Geoff Whitfield - 2015 Program Participant
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I am a more mature person, not a typical intern. I had been out of the IT industry for some years after being in business, and I really wanted to get back in, but I had little recent experience. I had owned a business for some years and hadn’t had the chance to travel, so an international program gave me the chance to travel as well.
Why did you choose The Intern Group?
Unlike many younger people who have a program recommended by their parents, this program was recommended to me by my daughter who was traveling in Latin America. My daughter didn’t end up taking the program, however.
What was your favorite part about Medellin?
I loved the climate, which made it a pleasant place to be outdoors at all times of night or day and all times of the year (except for the tropical downpours). This meant that the lifestyle was very much more outdoors, for instance with al fresco dining and permanently open windows. The cafes were excellent; the prices were very cheap.
What were the best characteristics of your internship program?
My internship was ideally suited to my goals; the local support was excellent.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
There was somebody to meet me and take me to my accommodation when I arrived. There were social activities with other interns throughout the three months, even though it was a time of year with very few interns. When I locked myself out of my unit on a Saturday, they were on hand to make arrangements. When I required an emergency trip to the dentist, they arranged paramedic assistance at my workplace to evaluate, and then accompanied me to the dentist, even in the dental surgery, to ensure that nothing was lost with the language barrier.
Colours in the poorer area of Medellin
Is there anything you think The Intern Group could do to improve the program experience?
Everything was done to an excellent standard. While I was there we received a placemarked Google map with many points of interest, which was very useful. My only suggestion would be to perhaps have interns contributing to a knowledge base for other interns, such as what places to eat, places to shop, places to travel, hints on accommodation and travel, and activities available.
What’s one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I should have gone out on weekend trips and excursions more often. I felt at the end that I had seen so little of the country. I only discovered towards the end of my stay that flights within the country were quite cheap, especially if booked the correct way.
Describe a day in the life of your program.
I walked to work, about 15 minutes away, often buying a fresh cooked pastry on the street. I worked in a coworking space in an IT startup, and with lots of startups around, it was a vibrant atmosphere. I'd go out to lunch at one of the many alfresco restaurants close to work for a cheap but excellent meal. Evenings I would eat out again, participate in programs, meet up with people, go shopping, or catch a movie (typically in English with Spanish subtitles and very cheap).
What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?
I participated in two activities outside of the group’s program, each stands out in its own way. One was paragliding in the mountains just outside Medellin, which was a magnificent experience, and actually somewhat cheaper than a comparable paraglide in Guatemala. The other was a walking tour through one of the slums of Medellin, Comuna 13. This was an area which until quite recently had been too dangerous for people to visit, but one which showed the extremely impressive work which has been done in Medellin to address some of the wealth gap.
Christmas lights in Medellin
What surprised you most about Medellin?
It surprised me just how modern of a city Medellin is. A standout was the six story shopping complex with the open atrium and a roof which closed when it rained. For those who parked in the multi level car park, entering your licence plate number into the computer on each level gave you the location of your car. This probably does exist elsewhere, but I’ve never seen it in Australia.
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
I stayed in a shared apartment, for the first time in many years. It was within walking distance to my workplace and amenities. It was great to interact with people who didn't speak my language; I really had to stretch my knowledge of Spanish.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
I had some good basic Spanish, so I could communicate more or less OK. My workmates were anxious to practice English, to the point that I had to ask for more Spanish so that I could practice. We had two days a week Spanish only, and three days English. I found it was a little more difficult to understand the local variety of Spanish (Paisa) than in some other places. I could, however, be understood very easily.
What was the hardest part about going on an internship abroad?
I found it surprisingly easy for the most part, although at times communication was difficult.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before interning abroad in Colombia?
Not much. Only that I wish I had known some time before that a mature age worker trying to update IT skills was even able to get into such a program.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Colombia?
While the weather in Medellin is very comfortable all year round, it can change drastically according to the altitude, from tropical heat at the coast to chilly cold nights in higher altitude places like Bogotá.
Now that you're home, how has your internship abroad impacted your life?
As a result of that work, I was able to get a job in a startup in Australia, a job that I really enjoy, in a company which appears to be heading to a good place. Previously, I had despaired of getting any job at all in a field I loved, let alone one which I enjoyed and which fit my abilities.
Would you recommend The Intern Group to other individuals seeking internships abroad?
Absolutely. The support was great, not just for when things go wrong, but also for the activities and outings with other interns, and the chance to see other aspects of Colombia.
If you could intern abroad again, where would you go?
Anywhere. I loved the experience of living in another country and being a part of the local life, while at the same time being a part of the social life of other interns.