Internships Abroad, GRIP Goodbye Google Calendar

June 26, 2023
By Saanvi Agarwal, CAS '26

GRIP: Business in Sydney, Australia

I didn't realize the true value of Google Calendar until I arrived in Sydney.

As a Penn student, I was aware of the "Penn Bubble." Locust Walk's cobblestone paths resonated with the bustling voices of students, and the endless GSRs were filled with huddled conversations over coffee. Penn felt like its own self-contained universe—a world where students excelled academically while still enjoying their weekends, where LinkedIn trumped other social media platforms for making connections, and where Google Calendar invitations were the norm, even for casual lunch catch-ups. It wasn't until I started my internship in Sydney that I fully grasped how deeply ingrained this world had become in my life.

The realization hit me during the week leading up to my arrival in Australia. I had received my internship placement, start date, and even virtually met my employer a few times, but I had no clue what to expect upon reaching Sydney. I didn't know the location of my office or what kind of work I would be doing. I vividly remember spending the night before my flight scouring the web for information on the dress code in Australian workplaces, hoping to pack the right attire (spoiler alert: I didn't quite succeed). There was a lack of structure that I had grown accustomed to. Back at Penn, my professors would send out emails with instructions before classes began, and my previous internships had provided detailed information packets. Yet here I was, stepping into the unknown.

That feeling of uncertainty only intensified once I started working. The first day was nerve-wracking. There was no visible hierarchy within the company, no rigid procedures to follow, and no class-like schedules or deadlines. Google Calendar seemed almost nonexistent. Gone were the vibrant array of color-coded events that guided my day. Instead, I would receive casual messages about upcoming meetings just minutes before they started. I felt anxious and insecure, fearing that I wouldn't meet the expectations of my work. Without structure, I struggled to find my footing.

Initially, I resisted this new environment. I longed for the organized and rigid life I had left behind. However, as I continued to work and interact with my boss and other professionals, my perspective began to shift. I started appreciating the value of a more flexible workplace. Employees naturally grew closer as meetings took place over coffee rather than in formal boardrooms. Projects became more effective as everyone freely shared their input, with the most talented individuals leading the way, rather than being dictated by seniority. The most important realization came when I acknowledged how much I was learning and growing.

Having worked in a startup before, I thought I understood entrepreneurship and business. However, in Sydney, I truly grasped what they meant. Within my first week, I found myself presenting to clients, taking charge of vital projects, and shaping the company's trajectory through my contributions. I adapted to the spontaneity of each day, mirroring the unpredictable lifestyle of an entrepreneur. I even embraced this culture by taking on challenging projects and exploring new areas, such as product development. As someone with aspirations to start my own company, I was getting a taste of what that journey would entail. I gained newfound confidence in pursuing this path.

Now, I'm proud to say that Google Calendar no longer dominates my laptop screen. Instead, I have a map of cafe where I might meet my boss tomorrow morning. And I'll message him just a few minutes before the meeting of course. I have integrated myself into Sydney's bubble. When the time comes for me to create my own company, I hope to infuse some of this unique culture into its fabric.

The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce.