When it finally hit me and I realized that I was actually living on a different continent, working in a new environment, sharing a
GE Capital Office in Hounslow
home with twelve people I’d barely met, and was without my Iphone, Chi hair straightener, & every college kid’s staple – Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, I thought to myself ‘I understand why some people are fearful of change.’ But, with the reassurance that nothing was permanent, I reminded myself that change provides opportunity for growth and new experiences. My first three weeks in London have provided me with unbelievable experiences thus far connecting with interns at GE from across the States and the world, traveling to Spain for the World Cup Weekend, and meeting people from different cultures with unique histories unlike my own.
It seems that everyday I realize something new about the British culture, which has led me to be even more critical and observant of my own. It’s normally a daily occasion that either I or one of my twelve colleagues comes home saying, “Guess What Happened Today?” For those interested in ever working or living the in the UK, I’ve picked a few things that have surprised me about the workplace culture & English language…
- 1) Before my placement interview I was advised to email my ‘CV’ to my supervisor. I thought, “My TV? A Video of my accomplishments?” A CV is simply the term for a resume in the English language.
- 2) I was offered the opportunity to attend ‘surgery hours’ by EUSA, my internship coordinator. This one took me by surprise as I have a hidden fear of blood and hospitals. To my surprise they were simply offering for me to attend ‘office hours’ if I had any concerns or questions about my new workplace.
- 3) An incentive to work in the UK may be that in general the amount of holiday days is on average 10 more days than in the States. An exception may be for international companies, where company policies are consistent worldwide.
- 4) The Dress Code is relaxed – This doesn’t mean you can show up at the office in your pj’s but the general rules for dressing ‘business casual’ are much more relaxed. In several office settings where business casual would be the comparable in the states, nice jeans are totally acceptable and the norm in the UK. The rules about jewelry and grooming tend not to apply either, as I noticed on my first day that the A.M. receptionist had a lovely noise ring and the P.M. receptionist had a buzzed hair design, both freely sharing their styles.
- 5) The eight-hour day movement began during the times of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and in some offices it has stuck. There is a much larger 5-7 o’clock pub scene and ‘rush hour’ can be intense!
- 6) As a legal intern, I often work on the preparation of minutes and other documents. There is actually a setting for UK English and another for American English. I have been corrected for spelling words such as ‘license’ and ‘authorize’ incorrectly, as in the UK they are correctly spelled ‘licence’ and ‘authorise.’
- 7) On the same note, the alignment of keyboards in the UK is different! The tasks that you seemingly could do with your eyes closed, like creating a new signature line, make you think you lost your typing skills when leaving the States. For future reference, the \ key is located to the left of Z and to the right of Shift, and the # key is to the left of Enter on a UK keyboard.
- 8) Tea Time and Coffee Breaks – Refreshments are supplied in all workplaces, with a great emphasis on tea, & GE even has it’s own expresso machine on every floor!
- 9) Introductions – I was taken back for awhile on my first day when my supervisor greeted me and directed me to follow her upstairs without even mentioning her name, position, or that we had previously talked by mobile phone. I’ve found introductions to be VERY less formal, with a quick handshake, if one at all. It is almost as if giving your name is to much information to share when first meeting someone, and you wouldn’t do so unless calling by telephone or needing it for further business matters.
- 10) Geography – I must admit that I realized how horrific my knowledge of European geography was during my first week. Remember when you learned all 50 states in like grade one or two? Then, in fourth or fifth grade you memorized all of the State Abbreviations? I wish I would have had a class on country codes! I often correspond via post, and all country abbreviations do not conveniently begin with the first letter of the country in English. For example, Germany is DE for Deutschland in German.
GE Taxi Cars are spotted everywhere displaying GE's support of the 2012 Olympic Games in London
It seems that from my first day at GE there has been nothing but change even the office building is undergoing a face lift – new paint, carpet, and some remodeling. I also have had the great pleasure of working with other interns from Clemson, Berkley, UNC, Miami, and the University of Richmond in England. From talking about how Ohio State will beat Miami in football this autumn to discussing the different CPA requirements by State it has been sad to see all but one of my colleagues leave the country to go back to “Uni.” (The English term for college.)
I recently was introduced to the following quote by Jack Welch, previous CEO of General Electric, and although it was intended for the context of a business, I think it very well can apply to our everyday lives. “When the Rate of Change outside is greater than the rate of change inside then the end is in sight.” I’ve quickly learned that the ability to adapt to new challenges and accept the change as an opportunity for personal growth is key. Going with the theme, I recently also experienced Wicked the Musical in London; I have been CHANGED ‘For Good’.