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An internship in Russia – challenges & gains

When I found the opportunity to work in a global company in Moscow, Russia, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. FrieslandCampina is a big quality-focused player in the dairy industry and faces challenges all over the world.

I had just finished the course “Winning in Emerging Markets” in my home university – University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. In this course, we designed business models and strategies for developing markets, which focus rather on execution than on endless strategy development sessions in the board room.
This made it a perfect opportunity to see whether theory meets practice, as Russia is a country full of opportunities and hardships regarding legislation, bureaucracy and institutional voids. I applied for a position in the marketing team, and after a couple dynamic interviews I was hired as a digital marketing intern.
Shortly after I would venture to Russia to do my internship from April to August, in an area which appeared to be the most prominent business area in Moscow: Moscow city (image above). With a beautiful office at the 12th floor, mostly open spaces and rooms, the workplace is very European oriented. Most colleagues are able to speak in English, however much of the activities happen in the Russian language. This brought a challenge to my internship, as I have no professional proficiency in the Russian language. Learning Cyrillic is a minimum to move around comfortably in Russia regarding directions and basic words and sentences.

 I decided to be pro-active and engage with colleagues in an interactive manner. Picking up business cases which were not yet touched upon, such as brand development, brand website development and internal digital development such as setting up a corporate Instagram account. This helped to become a real part of the team, to be able to add value and to take my own learnings from this internship too. In return, the colleagues spent a lot of time with me, teaching and introducing me to the vital parts of the business.

 The environment requires you to be adaptable and flexible. I would recommend anyone to pick up an internship in Russia as it teaches you to be resilient and perseverant. The colleagues in FrieslandCampina are very understanding in a sense that foreigners often have to take time to arrange paperwork and visa documentation, among others. Moreover, they highly appreciate the input and perspective from other countries, I was often able to speak my mind with my Dutch background.
This is not always the case in Russia. Many traditional Russian companies still have a very hierarchical, bureaucratic system, but there is progression in Moscow. Companies are adapting an open, flexible culture more often as it allows them to be adaptable in the challenging Russian business environment.
Internationals take an important role in this process; with external views and different perspectives the country is able to grow beyond its’ previous image of being unattractive and/or underdeveloped. There sure is a lot of room for progress, but that also means there are lots of opportunities. They are just waiting for people brave enough to seize them.

By Chiel van Ewijk, Honours IBS fasttrack student of University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.

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