This is a blogpost about my experience at ErasmusX. To start off, my experience was very pleasant and it gave me various insights that exceeded my expectations. I realized this only after I had to consider what I wanted to share with you. I even postponed writing the blogpost for the majority of the internship. To be precise, I started in the last 2 weeks of my internship and I was puzzled. It’s kind of funny to me. Because I am the type of person to reflect on situations, activities and various matters frequently, almost on a weekly basis. Yet, to start writing about my experience at ErasmusX I felt a bit clueless.
Not because I didn’t know what I had learned. I learned more than I could ever had wished for. I didn’t just learn on the basis of becoming a professional. I was also dealing with personal issues and goals. What I got out of this internship is more than just an internship. I got an experience that was well tailored to my needs.
Before we move ahead, allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Rico Boeren, I am 29 years old and I live in Rotterdam. I study Communication & Multimedia design at the Hogeschool Rotterdam. In my studies I focus on UX design and Design Thinking. Previously I went to Cooking school(MBO 2&3) and I studied International Business Studies (MBO 4).
During my internship I had various goals which I’d like to elaborate briefly before going deeper into the topic.
- First of all, I needed to know and wanted to confirm for myself that I really am choosing Design Thinking as one of the core components in how I think and act. UX (User Experience) would then be one of my core components in how I process the work.
- Secondly, I really wanted to explore different perspectives and different sides of Design. However, only doing Design Thinking with a focus on UX felt a bit incomplete to me. Hence, why I really wanted to explore multiple aspects of design.
- Lastly, I also saw this as an opportunity to work on a few matters which I struggled with in life and at school. I wrote down some points I felt I needed to figure out in general. I will dive into this a bit later.
But before I dive into the challenges, I’d like to tell you about my background and some of its struggles.
Main problem: Impostor
My biggest struggle is that I regularly feel like an impostor in the design world. I am interested and inspired by many designers, but I couldn’t really see myself as THAT person. There were several reasons why I felt like an impostor and I’ll tell you about it by explaining a bit about my background and why it mattered.
Part 1: Cook, junior chef
One of my biggest reason was that at the heart I am still a young chef. I constantly try to translate my experience from the kitchen to any other environment I find myself in. I had a lot of difficulties transitioning from a young chef to a designer. My main challenges were the differences in ways of thinking and its practices. The first part as an example was my work environment in the kitchen. I used to work in the kitchen as a cook/junior chef for 7 years. As a creative, one of my challenges in the kitchen was to become very practical and learn how to organize effectively, for creatives tend to be very chaotic. Whether it is on the basis of workflow, food, flavors or ordering supplies. Through these challenges in the kitchen what really made me, is the overarching way of thinking and skill that came from my creativity. I always made use of whatever is available and could always sew seemingly separate ideas into one. My imagination and feel for flavors were basically how I made my trademark and how I communicated with others.
Part two: International Business Studies.
I studied International Business (MBO4) in combination with part-time work in the kitchen. The challenge here though is setting the practical mindset aside and diving into theory and expanding one’s view. International Business teaches you to look beyond and broader than the matter which is in front of you. It is very theoretical; you make a lot of reports and quite frankly; this was a hassle, and it was not easy at all. Plus, I felt a bit out of place. Because up until then I had held more often held a knife in my hand than that I’ve typed and used a computer/laptop. Despite a lot of headaches, I persevered and I finished the studies.
Part 3: Design studies
This experience is about my study in design and realizing how design reflects in the professional world, is a very different cup of tea. Mainly because design is not all about theory, it’s not all about being practical and it is not all about being creative. It is a mixture of all of it and every step matters and may positively/negatively influence the outcome of your design. Because if you are too practical, you miss out on creative opportunities and the quality of what you produce may be very limited. If you approach things too theoretically, you risk losing the side of human-centeredness which is very important in Design Thinking. Theory is very important, but as a designer you must test your assumptions and theory itself. For people are consistently inconsistent (I quote my design lead Pablo here as he always told me not to quote him ha ha). Meaning that people tend and think to do A in a certain scenario but in reality they do B. Tap in on creativity too much, you miss overview and a good practical workflow and you will probably exclude a lot of the theoretical aspect resulting in finding yourself being all over the place.
So what is the deal?
The combination of these parts and its approaches is a very challenging recipe. Before I even started I worried about how my internship would be, alongside also being thrilled about stepping into a completely different territory. However, I couldn’t help myself feeling like an impostor. For I am inexperienced and I kind of feared ending up in some lame office.
Since I did want to work on my personal matters alongside reinventing myself as a professional. I started by writing down some of the personal matters I felt I needed to figure out in general.
- I needed to figure out again who I am as a professional for as mentioned before, I largely felt as an impostor.
- What value do I bring? Like for real? What can I do? Am I an added value to the team/company?
- What am I good at and what are some points I can improve on?
- What is my personal goal in life? Is design really it for me?
- How can I transfer my creativity and imagination on an entirely different scale?
Writing these matters down was very insightful and a good start. Still, I was nowhere near the solution or even knowing how to figure out these matters.
As I started my internship I largely felt uncomfortable and confused for I didn’t know what was expected from me. The first questions I had were very general, for instance: am I to be part of one project and just keep myself busy? Who do I work with specifically? What is my role as an intern? Should I just be focusing on UX design or is there more than meets the eye? Pablo and my colleagues in general encouraged me to just approach and ask questions or ask for help if needed.
Pablo assigned me to project Ace wherein I was working on the basis of UX and later UI(User interface) design. Project Ace is directed at students in the transition phase between high school to higher Education. This will be an app that will help students to learn skills. This project covers a wide range of design expertise’s such as: Innovation, UX and Education design. The experience and the teamwork with Pablo(and others too) helped deepen my understanding of Design Thinking in general. I had to fail quick and fail often in order to learn, for practice makes perfect. Shoutout to my design lead Pablo who provided the necessary literature and assignments to work on. Also, he gave me the freedom and autonomy to make my own choices how I use my time to work and focus on improving. Looking back at this, I realized that the freedom and autonomy I got made me want to do more and work harder.
Visual design and branding
During the internship I made it a habit of mine to approach people to just have a chat and ask questions about what they do for work. This got me in touch with many colleagues and one of them happened to be the Communication’s Officer, named: Jonathan. Jonathan was in charge of marketing and branding. I expressed my interest and we had several fun conversations. Before I knew it he offered me to work together with him on visuals for various colleagues with different backgrounds. He taught me all about visual design, branding, marketing(growth hacking), communication and a little bit of video editing. It is thanks to this experience that I learned how to create a good visual step-by-step and what the effect of good branding is and the value it can potentially bring. The value meaning, the lasting effect and impression of a brand in people’s minds. For example, consider Nike — “Just do it”, it’s awesome.
Because of my habit to approach people. I noticed very quick that through time, the more conversations I had the more the nature of the conversations changed as well. They were as informative as they were very pleasant. Before long I found myself connecting with nearly anyone at the office. The conversations had hit a deeper level wherein we could share with each other about our personal lives in which oftentimes cultural differences and experiences were a huge part.
As the months progressed, various topics came to light and largely I could tell that my personal issues weren’t really uncommon. It turned out nearly everyone is working on their personal goals and seeks their value as an independent individual and professional. It’s just that everyone has their own way of finding out their kind of Ikigai/raison d’être– reason for being.
I learned that most people found their value/worth through doing the work they love to do. What they needed to learn came then second. This also came with the realization that the dedicated professionals I came to admire so much are constantly learning. They never really stop learning and exploring. I noticed that they also have a firm grasp of their attitude towards failure/learning/professionalism and what they want to achieve.
Especially when you fail often with the right attitude. You will quickly find yourself in an opportune position in which you can learn even more. Both Pablo and Jonathan, who were my leaders in design — UX/UI and Visual told me that this was important. When you have the right attitude, you are able to learn from your failures and this in turn will translate into becoming a part of your professionalism. This also will provide you with an important clue(s) as to finding out what you like doing (also what you definitely don’t like), why you’re doing it and what you want to do next. Meaning, you will find out sooner or later your value as a professional.
But before you can really talk about doing things, you got to have the conversations first and connect with the people. For if I hadn’t done so, I would not be able to say that I see my colleagues as my work family and that they have provided me with incredible clues.
One of the biggest clues is that you need to check your attitude when you’re having a conversation. Because the conversation will only delve into a deeper level when both parties are listening with interest and intent. Only then will you be able to share and humor each other with different perspectives. Another big clue is to be curious. Curiosity will help you want to know and ask more about something. Then, to reflect upon what you talked about with the other is another very essential element you ought to do.
These clues are important because taking this attitude with: listening with interest and intent, curiosity and reflection will ultimately help you tackle the very personal questions/issues you have.
Because, not having a solution but instead getting a clue is far more valuable. Because you will arrive at your own solution when you have done all the work. Getting the solution can be very effective but it will not teach you anything, in the same way always being successful won’t teach you anything. It is part of your learning curve or your learning journey.
Luckily, at ErasmusX I feel I am in an environment where I have the right people around me with various professional and cultural backgrounds who appreciate holding deep conversations when the time is right.
Veni vidi vici, that is how I would sum up my approach (to these challenges).
- I came, delved myself in a creative learning environment with multiple different professionals.
- I saw, several aspects of design, namely: brand, visual, education and User interface (UI)– think of screens and its interaction with various digital devices.
- I conquered (overcame), because despite being a novice in all of these aspects of design. I persevered in the work, earnestly listened, tried to learn as much as possible and delivered the best quality of work that I could produce at my level.
The experience as a whole helped bring a change in my attitude, my mindset, my interests and workflow. All of this had cost me a lot of effort, but it truly was worth it. My whole perspective and understanding on design has broadened. I see Design Thinking as my personal Superpower. I know what skills and value I can bring to any company. I have many important clues as to what I want to do in life and I have tools to healthily deal with my personal matters.
A big thank you and shout out to my workfam at ErasmusX. I am also proud to share with you that I am part of the Communication’s team at ErasmusX. Guess I will stick around for a while longer hehe ;).
How to know if ErasmusX is for you.
Though it is a very cool place, it is not for everyone. I would rather want to advice you — the reader — to consider thoughtfully what it is you’re looking for. If you even have a gist or idea of what you’re looking for, it makes your search for a fitting internship all the better and more specific. This increases the chance that it will translate into a better experience and result.