AIR Program participant lands summer internship in South Africa
When Alejandra Hernandez Gomez signed on last October for a summer internship with Deloitte, she had no idea that six months later, she would be working in South Africa.
Gomez, who transferred to the NC State Poole College of Management in 2012 from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., entered the Accounting Internship Recruiting (AIR) program during her senior year at Poole College.
The AIR program was developed by career development staff in the Poole College Department of Accounting to help seniors interested in entering the college’s Jenkins Master of Accounting Program gain real world experience before beginning their graduate studies.
Gomez, who will be starting in the Jenkins MAC program this fall, said she decided to enter the AIR program “because it would help me see a broad range of employers and what they could offer, so that I could decide what I wanted to do after graduation and hopefully get an internship that would lead to a full-time offer. The AIR program provided me with a vast amount of knowledge and experience about employers, public accounting and accounting firms.”
After accepting a summer internship position with Deloitte, her recruiter sent an email message letting her know about opportunities in Deloitte’s U.S. and international locations. The email message asked her to select her top three choices from a list of Deloitte offices, including locations in China, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil.
Kelly Hardy, assistant director for career development in the Department of Accounting, explained that offer. "Typically international internship opportunities come out of the Deloitte's national office. Then the firm's local recruiters are able to forward opportunities on to their incoming interns, inviting them to apply. Many interns across the U.S. will choose to do so, but only a limited number of applicants will be selected,” she said.
“My internship lasts eight weeks, during which time I am working four weeks in the U.S. and four weeks in South Africa,” Gomez said. She worked her first two weeks in the U.S. for Lowe’s Home Improvement, and then travelled to South Africa where she is working with a small company that is part of a larger corporation doing business in South Africa, Africa, Europe and Australia. Gomez has been assisting with an external audit, “from start to finish, for three weeks,” she said.
Her assignment in Johannesburg – South Africa’s financial center and home to numerous corporate headquarters – brought her to the region during its busy year-end season for accountants. This has enabled her “to see what happens after year end. I would not have this opportunity in the U.S. where most companies’ year-end is in December, not in June like in South Africa,” Gomez said. After concluding her four weeks in South Africa, she will have a final two-week internship assignment with a non-profit organization in Charlotte, N.C.
Reflecting on her experiences in South Africa, Gomez said, “I have always felt welcomed and the people have done every possible thing to make me feel at home.”
She also noted the great diversity among people in South Africa. “People here are very proud of their diversity and they embrace it fully,” Gomez said. She also noted that South Africa has 11 official languages. “It is great to see so many multilingual individuals and people accept it,” she said, noting that while English is the common language it is not spoken all the time.
About working at Deloitte, Gomez said she found the office in South Africa to be “very similar here to what it is in the U.S.,” noting that Deloitte maintains its standard brand within the local culture. “As in the U.S, Deloitte sees its employees as assets and spends a lot of resources in their development. I am very impressed by this and happy with the firm I chose.”
When asked about her preparation for the internship, Gomez said, “My academic studies are definitely the solid foundation that helped me learn and understand an audit. It is impossible to be in an audit team without all the knowledge that I acquired during my years at NC State
“Also, I want to emphasize the importance of the professionalism and critical thinking skills that I learned at NC State. From day one I felt prepared to face the challenges in the work place and the technical and soft skills that the accounting department emphasizes made me different from my peers,” she added.
“Companies look for an individual who can work on a team harmoniously but who can also solve complex issues with professional skepticism and a positive attitude. This is not always easy and there are challenges along the way, but knowing how to remain professional at all times can make a big difference and people notice this attitude,” Gomez said.
For students considering similar opportunities, Gomez said, “I would tell them to do it. This is a life changing experience and it would help you be an integral professional – one who can work in diverse teams and who can understand our global world. There is no other way to become a great professional than by going through experiences like this.”
“Also, there is no better way than traveling abroad to understand and learn from cultural differences that would make you a better person and a better professional. This experience forces a student to step out of his or her comfort zone, and can learn a lot about him or herself,” she said.
For Gomez, her global summer internship has helped her to learn more about other cultures and build skills needed “to be an effective leader and team member,” she said. “Moreover, I want to have an international career and this internship gives me the experience I need to get such opportunities again.”