms, she managed the reception desk, welcoming clients and introducing them to the facilities at hand. We spoke to Marilena after she finished the three-week programme, discovering that she is planning to return to the UK in the near future.
What are you up to at the moment?
Even though I live in Nuremberg, Bavaria, I'm from Hamburg and right now I'm visiting my family. It is good to come back home for a while and see my parents, grandparents and friends. Also, two bank holidays? Brilliant! I'm enjoying my time off, eating amazing food and going on an Easter egg hunt in the back garden.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
At the moment I'm interning for a company specialising in wholesale and foreign trade. We trade in oil seeds which means I get all the sunflower and chia seeds I could ask for. Before that, I lived in the UK. After I finished school in 2013, I wanted to become an au-pair and got a job in Wokingham, which is near Reading.
Why did you want to live in the UK?
I'm half-American, but that didn't stop me loving the Harry Potter books and films when I grew up, which is probably the most famous British book of my generation. Most of my weekly salary of £70 was used for buying train tickets to places like Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Winchester, Virginia Waters, York, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Southampton, Eastbourne, Dublin, Canterbury and of course London! That period of my life changed a lot. I realised that I could be independent and it made me more self-confident and open-minded. I just love travelling and never get homesick even though I love my home and family very much. I know that they support me for who I am.
What made you interested in this project?
As soon as my teacher mentioned this Erasmus+ programme where you go to London, live there for three weeks and work in a company, in my mind I was already sitting on that plane to Heathrow! English is such an important language to learn, especially in these times, and having an intercultural understanding is even more important. That is why I was so up for being a part of this programme. I'm so happy and fortunate to have gotten the chance to go to London. I made so many new friends, both Germans and British people, and the British can't wait for me to go back.
What was the best moment of your trip?
Probably the Top Secret Comedy Club near Covent Garden. It was such an experience! The stand-up comedians almost made me pee my pants with laughter.
What was your work placement like?
During my time in London I worked for a company called Friends House, opposite of Euston station. Most of the time, I worked behind the reception desk. Friends House provides meeting rooms in all different sizes, ranging from a room for four people to a room for one thousand. Pretty amazing! Besides that there is a café, restaurant, a garden and a library. When I worked a day in the library the librarians showed me the original Nobel Peace Prize that the Quakers won in the beginning of the 20th century. My duties were to show the arriving organisers and participants the meeting rooms they had booked. I had to make them familiar with the rooms and the area and inform them of different practicalities. I also had to answer the phone and direct internal and external calls. The admin duties included taking notes, handling lost property and using the franking machine.
How would you compare your work placement to your work or school back home?
Compared to my work at home it entailed talking to real people rather than emailing. I preferred this way of working. My colleagues were lovely and made me feel welcome. We laughed a lot and I even taught some of them a few German words and sentences.
How has this experience inspired you?
This experience has inspired me to move back to London and work face-to-face rather than computer-to-computer with people.
What have you learnt?
That walking twenty kilometers every day is possible and makes you feel more alive. There is something to discover around every corner in London. Just keep walking!
But then again, living in the UK wasn't that new to me. I was already familiar with the coins, I knew about the meal deals in Sainsbury's as well as some of the sights. Nevertheless, I have learnt some new things: the English word for "Federball" is shuttlecock, tourist are easy to spot and people are going to hate you forever if you don't stand on the right while using the escalator.
What are your plans for the future?
After my internship I'm planning on moving back to the UK. I want to work part time for Friends House and study Music Journalism. My goal is to work for BBC Radio. Small steps will get me there, I'm confident about that.
Do you have any tips to share with our students?
1. Try walking to places as much as you can. You will get to know the city much better. 2. You can tell if a pub is expensive by asking how much a pint of Guinness is. 3. Don't just speak to the people you came here with, but make friends with locals. They can give you tips that you won't find in a travel guide. 4. Be open minded. London is an amazing place full of people from different cultural backgrounds. You can learn a lot from speaking to people.
Marilena visited London with our Internship Programme, a project eligible for funding from Erasmus+. Now we're also arranging work experience projects in Dublin. Don't hesitate to contact us if you would like more information about what we do and how to get funding. Call a Country Manager today on +44 2084249424 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.