Interview: Dealing with the COVID-19 as an intern abroad

Published 2020-03-26 08:12

Should I go or should I stay while the world faces one of the worst health crises in history? A dilemma for a lot of expats right now and particularly, for young expats who are on internships or year abroad. Olivia, a young French woman on an internship in Madrid, shares her experience with us.

Could you please tell us about yourself and about your company?

My name is Olivia Lecocq. I am a 25-year-old French woman who is doing an international corporate volunteering at CWT, an online platform organizing business trips, based in Madrid, Spain. CWT is one of the world leaders in business travel management, working exclusively in B2B, working for companies or governments to help them organize business trips for their employees. On a daily basis, we work with important and prestigious clients who trust us to ensure their employees' safety, their comfort and enable them to work in good conditions once abroad. CWT also organizes many business events around the world.

My main mission is to deal with recruitment in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, since we’re working with more than 18 000 collaborators across 145 countries. I’m working with “2 different teams”. One made up of locals, the human resources. And one very international team with people working in very different places in the world.

I have been a part of this company for over a year now and I really adore my work and my team. It makes me grow a lot professionally. I have just signed for an additional year and my ICV contract has therefore been renewed until the beginning of 2021. I am more than delighted that the adventure continues. The question remains whether the current context will not disturb our prospects too much. I hope it won’t.

You know quite well “the Spanish case”, how did the country deal with the virus when it first appeared? How did you feel about it?

Let us be clear on that, it was completely impossible and it is still impossible to know how the situation would have evolved and how it will evolve from now on. Nevertheless, I would say that Spain woke up quite late. The Italians were hit hard by the virus, Spain could have anticipated more by observing the damage caused by the virus on its neighbour. Like many countries, it did not specifically anticipate and take preventive measures, however, it was very reactive when the first cases were reported. Until the announcement of confinement, especially in Madrid, all the Spaniards were out in the bars, drinking, enjoying life, quite chill and relaxed. Now that the quarantine is here, the Spanish people seem to be very cooperative and are patiently waiting for the crisis to finish. The police are on the lookout and very attentive. As usual, the Spaniards are positive and optimistic, a completely different atmosphere than in France right now, which is much more dramatic. 

And what about your company? How did it and how is it dealing with the health crisis? Did it take measures early?

My company was able to react very quickly, even anticipating government measures, and I am extremely grateful for that. In general, I would say that CWT was one week ahead of the national guidelines. The hierarchy is very involved and has been doing so since the very beginning. The company is already showing great flexibility by allowing home office, 2 days a week, to those who need it. Home office was strongly advised to the entire team even before the government mentioned it. Then quickly, it was imposed on all those who can work from home. I felt very safe and perfectly supported by CWT. Occupational medicine came to make regular points with us. We have daily updates from the hierarchy and the health and safety division, positive and realistic updates on the current situation. And when the repatriation issue came up, my on-site coordinator gave me a great deal of freedom in my decision-making, telling me that I had to choose what I thought was best for me. A great freedom that’s for sure. But it also plunged me into a great hesitation.

But you had to choose nonetheless whether to stay in Madrid or to go home in France? How did you make up your mind and why did you make that choice?

It was really difficult for me to decide. It was an exclusively personal decision, related to my comfort and well-being. In Madrid, I live alone in my apartment. And in France, I can’t risk going back to my parents, for fear of potentially contaminating them. I hesitated for a long time, not knowing how the situation could be managed from a legislative and financial point of view. Should I leave my flat in Madrid behind and if I do so, will it be possible to arrange a remote move if the situation does not improve in the coming months? Do I really need to go back to France because maybe this will only last for a few weeks? Who takes charge of my repatriation if I decide to return? These are the questions that people have to ask themselves in this kind of situation. And then on Sunday, March 22, rumours began to run about the potential closure of the borders between France and Spain and thus, for an indefinite period. So instinctively, I thought, I have to go home. So I left very quickly and I am now in Strasbourg, sharing an apartment with a friend, who is a dentist and who has obviously ceased all activity. We have been living together for a week, and I have no regrets whatsoever about being back. I would not have tolerated solitary confinement. And then I tell myself that I still have the possibility to return to Spain when this sanitarian crisis will be over. My place is waiting for me in Madrid and I can’t wait to be back.

How is remote working going? And how business is going? Has CWT been heavily impacted by the economic crisis?

Home office is going well for now. I keep regular office hours, starting my day around 9:30 to finish it around 5:30 pm. Obviously, we are also heavily impacted by the current crisis, but for the moment, there is no budgetary catastrophe to deplore. We all work a little slow but the customers are there and there is always a lot to do. Even remotely the team is very close. We communicate very regularly via calls or on our internal chat. We try to maintain a positive and effective dynamic. And for now, it’s working well! It’s the containment that will be more complicated to handle in the long term… Keeping a professional activity is essential to organize your daily life. I need to keep busy.

Thank you Olivia for sharing your experience with us, which will probably echo the experiences of many other international volunteers throughout the world. Do you have a little message for them, or for all the people reading us who are also probably in quarantine right now?

What I want to say to everybody is good luck because the current context is very strange, confusing and difficult to handle. So good luck really and most importantly, stay home guys! We’ll get through this.