5 Bizarre Things You’ll Deal with as an Intern Abroad

By Eleanor Rose| December 9, 2014

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I was born in Portland, OR, and to be honest, even I experienced slight culture shock when I got to DC.  Something about the lack of hemp products or organic coffee shops, maybe.  But if I were from another country (Portland might be another country, to be honest), I can only assume things would be even weirder.

This one goes out to all y’all studying or working abroad this semester or next semester.  I’m sure you’re aware that by moving to DC for a few months, you’ve signed up for some culture-shock weird times.  What you might not know is you were signing up for this stuff:

1.)    People Randomly Thinking You’re Exotic


“So this is Saraaaa.” “It’s actually just Sara.”

Get ready to have your employers or coworkers get very excited about having an intern from [insert your country here].  “Yes, this semester we even have a student from India.”  To you, your existence up to this point has been completely normal, but to your new American co-workers, it’s “inspiring” or maybe even “so much realer than anything we have here”.  I know. Wow.

2.)    “Your English is so good!”

Is this casually racist?  You bet.  Is it malicious?  Probably not.  Americans have little to no concept of how many people in other countries speak relatively fluent or fluent English.  Also, keep in mind, when this is said to you, it will probably be followed by “I can’t speak any other languages. I really should learn but, eh, I dunno.  Oh well.”

3.)    Bizarre Holiday Schedules


MLK Day, Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, etc. There are a bunch of random long weekends thrown into the American work year.  Enjoy them!  DC is especially big on those national holidays, so watch out for the crowds.

4.)    Irritating Pop Culture References


Don’t feel bad for not knowing why everyone keeps saying “they woke up like this”.  Don’t feel bad for not knowing exactly what Keeping Up with the Kardashians is.  Don’t feel bad for not being able to exactly decipher what phrases such as “I can’t even” really mean.  Believe me, you’re only here for a few months, you’re better off without such knowledge.

With that in mind, if every now and then, you find a friend who is SHOCKED that you’ve never binge-watched Ru Paul’s Drag Race, know that a little time spent in the presence of trashy American pop culture never really hurt anyone.

5.)    Figuring Out the Metro


(Yes, those are the doors opening on the wrong side of the train. Whoops.)

This doesn’t only apply to foreign interns, but if you come from somewhere without a subway system (or even if you do), prepare for a steep learning curve.  The DC Metro: Does it close super early?  Yes.  Does the red line barely ever work?  Yes.  Is there a reason @UnsuckDCMetro exists on Twitter?  Oh absolutely. (and you should follow it for delays and closure updates!) Luckily, collective hating on public transportation is something that makes everyone feel like a local, so if you summon that frustration early, you’ll fit right in. Nothing like coming into work and complaining about the trains to get the conversation going.

If you’re interning abroad right now, feel free to share your own whacky or wonderful experience while here in DC via Facebook.  Despite it all, living and working in another country is a total rush, no matter what bizarro things come up along the way.  Take a chance on an adventure in DC – you’re sure to come back with at least a few stories.



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