25 July 2014

Adventures in Paris: Student Reflections on the International Placement Program

Despite the pre-departure orientation, nothing could quite prepare our group of 16 Business School students for what it really means to be an intern in Paris! Armed with French phrasebooks and Excel cheat sheets to help us manage whatever came our way, most of us began our placements feeling reasonably confident we were up to the task.

What quickly became clear is that the true challenge of being an intern in France is not so much adapting our skills and knowledge, which most of us found reasonably easily done, but rather to get used to the huge differences between doing business in Australia and in France. This experience of course varied among the group, as we are in placements of many different kinds of French and international organisations, all with their own distinctive style of work.

However, there are definitely some common themes! For starters, le déjeuner (lunch) is one of the most important parts of the day, and team members usually eat out together at a nearby restaurant. Sometimes business is discussed, but it’s often just a nice way to socialise. It’s wonderful as an intern to be included in this kind of thing (especially for the chance to try some more Parisian food)! Lessons I’ve learned over business lunch is not to order Orangina, which is apparently akin to ordering a chocolate milk at a fancy restaurant, and not to eat too much so as to avoid spending the rest of the afternoon in a food coma! While the French have a career’s worth of experience eating a huge lunch and heading straight back to work, inexperienced Australians may find themselves nodding off in an afternoon meeting if they’re not careful!

Another difference between the French and Australian style of doing business is more subtle, but very important to understand. The French adopt a much more consultative approach to projects, spending a lot of time discussing and debating, and trying a few things out before concrete decisions are made. To an Australian used to ticking boxes and meeting targets this may seem like a waste of time, but the French are used to their style and may regard schedules and fixed goals as impediments to good results. That being said, the French appreciate Australians’ motivation to get the job done on time, which seems to go down well with the boss!

There’s often talk of Parisians behaving rudely to people who don’t speak French, and with a group of students with varying abilities in the language some of us were a little apprehensive about this! Fortunately, it quickly became clear at work that a friendly bonjour in the morning and an à demain in the afternoon (and an apparent French fondness for Australian accents!) smoothed the way.

Office attire, especially for the girls, has also been an interesting one. Preparing for the bipolar weather, finding something clean and then attempting to dress as glamorously as the Parisians is of course the goal, but it’s usually a matter of picking one or two of the three!

While adapting to the French style of doing business has involved many a faux pas, we have come a long way in four weeks and can’t believe there are only two more to go! 

Iona Main
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the International Placement Program in Paris, France, interning with Kimberly Wealth Management   

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