Ciao! Adventure in Italy with a pinch of sugar
Editor’s note: This interview is conducted by the Center for International Internship Development with an intern who participated in the 2018 TIP program. We hope this interview provides useful information to those who are interested in doing an internship abroad.
Her major is political science, and she has internship experiences at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in Vietnam. With the goal of discovering herself and exploring the world, she decided to extend her four-year college experience. As a petite Aries with huge ambitions, she was the activities coordinator of the political science department and the captain of the women’s basketball team. She is filled with unlimited positive energy and confidence.
She is a fifth-year (this will be explained later) political science major at Tunghai University. As a part of her journey of self-discovery, she is currently in Italy working with chocolate and loving it (and this love continues to grow)!
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Chia-ling Su, a soon-to-be graduate of Tunghai University. I am a typical Aries—genuine, energetic, eager to be challenged, and unwilling to accept a monotonous life. I am filled with positive energy and undaunted by adversity to the point of being foolish; my self-confidence knows no bounds. I was once the popular activities coordinator of the political science department and the captain of the women’s basketball team; among the students in the international relations track, I was known as “the lone flower braving the strong winds” (self-proclaimed, of course).
Freshman through senior year, I applied for summer internships according to a plan and interned at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at a company in Vietnam. I am always open to work in any industry and do not believe my political science major will restrict my career choices. Working in different industries gives you the chance to learn a lot of things; you learn from the strengths of others to make up for your own weaknesses; you also get a better idea of what you want to do in the future. My first trip outside of Asia was to Italy, as an intern as opposed to a tourist. I wanted to test my limitations and see how I would survive beyond ten or twenty days in a place where the faces and language used were all foreign to me; I wanted to see how I would adapt, both in a professional setting and in everyday life, and how I would deal with loneliness.
What made you press the “pause” button in your senior year?
Well, it’s actually my fifth year (laughs). I decided to stay at Tunghai for one more semester in order to participate in the TIP program. I learned about this program in my junior year, but could not apply because my course load was pretty heavy at the time, and I had extra responsibilities as the captain of the women’s basketball team. In addition, I had my senior year project in mind and was still deciding between graduate school or a job after graduation. For the reasons listed above, I decided not to pursue the internship opportunity then.
I guess some things are just meant to be. As the TIP program slowly faded from memory, it resurfaced again in my life. At the time, I was surrounded by classmates who were preparing for the civil service examinations, job hunting and interviewing, or receiving their admission letters to graduate school. I, on the other hand, was still unsure of what to do with my future. I finally made the decision to take advantage of this second chance so I would have no regrets. I treated this internship as the last chance in my education where I could still learn things, make mistakes, and improve myself.
When you decided to stay for a fifth year at school, did you encounter any difficulties?
My parents were always supportive and respected my decisions. Nevertheless, when I told them I was going to intern in Italy for five months they were unsure about this decision. They weren’t necessarily against the idea because I did not get a job or get in graduate school; they were more worried about the length of time away from home, the 9,655 kilometers and 14-hour flight that separates Taiwan and Italy, and the fact they would not be able to help me if I ran into any trouble. I understood that they might oppose the idea due to the aforementioned concerns, so I enlisted the help of my elder sister to persuade my parents (sometimes you do have to use certain tricks and techniques when communicating with your parents—or your boss).
I seldom change my mind once I make a decision after careful consideration, despite objections or disapprovals by others. My parents knew how headstrong I was and knew it was no use trying to dissuade me, so they only told me to diligently prepare for my interview (being admitted to TIP is no easy task). I think they secretly hoped my application would be denied (laughs). During this period, I took the time to explain the details of this internship program, giving them plenty of information on the school and Italy so they would not worry. I wanted to make sure they understood I was serious about this internship, and not simply going abroad just for fun.
What was the thing you worried about the most after being admitted to the program?
I was primarily concerned about the actual work I was going to do as an intern. I was assigned to an administrative department for my internship in Vietnam, but most of the things I did were just watching and learning. I understand this is part of the process, and I did learn many things from that internship, but there was still a feeling that something was missing. I wanted to do work that was challenging, where I had the chance to demonstrate my abilities and contribute to the company. In addition, I feared that being away from Taiwan for five months, I might not be able to make it back home in time if a family emergency occurred (eager to explore but still feeling homesick, a dilemma shared by all generations).
Describe your daily life in Italy.
I am now in my third month of my internship in Perugia. Luckily, none of the things I initially worried about have happened. I adapted to the new environment fairly quickly; I am used to not having an unlimited data plan; I am used to shopping and cooking food on my own for my roommates and me; I am used to getting around on foot or by bus. Most importantly, I am used to going to work every day, liking how the company conducts business and the type of work I am assigned to do. I tend to intern at companies specializing in marketing, which is a field that is a good fit for my talents and personality. So far everything is going very smoothly.
Talk about the company you are working for. I heard it’s quite the dream!
I am interning at a company called Eurochocolate. It certainly was a company founded on a dream. This European chocolate festival was born out of an idea the company founder, Eugenio Guarducci, had when he was studying overseas in Germany; Eugenio was surprised by how Munich’s Oktoberfest was able to draw tens of thousands of people with the focus on promoting one product: beer. He started thinking about ways to organize a festival in his hometown of Perugia through the promotion of a single product. At the age of 31, Eugenio made this dream come true by organizing the first European chocolate festival “Eurochocolate” in 1994, thus beginning this magical journey filled with sweet memories.
Chocolate was chosen as the product to be promoted because of the famous chocolate brand Perugina, which was regarded as a national treasure in Italy. The most popular chocolate sold under this brand is called Baci, which means “kiss.” The legend states that the creator of Baci, Ms. Luisa Spagnoli, fell in love with a young man in the store and sent him love letters wrapped together with chocolate. Eventually, Ms. Spagnoli married this young man and Baci chocolate was thus created. This may not be a true story, but associating a chocolate with a love story is a great way to draw people to the product. Every Baci chocolate now comes with a proverb related to love. Isn’t that romantic? (well, Italy is known to be a romantic country).
The Eurochocolate is a festival full of happiness and sweetness. As a staff member, introduce us to some of the must-see activities at this event.
Eurochocolate takes place every year from mid-to-late October. This year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the festival. In Europe, the 25th marriage anniversary is referred to as the “silver wedding anniversary.” Therefore, we used “silver wedding” as the main theme for the festival this year; in a sense, we are celebrating the marriage between Eurochocolate and the ancient town of Perugia and wishing another hundred years of happy matrimony.
Eurochocolate lasts for ten days with different activities planned each day. Many tourists flock to Perugia to attend this festival. As both a staff member and tourist, I recommend everyone buy a “Choco Card.” This card offers you all sorts of discounts, small gifts from the vendors, and the opportunity to enter into a lottery to win prizes. The bustling and busy marketplace has a variety of presentations every day, like one of the biggest booths in the marketplace is set up by the Swiss chocolate brand Lindt, which provides you an immersive experience that includes receiving brooches in the shape of nut chocolate, having your photo taken, and sampling of the chocolate products.
One performance that you definitely cannot miss as a visitor is the chocolate sculpture show. Many people start queuing up early for the show in order to secure the spots right in front of the stage, where you can experience being showered by chocolate debris as the sculptures are created by the artists. As the sculpture artists are working on stage, staff members hand out free bags of edible chocolate debris to the crowd. Like the Taiwanese, when the Italians hear that something is free, they uncontrollably push and shove one another in order to grab the free stuff (I am sure for a while it does feel like Taiwan). It is a unique and interesting experience. Moreover, there a lot of indoor activities, such as chocolate cooking classes, chocolate tasting, wine tasting, and a seminar titled “Cioccolatomania,” where internationally renowned chocolate masters share their knowledge and experience.
The activities are truly spectacular. For more coverage of the festival, please look up my web blog at the following address: https://charleneinitaly.blogspot.com/2018/11/2018-eurochocolate.html
You were involved with Eurochocolate in your first internship in Europe. What did you observe and learn as a member of the festival staff?
The ten-day festival is one of the biggest annual events organized by the company and requires all hands on deck. My main responsibility for those two weeks was to provide assistance to the staff in charge of the wine tasting events, cooking classes, and the chocolate master seminar. If needed, I was also asked to support festival headquarter and other event operations. Each TIP intern has an assigned tutor at the company they work for; the name of my tutor is Simona. Everyone was extremely busy during the chocolate festival, so she could not supervise me all the time. I often had to work with colleagues that I did not know that well. I only knew basic Italian, so I had to be fully aware of what’s going on when communicating with my colleagues; I needed to learn how to do every little thing well and be proactive and perceptive when assisting my colleagues. Language is probably the best tool to help you fit in a new group of people. Relying on my basic Italian and basic greetings such as “Ciao!”, “Grazie!”, and “Molto Bene!”, I was able to get acquainted with a lot of my colleagues.
What did you learn from your participation in the ten-day Eurochocolate festival?
I feel that I was very lucky to be more than a tourist at the Eurochoclate festival. As an intern working at the festival, the experience was very different from working in the office in the previous two months of the internship. I had a better understanding of the duties and responsibilities of my colleagues and the group dynamic of the company. As a tourist and an intern, I understood the hard work that went into every fun and interesting activity at the festival; I also was able to feel enormous pressure on the staff members when it involved a grand and spectacular presentation. Naturally, when cleaning up after the festival ended, I experienced the joy of having a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. It was very rewarding to be able to observe and experience the festival from different perspectives; I felt I have leveled up my skills and experience!
I hear you have some kind of awesome skill that really impressed the Italians. Please share it with us.
When carrying out my duties I discovered my organizational and planning skills were superior to those of my Italian colleagues. This is probably a result of growing up in Taiwan where “efficiency” is constantly being emphasized. These skills helped me stand out among my colleagues (laughs). At the press conference before the Eurochocolate festival, all members of the media received a gift bag containing around twenty items from various sponsors; in total, around a hundred gift bags were handed out. Simona took me and another colleague to the warehouse to put together the gift bags. She originally hoped we would complete this task before noon. As if someone just flipped a switch in my mind, my brain immediately accessed my past experiences of completing similar tasks and used the data to create the most efficient plan to assemble the gift bags. After discussions with Simona, she agreed to follow the plan I came up with. We worked so efficiently that Simona actually told us to slow down a bit because she didn’t want to go back to the office so soon (boo!).
Simona trusted me more after the successful assembly of the gift bags; she brought me on anytime she needed help for anything related to the festival. She also introduced me to other colleagues, so I had opportunities to work on different projects. I loved to be actively involved in event planning, and my colleagues definitely felt my enthusiasm and were very welcoming and happy to work with me. I would like to advise everyone not to not overlook certain minor personality traits that may prove to be very useful later in life. Though you never can accurately predict when these traits might come in handy, when the right moment arrives you will be able to experience the power of such traits.
So far in this internship, what has left the biggest impression on you?
On my first day at work, Simona assigned me to a small office right across from an administrative specialist called Simona Donadio (another Simona!). Initially, I found her to be very serious and somewhat hostile to me. The next day I was assigned to a different desk so I did not have to interact with her anyway. However, because of working on the festival, I got acquainted with a lot of colleagues with whom I was not familiar; these colleagues were also made aware of my existence in this company. One day after work, I was waiting for the bus home at the bus stop. Suddenly, the driver of a car driving past the stop caught my eye; I realized she was Simona Donadio! Simona also spotted me at the bus stop, and she immediately stopped her car and signaled me to get in her car. On the ten-minute ride back to my dormitory, Simona and I had a nice conversation, even though neither of us speak fluent English. I also spoke a few words with her eight-year old son sitting in the back seat when I got off. A chance encounter during rush hour traffic broke the ice between us, and I was able to see her in a different light. I found that she was an assertive and loving mother.
Tell us about taking Italian classes at the University of Perugia.
I knew very little Italian prior to the classes; in fact, my English wasn’t much better. But when body language and gestures don’t get you anywhere, you are super motivated to learn the language. I remember once taking the bus during rush hour and was pinned against the front door by the crowd. Unlike the buses in Taiwan, the buses in Italy only have a card reader in the front; usually people swipe their card when boarding the bus through the front door and get off the bus through the back door. When I wanted to get off the bus, no one was boarding the bus. The back door opened but I was trapped near the front door and could not move. The bus driver, who did not understand English, was about to close the back door and drive on, and I was unable to say “I want to get off!” in Italian. I felt very helpless then. Eventually, I was able to get off the bus with the help of a friendly lady.
Every week, aside from my internship, I was most excited about the Italian classes taught at CLA (University of Perugia Language Center). Here I was like a baby learning to speak: you start with listening, then imitating the sounds, and then actually trying to form sentences. Every day I listened to my colleague converse in Italian, of which 99% was incomprehensible to me; but every once in a while I caught a word or phrase I knew, and I tried to memorize the pronunciation. The main reason I loved these classes was the fact I could see myself improve each time, however small that improvement might be. The teacher spoke Italian very slowly—like a grandmother walking—in class so we could follow. The listening training I got from simply being around my Italian colleagues, coupled with vocabulary flash-card training I received from shopping at the local supermarket, helped improve my comprehension skills to the point where I could have a general idea what the teacher was saying. Once in a while I would speak one or two sentences in Italian to impress my colleagues, and they respond by making seal-like cheering sounds. This boosted my confidence and made me more willing to speak Italian in front of native speakers.
You five-month internship is about to end. What do you have planned next?
I am still not sure (ha!). I plan to focus on finding a job once I return to Taiwan. Like Forrest Gump said: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” So far in my life, the plans I make seem to always be at odds with actual circumstances, though they do reach some sort of balance eventually. About the “next step”, the only thing I am certain is that I will continue to wrestle and collide with the mysterious forces of this world, and sometimes beautiful sparks will emerge as a result.
From this “box of chocolates” I already got this piece of Eurochocolate. Before my return to Taiwan in January of 2019, I would like to promote this European chocolate festival through my blog, so that more people in Asia can learn about the festival and the city in which it takes place—the elegant and beautiful mountain town called Perugia.