Negotiating trade, culture, and skills for the future… in Santiago

Negotiating trade, culture, and skills for the future… in Santiago

Bachelor of Arts student Laura Somerset chatted to myView about her ongoing internship through the Latin American Centre for Asia–Pacific Excellence (CAPE) in the vibrant city of Santiago, Chile.

Laura Somerset in Santiago, Chile

myView: Hi Laura, what are you up to in Chile?!

Laura Somerset: I’m doing a five-month internship for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (APEC), an inter-governmental forum promoting dialogue on free trade between 21 different economies in the Asia Pacific region. Specifically, I work for the private sector arm of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), which is administered by the Chile Pacific Foundation.

myView: Sounds busy! What interested you about this internship opportunity?

Laura: Free trade generally seems like an abstract and unapproachable concept, even though it has important implications for our daily lives. When I started researching, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of APEC or ABAC, despite their huge influence in international negotiations. I wanted to learn about free trade and the global trading system, so I could feed information back to communities that I believe should be represented.

myView: As a Bachelor of Arts student, how do your skills fit into the world of business and trade?

Laura: I’ve always been interested in writing, media, and communications, and I’ve done a lot of related volunteer and paid work in the past. So, although I didn’t have prior experience in business and trade, I had a holistic skillset which included critical thinking and effective communication. I think this is what ultimately got me the internship. If you take anything from this interview, it should be that Arts degrees do get you jobs!

Laura working at an APEC conference in Hangzhou, China

myView: So, what’s Santiago like?

Laura: Santiago is a giant city with a population double the size of New Zealand´s—Chileans laugh when I tell them that! Living in a large city means having access to so much culture, and there’s always something happening. There are also lots of universities here, so that means a lot of young people and youth culture.

myView: Describe a typical day at your internship…

Laura: I start work at 9am. I share my section of the office with two other colleagues who are my age, and we start every morning with some gossip about what we’ve been up to, then we move into the busy working day.

My job mostly involves media and communications work. Today I gave feedback on a social media campaign proposal, then I wrote a press release and pitched it to local journalists. I also worked on an article for an international magazine doing a piece on ABAC. I get a one-hour lunch break, which is great because it means I get to see more of the city.

Afternoons are often full of meetings. Last week I sat in on a meeting with the founder of the geo-mapping app’ll be speaking at a summit I’m helping to organise. If the meeting attendees are from Chile, we generally speak in Spanish, although I often reply in both English and Spanish. I spoke some Spanish before arriving in Santiago, but getting Spanish classes is part of the internship contract, and the lessons are invaluable.

In the evenings I finish at around 6pm. I go to yoga twice a week which I love for the community aspect, and on other evenings I go to Spanish conversation meet up groups, get drinks with co-workers, and meet up with other expats living in Santiago to go to local events.

myView: You also visited China recently? Tell us about that…

Laura: ABAC has four meetings per year in four different APEC economies. This year, the third meeting was in Hangzhou, China, and I was flown there to take part as a staff member. I couldn’t believe my luck! The meeting was crucial in understanding how ABAC functions, which has helped me do my job better.

The meeting focussed on finalising the letter of recommendations to leaders that ABAC presents to the heads of the APEC economies (like presidents and prime ministers), which was a fascinating process to watch. I also met people from all over the world and made lots of friends, so it wasn’t all work!

myView: What a great experience! Where will you use these new skills in future employment?

Laura: I want to work in the community sector, advocating for social justice. The internship is teaching me so many skills that will equip me for entering the community sector as a graduate. Entry-level positions are limited, and it’s very competitive, so that will be a challenge.

As a third year, I attended speaker events and approached people who had jobs I wanted to work in. I asked them what skills were needed to get to where they were and was told that potential employees must demonstrate quick learning and bring niche skillsets to organisations. It’s rare to find a paid internship with a Non-Government Organisation (NGO), so skills need to be learned from a combination of volunteer work and working at well-resourced organisations.

A quiet suburban corner of Santiago

myView: What advice do you have for our future international interns?

Laura: I would recommend students work overseas if they get the opportunity and look for international internships because they’re more common than people realise.

Getting access to overseas internships and exchanges is one of the major benefits of going to university. They are perfect opportunities to live overseas in a structured and supportive environment!

Also check out CareerHub, because I see international internship opportunities come up on there all the time!

Laura Somerset is in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Māori Studies.

The Latin America CAPE’s mission is to prepare New Zealanders to engage and do business with the countries of Latin America. Its innovative business and education programmes grow awareness and understanding of Latin America, encourage new trade links, enable intercultural learning, and develop talent pipelines.

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