Mid-way Reflections: 7 Lessons I’ve learned as a virtual intern

Brie shares some important lessons she's learned so far along her journey virtually interning with Learn International.
Brie Brullo

It's hard to believe that my time as a virtual intern is more than halfway finished! Time truly flies by when you're learning so much everyday and compiling new skills and experiences! I'm very grateful for this opportunity to gain greater understanding of the education abroad field, as I've absorbed so much new invaluable information that has helped me gain the confidence to continue to pursue a career in this industry. Through navigating a virtual environment, I've learned intangible lessons about life, work, and myself along my virtual internship journey that I'd like to share with you all!

1. Multi-tasking is not my friend

For most of my life, I was under the interpretation that balancing multiple tasks at one time was a positive attribute and skill that I should aspire to have as I continue to navigate the professional world. I’ve come to the realization that juggling competing tasks concurrently isn’t the easiest, nor the healthiest thing to do. From my experience, I’ve gotten distracted, stressed, and confused when I try to balance all of my priorities at the same time. Now, I focus on completing the task that has the greatest importance and seeing it through to completion before moving on to the next one on my list. As a person who is prone to chronic stress, being diligent by starting and finishing one project at a time before moving on to the subsequent task has definitely helped me manage my time more efficiently and has aided me in not getting overwhelmed as easily or frequently.

2. You can never ask too many questions

I’m the first to admit it… I ask a lot of questions in life, and have often been described as a very curious and inquisitive person. During my time interning virtually, I have limited online time to chat with my supervisor and ask any pertinent questions related to my tasks and projects. During those times, I often find myself saying, “sorry I’m asking so many questions” or “I’m sorry what does that mean again”?. I’ve come to find out that it’s okay to ask a lot of questions, it’s even encouraged! The majority of the time, your supervisor will be pleased that you care so much about the topic or project to ensure you are doing it correctly. Quite often, it can be easy for interns to assume they understand what’s expected of them, and then run into trouble down the road because they mis-interpreted something or did not ask any clarifying questions initially. With all that said, speaking up and asking questions to make sure you understand your tasks and are on the right track is essential and you won’t or (shouldn’t) be penalized for being curious and eager to learn! Do you ask a lot of questions like me?

3. Embrace what works well and what doesn't

I think in life, and especially in the working world, there is quite a lot of significance in pinpointing what’s working well and what’s not in order to be more efficient and maximize your time everyday. As I’ve discovered throughout my virtual internship experience, some things work really well for me (i.e., taking intermittent breaks, taking walks to refresh, going outside to work, etc.), while other things that don’t work as well (i.e., multi-tasking, working without taking time for myself, starting on a project as soon as it is assigned, etc.), which may vary from what works well and doesn’t work well for your daily work life. I think it’s critical to determine the things that help make me feel more comfortable and productive, but to also keep in mind the things that don’t work as well for me, so I can understand myself and my habits better. For example, some people like having a daily and weekly schedule and need everything organized and written down to a T, I prefer relying on my memory and making mental notes of what my next task is. No one way to go about things is inherently right or wrong; it’s truly up to you to discover what best aligns with you and sets you up for the most personal and professional success. 

4. It's all about a balance

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with maintaining a sense of balance. Balance with juggling my academics and work with social and extra-curricular activities. Balance with taking time to care for myself and my mental and physical health. Balancing competing priorities and helping others while still being cognizant of my own needs. Although I don’t have as many competing priorities that are demanding my attention since the pandemic, I still constantly find myself trying to achieve a sense of balance in life, yet never fully feel satisfied. Working remotely gives me the independence and flexibility to construct the workday how I best see fit, but I still grapple with managing my time and striking a work-life balance. It’s still something I’m striving to improve and get better at; perhaps attaining a perfect balance isn’t truly achievable or realistic after all…

5. A change of scenery does wonders

As time has progressed, I’ve found it to be incredibly important to switch up my workspace environment and get a change of perspective to keep things different and new. I’ve come to find that working out of the same workspace (i.e., my bedroom) can be quite monotonous and uninspiring day after day. Additionally, being inside my room with possible distractions like my bed and TV are way too dangerous! When I’m noticing that I’m a bit sluggish or need a change of pace, I’ll switch it up and work outside to get a fresh perspective and help me feel re-focused and motivated to finish the rest of my work day. Not only does working outside give me something visually appealing and different to look at, it also feels less confining, and I feel better equipped to remain productive and on task. Taking in the sunshine and fresh air helps me stay positive and inspires me to accomplish my tasks with limited distractions and increases my motivation to be attentive and focused on my work tasks. Simple modifications like a change of scenery and a fresh vantage point can truly make a great impact.

6. Cultural connection can be achieved virtually

Initially, I was uncertain as to how I would be able to feel the impact of working with an international company rooted in a different culture, because my internship was in a purely virtual format, but boy was I wrong! I’ve come to realize that you don’t necessarily need face-to-face, in-person communication to feel the powerful and amazing effects of interacting with another culture. I’ve already learned so much about Irish culture and history just by virtually interacting with my colleagues and understanding how their culture impacts their life and how they conduct business. Every week I’m able to dive deeper into Irish culture and history just by reading current event news articles or watching YouTube videos about particular facets of Irish culture. It’s empowering and fulfilling to embrace the fact that cultural immersion and understanding can surely take place in a virtual setting, you just need to put the effort in and open your eyes to a new learning opportunity!

7. Don't forget to take care of yourself

Working virtually has made me more aware of how much I need to take time to listen to my body and take care of my myself. For most of my life, my academics and work have always taken presidence and have always been the most important aspects of my life. It can be very easy to have tunnel-vision on a certain project or task and not remember to take breaks and take the adequate time to care for yourself. Self-care was something I had previously viewed in a negative light, something I never made time for and never incorporated into my daily life. I’ve come to embrace the significance of devoting time during my busy work day to do at least one thing that will make me more relaxed or make me happy, like going for a walk or listening to music. Too often, do we neglect our physical, mental, and emotional health for the sake of working; you definitely can’t produce top-quality work you take pride in without caring for yourself and re-charging your batteries. Self-care doesn’t need to be stigmatized, and especially with everything going on in the world, we should embrace it!

I'm excited and expectant to discover and learn more important life lessons as I enter into the latter portion of my virtual internship. Cheers to learning more about ourselves and the world we live in!

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