Interning in France - my experience and advice

Interning in France - my experience and advice HEC Paris

This article was written by Hannah Smith, published on 14th February 2014 and has been read 9317 times.

I study French and Italian at St Anne’s College, Oxford. I began learning Italian ab initio when I started in 2012, and as result of being so far behind with Italian in comparison, I really worked hard to improve my Italian by studying at language courses in Florence and spending a summer working as an au-pair. As a consequence, my French then fell behind, and I really wasn’t comfortable with grammar or speaking. I have thus chosen to spend the majority of my year Abroad in France, and just the two summers either side in Italy. I had already had a fair bit of experience working at primary schools in England as a volunteer and so decided that I wanted to use my year abroad as a chance to gain a different type of work experience.

What am I doing?

I found out about an internship at HEC Paris through the Modern Languages newsletter which my university circulates. I created a French CV (remember that French CVs include a picture on them!) and a cover letter, and was then given the job after a telephone interview.

I am currently working in the Corporate Communications department which is a very interesting place to work. HEC Paris is one of the best business schools in Europe and as part of my contract, the school gives me a room in student accommodation, meaning that it has been easier to make friends and become involved with different student societies and associations etc. I work 9am – 5pm each day, and my job involves working with media coverage, both French and International, of anything to do with this business school.

A typical day

I start the day by collecting the International Newspapers on the way into the office, and then greet everyone in my department (this is a big deal here). I am in charge of the daily Revue de presse, a document which selects relevant articles from France and all over the world, which mention HEC Paris, and is distributed amongst all employees. I print this and proof read it for errors and make any necessary suggestions and modifications, before passing it on to a colleague who re-checks it. I then reprint a copy for the Dean, and distribute it via email. Once this is done I can begin to archive the document.

I am then sent a list of the most pertinent articles from the Revue de presse by a colleague, which I then need to re-read and summarise (both English and French articles), before uploading them to the News/ Actualités sections of the school website.

I then have an hour to go for lunch with my colleagues in the canteen where there is always lots of choice: lots of rare-cooked meat, sometimes rabbit, even wine (!), or sometimes we play badminton or some other sport instead.

My afternoon tasks vary from day-to-day, week-to-week. I write Press Releases on events in both English and French, translate articles and other media/ press documents, proof-read things, and have just recently finished a project where we created a Corporate Brochure of the programmes on offer at HEC Paris (a bit like a school prospectus). I’m at the disposal of the team for anything language related, but also to do the more menial tasks too.

After work I have free access to the campus gym, which is great. I am also able to participate in the activities and events which are on offer to the students (as I too live on campus). The HEC débats society arranges for leading figures in the Business world, such as the CEO’s of Amazon, McDonald’s France and St Gobain, to come and speak about their careers in a question and answer session on a regular basis. The majority of these talks are in French, and I particularly enjoy these events as they are a brilliant opportunity for improving my listening skills and my cultural awareness.


Working, and being paid (!) are great – I love finishing at 5pm, and actually finishing, not like at uni where you feel like work is never ending and you could always do ‘a little bit more’. It is definitely a welcome break from that. The downside is that I am not as busy as I’m used to being at uni: the environment is not a high-pressured one, everything is very relaxed, and due to the fluctuating work load, sometimes I can be left feeling a little bored.

I do work in a completely French team, however, meaning I always have a lot of opportunities to practice French – even if I need to do a task in English, everything would be explained to me in French. This has been a real positive and I have seen my language skills and confidence grow enormously since starting here in September. Living in student accommodation for free as part of my contract, while not the most luxurious or exotic of places, is a real bonus, as is the medical insurance which the company provide me with.

I have also made good friends with some of my colleagues (and some of the students here), and really enjoyed work parties and other corporate events - it’s all been very exciting!

Everything’s an adventure abroad! Think outside the box...

It’s important to remember that every little thing that you do is an adventure and a chance to learn when you are doing it abroad, from setting up a bank account, to setting up your voicemail (and not being able to listen to your messages because you didn’t know the word for the ‘hash’ symbol on the keypad)! Because I am living on campus, I have the chance to do student-y things too. I’ve joined a rowing club and we train on Saturday mornings. This has been great as there are very few international students and it’s quite a challenge exercising and communicating in a foreign language at the same time! I also enjoy going to aerobics classes twice a week and have found that things like this are all really innovative ways to practice your language! Another thing I have found particularly conducive to learning French since being here, has definitely been buying a radio. It’s really useful to just have background French on when getting ready in the mornings, and you find that after a few weeks you are able to understand what is going on, without having to actively listen in to what is being said.

In conclusion

Thus far it is really interesting to be doing an internship in France, and definitely very useful from a linguistic perspective too. At times, however, it can feel a little like you are taken for granted, and you don’t always get the interesting jobs: I also do a lot of filing and data-inputting on Excel. I definitely think I’m benefitting from this experience though, more so than working in a school or studying. Working a normal working-week does mean that you have the chance to travel at weekends, even if you don’t get as much holiday as you do as a student!

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