What’s it like to work abroad?

Sam Herring
Tuesday 20 April 2021

Sam Herring is this year’s Erasmus+ intern at the Global Office. Here he writes about his experience of undertaking a work placement abroad.

What did I get up to?

Last year, I undertook a work placement as a translator at Volkswagen’s global headquarters in Wolfsburg. My role mainly consisted of translating and proofreading all kinds of texts for the company.

Why did I choose to work?

Like most Modern Languages undergraduates, I opted to spend a year abroad after my second year. Usually, St Andrews students either spend the year working for the British Council as an English language teaching assistant or studying at a university in the respective country. I decided to go down a different route and apply for a work placement at a company. I did this because I wanted to gain an insight into working in a business environment, rather than spending my year in a school or at university. However, this didn’t come without its difficulties! I had to take sole responsibility for finding suitable vacancies and managing through the application process. This involved lots of interviews (and inevitably some rejections!) but eventually I succeeded in getting the role at Volkswagen. While the whole jobhunting process was daunting, I feel it served as good preparation for applying for positions in the future.

What was the day-to-day role like?

One of the things I enjoyed most about the internship was the pure variety of texts I had to translate. Going into the office each day, I never knew what sort of assignment might land in my inbox. One of my main responsibilities was translating tweets, which was great fun! I was only given an hour to translate them, so I had to have my wits about me and provide creative solutions. Other texts were somewhat more time-consuming, such as legal contracts, car manuals or even confidential minutes for the Board of Management. In terms of workload, some days were incredibly busy and awash with deadlines, while others were more quiet and allowed us to gather ourselves for the next project. Being part of a fantastic team made working life so much more enjoyable. I could always rely on their advice if I had a question about work, and they were great company during chats over coffee!

Biggest highlight?

There were lots of moments I was proud of during my six months there, but my favourite actually happened within the first couple of weeks of my placement. The International Motor Show takes place every year in Frankfurt at the start of September and Volkswagen used the opportunity to unveil its first fully electric car, the ID. 3. There was a huge marketing push and we were asked to translate hundreds of tweets over a few days. It was a very daunting task given I had just started the role, but I quickly got into the swing of things and my colleagues were very supportive. I felt a great sense of achievement when the tweets popped up on my phone after they were published by the official VW account!

Any challenges?

As this was my first time living abroad and my first ever full-time job, it naturally took a while to make the transition. I recall being exhausted every evening after work for the first few weeks, especially as I was having to get used to thinking and speaking in a foreign language. However, this soon subsided and I tried to get stuck into as much as I could outside the office, including playing in chess tournaments and singing in a fire brigade choir! Unfortunately, my internship was cut short in March 2020 after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe. Nonetheless, I had a fantastic six months in Germany and will savour the memories forever.

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