Interning in an Australian vs. an American workplace

As I near the end of my internship experience with only 1 week left it is time to reflect on this experience. It has been incredibly valuable to see how the Australian workplace environment operates and how this has been different from my working experiences in the US. Each unique workplace environment is influenced by the underlying culture of the society and being an intern in the United States comes with a different set of responsibilities than it does in Australia. My experience with US internships has been a lot of handholding, instruction, and supervision. US companies typically do not put much trust in interns to complete important work right off the bat because being an intern means you are at the bottom of the hierarchy. The responsibilities are usually gradually increased after an introductory period. Contrastingly in Australia, I have noticed that interns are often treated like real employees. There was no introductory week or orientation and instead I was confronted with a ‘get to work’ type of attitude and was given a huge, important project on day 1 without much explanation or introductions. I think this outright confidence in interns in Australia most likely comes from the lack of hierarchical structure within companies such as WWF. In the WWF Sydney office, everyone appears to be on an equal playing field when in reality there are interns all the way up to the CEO within the same room. The workplace appears very egalitarian because of the open floor plan and constant communication between all members of the company. This absence of hierarchy is emphasized by the fact that every project is considered as important and the CEO makes sure to know about everything within the office no matter how small. The ritual of office-wide morning tea on Wednesday mornings has also helped foster this communal feeling because everyone chats and there are no divisions based on status within the organization.

I also have noticed that Australians tend to dress more casually in professional settings than their industry counterparts in America. Within the WWF office specifically, it is a “dress your body how you like” policy. The level of professional dress varies throughout the office but in general, most people wear a variation on a t-shirt and jeans. Nobody comes to work in a suit and tie or dress and heels. However, it is not fair to attribute this entirely to Australian culture in general but instead to the style of office that I work in. I know that more financially driven offices dress differently than non-profit offices. However, it holds true that on a walk to work in Sydney you will typically pass fewer people in a full suit and tie than if you were walking down the street in Manhattan where one would pass dozens of people dressed in a full suit within a 100 feet. Along a similar line, there is an increased amount of colloquial language utilized in Australian work environments. People talk very casually to each other and even use slang in professional meetings such as ‘doco’ or ‘preso.’ This use of slang can be very confusing if you are an outsider like myself who is not accustomed to it. I think it encourages coworkers to be much more casual with one another which results in more personal stories about one’s week being shared at the start of meetings.

Although I have cherished the professional experience that interning in Australia has given me, it was definitely a challenge. Being thrown into a new work environment in another country was incredibly intimidating and I was tasked with completing projects that I had no experience in doing. However, throughout these 7 weeks, I feel like I have learned how to effectively navigate the Australian office culture and will miss the laid back nature when I enter the American workforce.