Cultural Differences in The French Workforce

Sara Marc completed a Virtual Internship with the Méliès cinema in Pau, France in Spring 2021.

My experience with USAC’s Global Perspective Virtual Internship was a unique experience that challenged my communication skills, pushed the limits of my French language learning, and taught me how to be a valuable member of a professional team. The internship was very interactive and included two different components. One being the seminar section, in which the students participating in the program would discuss different types of readings in reference to building intercultural relationships, researching and learning about the different moving parts of our host organizations, developing and reflecting our own personal brand and even discussing the cultural differences between other students’ internship organizations. The second part of the internship was the work I did in Pau, France with the Méliès cinema.

With the Méliès cinema, I worked with Xavier le Falher communicating about what the Méliès cinema was, their connection to the public and the festival they host annually called, Rock this Town. The work I did for the organization was preparing documents for the festival by translating them from French to English and occasionally English to French. Notably, I translated the home and about us section on the website, which allowed for a bilingual webpage.

My internship organization was based in France and the majority of the work that I did was in French. I chose to work with a French organization because of my field of study being a French major and the importance of language immersion. This aspect was initially intimidating speaking and corresponding with French natives because of my language level; however, this allowed room for improvement and growth in my language development. We corresponded through emails and Skype video calls, where we discussed the work that needed to be done with the festival.

Rock this Town, an annual international music festival that debuted in 2007, hosts documentaries, fiction, short films, video clips, biopics, events, record market, concerts and DJ sets. The festival was originally set to start in April but was moved to Nov. 9 – 14 because of the pandemic. During the first meeting I had with Mr. Le Falher in December 2020, I was accompanied by my resident director Robina Müller, who had been a major contributor to the adjustment and management of my internship organization. We met before the start of the program to discuss the aspects of the program and some of the work we would be doing together.

During this first meeting, we talked about the hours of the internship and how best they needed to be completed. In France, students who are participating in internships have certain duration limits they must abide by, and we initially presumed that we would have to follow those protocols. As the internship started, we made adjustments as necessary to finish the internship within a timely manner. Through this first meeting, I was also introduced to the time difference of six-hours and it was made evident that this would be an important factor moving forward with communication. There were many interesting things I learned along the way with not only France’s response to the pandemic compared to the United States but with working hours, holidays and time change.

As I began the work with the internship, there were many stereotypes that I initially had based on what I know about the U.S. working expectations for employers. France being a part of the western world, I presumed that strict, timely and flawless work was absolutely necessary in order to succeed and maintain a healthy working relationship. Through the seminar part of the internship, we were tasked with using Hofstede Insight to look at the six dimensions of culture and compare what we have learned with our internship organization to that of the U.S.

One of the dimensions is called Individualism. This dimension represents “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members,” where the focus is the self. The U.S. rating is 91 percent and shows how this dimension aligns with my initial stereotypes. In the U.S.’s business and working world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and show initiative. These stereotypes were quickly dissolved as I progressed and communicated with Mr. le Falher and Mrs. Müller.

When speaking with them, I was encouraged and expected to ask questions as necessary. This is something that I would have liked to take advantage of more. For example, I was hesitant to ask questions when I began translating documents from English to French. However, when I spoke with Mr. le Falher, we went over the corrections and he created a document for me that listed English words that the French use. This was not only helpful in building a stronger working relationship, but it was also helpful in improving my French.

With my Resident Director, we spoke weekly through Teams, speaking French and discussing the aspects and progress with the Méliès by providing meaningful feedback, not only to improve my French speaking skills but to improve the working relationship between the internship organization and myself.

These aspects of the internship do not entirely reflect France’s high score of individualism at 71 percent but show how the other cultural dimensions play a role in how individualism can be portrayed. Even though this is the score reflected for the country, each organization can act differently. In my opinion this organization in relation to the country shows less individualism because of their connection to directors, producers and film makers from around the world and the level of interaction between the organization director and myself.

My internship not only provided me with indirect language immersion, but I was also able to develop valuable skills and lasting relationships with my Resident Director and internship organizer. This internship was a great experience to prepare me for studying abroad and how to conduct myself within a foreign professional environment. This program requires timeliness and organizational skills to ensure that are the required materials get completed, but also having good communicational skills was an important factor that benefited me greatly throughout this program. I would recommend this program to anyone — the options provided when I first applied were bountiful and could potentially suit one’s academic or future career goals.

Discover how a virtual internship can benefit your career and set you apart to future employers. Visit the USAC website to learn more.