Recently, a prospective local intern entered the door asking, “Ou est le blanc?” translated – where is the white person in charge Our reaction was more of a life lesson than a 10 minute response. We had heard this question before from local interns and realized this is sometimes the same question for international interns. For this reason, we clearly state that international interns must be able to work respectfully and effectively with a team composed of educated, well trained, innovative African women.
Our required qualifications and organizational expectations were always clearly defined. We could even say they were both location and culture specific. International interns needed to have an appreciation of community programming, ability to develop marketing initiatives that were dynamic with a level of culture awareness, able to respect the diverse income ranges of our clients, and be willing to provide high quality customer service to every person who walked in the door without assuming who could and could not afford to pay based on appearances or who was deserving of better service based on nationality.
Technical skills were never major criteria as interns coming from abroad consistently arrived with strong computer and social media skills. It was the “fit” and the “feel” that governed our decisions and equally made us hesitant about accepting international interns no matter how stellar their CV or if they came from Oxford or Harvard!
In November 2015, we swallowed our hesitation and accepted an intern from Italy with a strong background in international business. It was to be a 2-3 month period and after viewing her CV and additional information the team decided she may be a good fit. Frankly, the first week or two we waited. Based on our experience, it was normally about a two week period before the intern took it upon themselves to begin to rule everyone. There is a clear difference in integrating an organization and offering new perspectives versus deciding that one is fit to take over. We watched how she interacted with students and parents. We waited for those dismissive moments when she would begin to regularly share with us to how they do it back home and why the way they do it is so much better, while all the time having chosen to go abroad.
We waited and those moments did not come. What we got was an energetic, passionate, team member, who shared her insight and ideas while always respecting the foundation of what was already in place. We welcomed a hard worker who took the internship seriously and poured over books that she had never been exposed to, embraced college opportunities for students in all regions of the world and came to the table to mind map, plan and conceive new programs and ideas that would be welcomed by our community of learners. She had an open and curious heart that led her to embrace each and every client who walked in the door.
In retrospect, while I was fortunate to have had an exceptional intern, I am equally fortunate to have an exceptional team in place on a day to day basis. The internship process was so much better because our mission and vision is clear and whoever enters our space, but cannot align to this mission and vision can’t remain long.
As this intern departed last week, we realized we had learned to exhale. We can believe again in what could be possible. At the same time, while there are already ten CVs in my inbox from international intern, we will probably only accept one international intern per year.
While the team is small, it is important to provide opportunities to the local community as it is their ideas and passion that have to this day driven Chez Alpha Books forward!