Virtual Internships Abroad Adapting to a New Normal

August 17, 2020
By Jeffrey Fishman, CAS '23

When I first received the email that the Global Research & Internship (GRIP) would be cancelled for the 2020 summer cycle, I was very upset. My hard work creating my application materials and interviewing for the program seemed like it was all for nothing, as I would no longer be able to intern with an amazing company, explore the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, or hike through breathtaking landscapes in Patagonia. I was still in shock that a global pandemic had shifted the remainder of my first year at Penn to a virtual setting, and the cancellation of my summer plans was just another punch in the gut.

Therefore, while I was still a little bummed out, I was super excited when I found out would be able to intern abroad by partnering with Puentes Abroad. Puentes Abroad is a company that organizes meaningful internships for college-aged students in Argentina and Uruguay in order to encourage both professional development and cultural engagement. Even though I would no longer be able to travel to Argentina, I was extremely grateful that I would still get to intern with Matriarca, a clothing cooperative based in Buenos Aires that partners with indigenous women to help bring their products to market.

As soon as I read about Matriarca, I knew that I wanted to intern with the company. During my gap year in Ecuador, I lived with an indigenous host family and worked on an effort to preserve the folktales of the local indigenous community where I was living. These experiences introduced me to the Kichwa culture, showing me a new perspective based upon community, selflessness, and harmony. While working with Matriarca, I hoped to continue learning more from and finding ways to support these often-underserved indigenous populations.

During my marketing internship with Matriarca, I worked with the incredible marketing team to develop plans for the company’s big next step of beginning to sell in the United States. I performed market research of competitors with a focus on search engine optimization and social media strategy, helped to organize Matriarca’s selling platform in the United States, searched for potential collaborations with social media influencers, and eventually created a proposal for a United States marketing campaign.

This was my first real experience with marketing, and I quickly learned that the fast-paced world of marketing is constantly changing. With the instantaneous nature of social media, companies need to continuously adapt their marketing strategies. There is always something new that may appeal to customers more and bring them to action. Especially with social media, it is now easier than ever to see what is working and what is not working, and then to figure out how to improve the marketing strategy. The most successful marketing teams evolve with the changing social landscape each and every day.

If there is one lesson that I want to take away from my internship this summer, it is the ability to adapt. While I consistently had to adapt my marketing campaigns with Matriarca under changing circumstances, I also had to adapt to the new virtual format of my internship. In the beginning, I often struggled to communicate effectively online, and I felt frustrated that constant face-to-face interaction was simply not possible. I wanted more than anything to be in Buenos Aires! However, I realized that I needed to make the most of my situation and that I was very lucky to even have the opportunity to intern with Matriarca. Therefore, I started working hard to develop my virtual communication skills by asking pointed questions when I was confused and setting up collaborative Zoom calls. I could not experience Argentina in-person, but by pursuing my internship with an open mind, I was still able to improve my professional skills, learn about a new culture, and meet a network of awesome individuals.

As I return to Penn this fall, I want to continue adapting. While I may be frustrated that coronavirus is still around or that my classes are online, I want to be able to find gratitude in and make the most of my current situation. This global pandemic is not going away any time soon. And even when our lives begin to return to normal, parts of our society will forever be changed. With the success of virtual workspaces and widespread improvements to online learning, who knows what the world will look like post-COVID19? No matter the outcome, I want to be able to adapt to our new normal, and the lessons I learned from my summer internship with Matriarca brought me one step closer to this goal.