Thoughts On Australian Internships

This is a post I was originally intending to write after my return to the US, but recent events have called for it being re-prioritized. With that in mind, today I’d like to talk about a subject I haven’t gone into much detail about: work. Specifically, the work I’m doing here in Australia.

Before I do that, I think I need to clarify what I am doing here, why I’m here, and who I actually work for here. I’m here in Melbourne on an international co-op as part of my university studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, US. At Drexel, I’m on our 5-year/3 co-op plan, majoring in Information Technology. Each co-op is six months in length, and I technically go to school year-round my second, third, and fourth year at Drexel. I’m currently on my fourth year and my last co-op. As this is my final co-op, my advisor suggested I take a look at something international. At Drexel, we have a department called the Steinbright Career Development Center, or SCDC for short. It oversees the co-op system at Drexel and has systems to list opportunities in the US and internationally. For IT internationally, Drexel offers a program in Australia through a company called Australian Internships.

The way the program works is that first you apply. If accepted, you pay a fee to have Australian Internships find you an internship in Australia. After pay and paperwork were taken care of, they found me a possible opportunity at Accenture Australia rather quickly. I had a phone interview that seemed to go well and was told I would receive a follow-up. By this point I had already announced I’d be going to Australia for my final co-op as enrolling in the program disqualified me from looking for anything within the US. A couple of weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything, so I reached out to Australian Internships for an update. As I thought, the interview went well and it sounded like Accenture did want to bring me on. So far so good.

A couple more weeks went by and the end of the term at Drexel was quickly coming up. Concerned, I scheduled a meeting with my international advisor at Drexel. I was told two important things: 1) they would look into it and 2) I was part of only the second group of students to go through the Australian Internships program. As such, the university considered me a guinea pig. Fair enough. I’m practically one for a living (I do a lot of beta testing). Now, to be fair, there is a considerable amount of distance between the US and Australia. At the time, there was also a 14 hour time difference. That does make communication a slow and painful process. But, while other students were having their internships for the Fall/Winter cycle finalized (or were finalized), I still only knew I had committed to going to Australia and I might be working for Accenture. I had no idea where I’d be working other than that.

After a couple more weeks (and cutting it almost too close for comfort), I received confirmation I would be working for Accenture and I would be working in Melbourne. I had a vague idea as to what I’d be doing and had the address for the Accenture office in Melbourne. However, the day I landed in Australia, I still had no first day instructions. Thank god the Sydney airport has free WiFi. I shot off an email to my contact at Australian Internships asking for first day instructions. By the time I landed in Melbourne, I had them, which included a different address, but also two contacts to ask for on my arrival.

On arrival, I found out I’d be working in one of AGL Energy’s offices. Now, let me make this very clear: I work at AGL, but I do not work for AGL. I’ve never had a single issue with AGL and they come off as a very good company to work for in Australia.

Now, that brings me to the reason for this post. I wish I could say for Australian Internships what I could say for AGL. From the beginning there were warning signs that this internship could be even rockier than my last one (that’s another long story for another time). The university knew it. My parents knew it. I knew it. We all shared the same concerns. But, we all decided to take the risk and go forward with it anyway. Until last week, I would’ve said that risk paid off. I can no longer do that.

As part of my training agreement (essentially what they call a contract here), I receive $800 a month to support my stay. Well over half of that has always gone to my homestay. However, “month” is a very loose term defining when I’ll actually see that $800. It has been late several times, causing me to be late in homestay payment several times as well. Needless to say, that puts me in a bad position and it gives Drexel a very bad image. One of the very few things I’ve been luck with here is my homestay host. She is amazing, and one of the most understanding people I have ever met in my life. That holds true to this very day, even as I am now approaching being late on payment by a full week.

The reason for that is I’ve yet to see the $800 I’m owed for January. Australian Internships previously advised me that it would be paid out on 28 January. That date has come and gone. I raised this concern last Wednesday, 5 February, as a full week had gone by without any sign of it. I was told by Australian Internships that their accounts department was working with the accounts department of Accenture in China. Now, that sounded very strange to me. Why would they be talking to Accenture China when I work for Accenture Australia? When I asked if there was an update last Friday, I was told they were still working on it. When I had my weekly phone call with my parents on Saturday (thanks for the free calls to the US, Google!), I explained the situation. I’m fairly sure eyes rolled on the other end of the phone. This was becoming a common conversation at the end of the month. On Monday (10 February), I asked Australian Internships again for an update. I was told it was still being working on. I then asked if there was any estimate as to how long this was going to take to resolve. I’ve yet to receive a reply to that, let alone any kind of update.

On Monday, I emailed Drexel to let them know what was going on. They got back to me on Tuesday to let me know they had reached out to Australian Internships and hoped to be able to get back to me shortly. Given that Drexel hasn’t gotten back to me, I assume they haven’t gotten a reply either. Last night, my homestay host notified the homestay agency about what was going on. They too are apparently now looking into it.

At this point, I think I’ve exhausted my options, save for this one. As far as I know, everyone involved has yet to hear back. If this is truly something on Accenture’s end – and I’m highly suspicious about that – I can’t wait to hear what it is. Since I know the next cycle of co-op students at Drexel are getting ready to go on co-op, I will simply say this: be careful.

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