Diary of International Interns during Covid 19

Katja: How is it being an intern at Odd Arts during Corona especially when you are from another country? Let me tell you my story.

It all started very smoothly…

It was cold November 2019 in Germany, I was sitting at my desk on my Laptop and my eye came across the name of Odd Arts on my University’s placement list. I looked them up and they caught me right away – I loved their concept and their work so I tried my luck at applying for an internship. Luck was on my side as a lecturer was already in contact with them and said they could take two interns in. I sent my CV over and got an interview with the CEO. On the day of my Skype interview, I was so nervous and anxious but luckily for me the interview was really good and Odd wanted to take me in as an intern. I was so happy I could have jumped through the roof (I didn’t do it though!) and when I heard Oli would be joining me, I was even happier! After that, it was all about doing the paperwork so that I could actually start at Odd Arts in March with the agreement from my university.

Oli: I chose Odd Arts as my internship organisation for several reasons. One of those reasons was to increase my language skills. As I started researching about where I could do my practical semester, which is a very important part of my studies, I also had to think about where I want to work after my studies. Because I do not want to rule out working in the future with organisations which are not necessarily based in Germany, I knew I had to increase my English skills to be able to communicate with people all around the world. I would describe myself as a ‘learning by doing’ person, so for me the best way to learn something new, is to do it. But this is not the most important reason why I chose to be an intern with Odd Arts. I heard about Odd Arts from my university and soon it aroused my interest for this organisation.

Katja: So the months passed while juggling and struggling to look for a room in Manchester, trying to rent my room in Germany, making lists of all the things I needed to pack, organising my trip to Manchester and of course learning for my exams.

Oli: During my studies in Germany and through my personal interest in upbringing, education, and the development of associated personality and character patterns, I have an insight of possible ways to change learned behaviours, which are sometimes not fitting or aligned with values and standards of a society. I am very interested in the art of theatre and improvisation, because it is not just art, it can also be a very fun and engaging method to create unexpected and challenging situations. Whether the situations are real or not, is not necessarily important for us to learn from them. Using this framework, with a supportive leadership, theatre can create a safe space to explore ourselves, our viewpoints, and our mindsets. This is exactly what Odd Arts does. In my opinion, the art of theatre in the view of social work in Germany is under acknowledged and not applied enough. A very interesting learning point for me in the UK is that the content from the Odd Arts radicalisation workshops could be perfectly shifted to a German context. So for me it is a great opportunity to work with Odd Arts and have the chance to learn and consider first-hand how it could be done in Germany.

Katja: Then the day finally arrived; the day I would go on an airplane and fly to Manchester – 24th February 2020. While Corona had already arrived slowly in Germany, England was still seemingly free from it and so it didn’t worry me. In the days between arriving in Manchester and starting my internship at Odd Arts, Oli and I went house hunting so that we would have a place to live during our internship. It was quite stressful but luckily we found something nice.

Then came the first day at Odd Arts. I was super excited and couldn’t wait to see the office and meet some of the staff. Of course, I was worried that we would not be at Z Arts on time and perfectly fulfilled a German stereotype. At Odd Arts, they were all super welcoming and I felt extremely comfortable right away. We got introduced to how Odd works and participated in a workshop that same day.

Oli: I can remember how I felt as I applied for the placement abroad with Odd Arts. In this moment I was so excited, because a part of me was so proud and could not wait to receive the email from Odd Arts to say I was accepted, but another part of me was so afraid and knew that it would be not simple at all. Then, a few weeks later, I received an email from Rebecca, the CEO from Odd Arts, who invited me for an interview. Again, part of me was happy, and part of me afraid. I can very clearly remember the day I had the interview with Rebecca. I was never that nervous before. Having an internship interview is one thing, having an interview with the CEO of an organisation based in one of the most important international cities worldwide is another thing, but having an interview with the CEO of an organisation based in one of the most important international cities worldwide in a language you can barely speak is some heavy pressure. I can remember that I had so many mixed feelings, that I don’t even know today where to put them. Some friends gave me the advice that I should say that the signal was bad and ask for Rebecca to repeat questions if I could not understand something, which I think is so funny if I look back now. During the interview, Rebecca introduced me to Char, Odd Arts office manager, and some other colleagues and told me at the end, that Odd Arts is willing to give me a place for my internship. After we hung up, I jumped through the living room and screamed, because I was so happy and could not believe what had just happened.

Oli: At this point it was clear: I will leave Germany and move to England for my practical semester. This meant my first long term stay abroad ever. I was very excited to move to England for half a year, but it was also linked with many work and social complexities. Once these things were clarified; Katja and I started looking for hotels to stay for the first few days in England, and later for a flat to rent.

As I came to England and thought my English skills were not that bad, but soon I felt very disappointed with myself. I could see how people were trying to follow my words to understand what I was trying to say, but in the end they had to guess. It is frustrating to see how people tried not to exclude me, but also how hard it is sometimes for them if they cannot communicate with me. Odd Arts supported me on a high level in this process. Now I have been living here in England for three months and I already can see progress.

Katja: The days passed by quickly and I really enjoyed taking part in the workshops and getting to know all the staff. I especially enjoyed tagging along to one of the Isolation to Radicalisation workshops because the effect on the participants was enormously powerful and good to observe. I also liked to accompany staff to the sessions at secure units as well as the community workshops which were extremely impactful.

Unfortunately, coronavirus took over England and more and more workshops got cancelled so I had to work more from home and wasn‘t able to see the staff. Working from home wasn‘t really a problem for me but not being in contact with people face-to-face and being far away from my family and friends affected me. In addition to this, England had rapidly rising numbers in Corona cases and deaths while Germany was far better off, which really impacted my mental health for the worse. So, I decided to go home and stay with my family in Germany. From the beginning, the Odd Arts team was extremely supportive and always checked how we were doing during these crazy times, so when I told them I wanted to go back home they were really understanding. They assured me it was no problem at all and that I could continue working from home, just in a different location. This was a huge relief and I felt more confident about my decision to go back home.

Oli: Three weeks after I started working with Odd Arts, the UK had to lock down due to coronavirus. For the first time in my life, I and everyone else was forced to stay at home and only go out shopping for essential items. At the beginning, it felt like a very bad movie and I really thought at this time it would be over soon. It was not. I didn’t have a big problem with the lockdown to be honest, because I knew I’d never have so much time for myself again, so I really made the best out of it.

The Odd Arts staff were already well used to working from home. Our Office Manager Char introduced me to everything I needed to know. Unfortunately, the usual work Odd Arts delivers face to face with participants had to stop very suddenly. But Odd Arts decided to keep going with work wherever possible, and also to adjust and expand some bespoke during the isolation phase linked with COVID-19. We started delivering online sessions and I had a big involvement in the Creative Box project (posting out arts packs with materials and plans linked to wellbeing and the Arts Award). I’m very happy that I could support Odd Arts. I also feel very supported. We have a daily staff meeting together, where we give updates, receive tasks and talk about things in work but also in our private lives. This feels very good to me and I am happy every time I see the Odd staff on Zoom.

Katja: Between my final decision and my flight home, only two days passed so I needed to pack my things quickly and was on the road in no time. The journey to Germany was long. Instead of flying straight to Germany, I needed to fly to Amsterdam because it was the only flight still going out of the UK. From Amsterdam, I took several trains to arrive at my home in Germany so all together my journey took me about 10 hours, but I was really happy to be greeted by my family at the final train station.

The day after my long tiring journey, I had my first day in my new home office – so basically, Odd Arts has expanded their company with an office now in Germany! My hometown is not the same city where I study, so I see my hometown more like a chill out space and therefore I needed to get used to actually working whilst I am at my parents’ house. But after I came to terms with that and made myself a work schedule, it all worked out smoothly. Odd Arts now have daily Zoom meetings, which really helps me to stay in touch with everyone and I still feel very included even though I am not in Manchester anymore.

Oli: Now the lockdown is moving with little steps towards its end and Odd Arts are already delivered a few workshops. It felt very different as we had the first workshop at a school. So many new things had to be considered. I noticed very quickly that I’m not so used to dealing with people in person anymore. The two months of just talking online with other people changed me somehow. But the more time I spend with people, the more it feels normal again. Recently, we had a filming day with some of the Odd Arts team. It felt cautious at the beginning, but soon I had so much fun and I was happy seeing everyone in person again. Now I’m very happy that Odd Arts has started working with participants face to face again and I cannot wait to see what the future brings.

Katja: So, I’ve been back in Germany for two months now and my mental health has been far better, but I also really look forward to going back to Manchester!