What I learned from an Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, with Intern Abroad HQ

If New Zealand has always been your dream place to travel to, then why not consider an internship? Interns in New Zealand contribute to gain hands-on experience, while learning in a completely unique country and culture. Read on to learn about how British student, Izzy Finn, traveled from the UK, to contribute to conservation “down under”, while also building massive confidence and working to boost her career prospects.

Kia Ora Izzy! Can you tell us about your internship placement?

For my Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, I was placed with a professional non-profit organization. The organisation was dedicated to promoting sustainability and environmental responsibility, as well as protecting natural resources and building resilience throughout the community for a sustainable future.

I was a general intern who tended to work in the office helping with day-to-day admin duties, with two offsite jobs a week. One of these was composting with The Compost Collective, who produce compost on a commercial scale using food waste we would collect from eateries. The other was wetland restoration, where we would visit a different wetland and carry out weed removal, tree releasing, and any other maintenance jobs that needed doing at the site. Working with the wetland team also gave me the opportunity to write my dissertation, giving me a head start to my last academic year at university.

Aside from this, I also assisted with the Ecostore which was located at the sustainability centre where the trust was based, as well as help to prepare food for the Kai Conscious café every Friday. This is where we turned rescued food from supermarkets into a free lunch for the whole community. I also helped with events and workshops outside of the working week.

What I learned from an Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, with Intern Abroad HQ

Why did you choose this particular internship opportunity?

I chose this internship as the whole idea of sustainability is something I’m really interested in; however, we don’t touch on it during my university course and this internship (being based out of a sustainability center) focuses all their work into living sustainably. I love taking on challenges and this experience has really helped me grow my confidence and showed me that I can be independent and that I can push myself out of my comfort zone.

What was it like trying to get started and established in your first week?

My experience during the first week was slow but steady. I started in the office, completing basic admin tasks and just getting to know the workplace and the people within the environmental trust. It was a lot different to how I imagined it since I didn’t expect to be doing a typical “office” internship, but given that it was only my first week, I kept an open mind. Everyone was super friendly and helpful with getting me started and it very quickly felt like a comfortable place to be during my internship abroad for the next 5 months.

What I learned from an Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, with Intern Abroad HQ

What were some aspects of the experience that surprised you?

Before I left the UK, I was sent a brief that explained all the jobs I would be involved with throughout the internship. I didn’t realize how much administration would be involved in the role. For example, being in the office full time - which at the beginning I wasn’t a fan of - but then I realized how many of the projects needed admin in order for them to run smoothly. As I gained more experience within the internship role, I discovered the benefits of being involved in so many projects within the trust and the ability to be on-hand to everyone as and when needed. This enabled me to feel a lot more involved within the work I was doing.

I was also surprised by how expensive everything was in New Zealand! (But I probably should have guessed that by how big the exchange rate was from GBP to NZD). It was also interesting to see how laid back everything in New Zealand is compared to in the UK. Work isn’t the center of everyone’s lives, people meet for breakfast and brunch instead of dinner, and overall, it seems a lot more casual over here and a lot more accepting of individuals. I was also surprised by the weather - I had assumed that it would be warm weather all year round, but Auckland can experience every season in one day!

What I learned from an Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, with Intern Abroad HQ

What observations did you make about cultural differences and integration of tikanga Māori?

The work culture over here is very laid back compared to in the UK, so even though there are superiors in the workplace, everyone treats each other with the same level of respect as if we’re all on the same level. The workplace itself doesn’t feel like a true workplace though, it feels like a big family because everyone gets on with everyone and it’s a very friendly office to be a part of. It’s common to hug your colleagues, and take 10 mins to catch-up and chat with them throughout the day.

Kiwis (New Zealanders) are very proud of their heritage and they love to show that, and it’s really interesting once you get involved and start to learn about it all yourself. Tikanga are Māori customary practices or behaviors - I found that it’s important, especially working with environmental sustainability, to learn a few basic Maori phrases, and also that you know your Mihimihi - which is how a non-Maori would introduce themselves to a Maori without being disrespectful.

Sustainability and use of resources is also a big part of Maori culture, so we have to be careful about what we do and what we promote to keep in line with the culture. However, I also met a range of people from different cultures within the trust, such as German, Swedish, Argentinian and Israeli. So, it was nice to be able to speak to different people about different things while learning about how things are the same or different in their home countries.

What I learned from an Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, with Intern Abroad HQ

How did your skills develop through this internship experience?

Through helping with the Ecostore and the Kai Conscious cafe, I gained confidence by interacting with the local community, as well as improving my attention to detail and problem solving skills. Through helping out with the wetland team, I was able to give back to the community, which helped develop my teamwork skills. Working with the wetland team greatly improved my knowledge and my relationship with the natural environment. It also gave me great perseverance as the smell of the compost is not all that great! Finally, helping with day-to-day admin duties has improved my organizational skills, as well as project management and time management.

I think you should definitely research the culture before you arrive in the country. Just out of respect. Even if you think you know about the culture, or if there’s nothing particularly different, you may research the culture and realize there is something of importance that you miss.

I would also say get involved! It’s so interesting to get involved in other people’s culture. It also expands your knowledge as many cultures teach different things, such as the Maori culture is mainly based around ancestry, so you learn a lot about your own ancestors in order to be respectful of their culture.

Also, be a little more prepared. Like they said to bring old clothes for some of the outdoor jobs, but I didn’t have any, so I’ve had to go shopping for upcycled clothes, which turned out to be quite expensive.

What I learned from an Environment & Sustainability internship in New Zealand, with Intern Abroad HQ

What were your highlights and best outcomes of this internship abroad?

I enjoyed all of it! The whole experience was amazing and I feel it can contribute to both my personal and professional development. It pushed my boundaries and helped me step out of my comfort zone. It helped me realize what sort of career path I want to go down, as well as grew my inspiration for this type of work.

I was lucky enough to work alongside some of the most amazing people who were so passionate about what they do - it was so inspiring! As well as this, I was able to be involved in numerous different projects which were all super interesting and it really opened my mind as to what sort of things I might want to get involved in as a career. I loved every second of it and I wouldn’t have changed one bit of it.

My lifestyle has definitely changed since being over there to a more sustainable one. Being involved with a sustainability trust really opened my eyes as to what steps you can take to become more sustainable and I’ve brought a lot of those over with me to continue in my family home such as food waste minimisation, water minimisation, and composting.

I definitely feel more empowered to be successful in my field also. Seeing the results from the work everyone put in was so inspiring and really showed that you can make a difference with what you do, even if it’s just small steps, it’s still something. And seeing how happy it made people when they saw the results from the work they were doing was so nice.

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