Virtual Internships Abroad Career Path Clarity

October 1, 2020
By Shaila Lothe, CAS/Wharton '22

When GRIP 2020 was canceled, I was disappointed that my startup internship in Medellín, Colombia could no longer happen. Instead of an exciting new country, I would spend my summer in Philadelphia. Despite deciding to accept an alternative virtual placement in Chile, I was worried that I would miss out on meaningful cultural and professional experiences.

However, my virtual internship at Start-Up Chile ended up being nearly as fulfilling as an in-person experience. Start-Up Chile, a government-run startup accelerator based out of Santiago, helps startups grow and scale. It ended up being the perfect match for my interests in Spanish, public policy, and entrepreneurship. No longer limited by geography, I found a dream organization.

Even though I could not physically travel, I felt like I was transported to Chile each day. I started every day off with a 9:30 AM meeting in rapid Chilean Spanish. I compiled a list of dozens of Spanish words, from random slang to business terms, that I learned. I heard what life in lockdown was like in Santiago. I have not stepped foot on a plane since March, yet I felt like I spent my summer thousands of miles away.

Professionally, the internship also helped me grow. Mostly due to the strong mentorship I received, I learned how startups raise capital, and immediately began applying that knowledge to support our portfolio companies. I also spearheaded an English program to help non-native speakers improve their language skills. In the ultimate Spanish language test, I translated various public-facing communications, including a 66-page regulatory document in 48 hours. After my internship at Start-Up Chile, I feel more prepared to work in a professional setting, in Spanish or in English.

Most importantly, the internship has helped me clarify my future career path. Interning in Start-Up Chile, a division of the Chilean economic development agency has reaffirmed to me the importance of public policy. Although it is easy to become cynical, seeing such an innovative organization in action solidified my desire to eventually pursue a public sector career.

I can't wait to travel somewhere besides the grocery store, but in the midst of a pandemic, I am glad to have grown professionally and personally at Start-Up Chile this summer.