The French Connection

Tatum-Lee Louw

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Where do you want to work? And what do you really want to do? New graduates often find themselves floundering as they approach the world of work, feeling mildly uncertain about where their newfound qualifications will take them. An internship is a way for new graduates to enter the workplace, simultaneously growing their existing skills, developing new ones, gaining work experience, and building up a CV with employers who want to try before you buy. For youngsters who grab the internship opportunity with both hands, a breakthrough that launches their professional life is possible.

Foucauld Wattecamp is one of the more adventurous youngsters, who chose to put his classroom knowledge to the test in a real-world setting half way around the globe from home. This French business student, registered at the SKEMA Business School spent the first year of his Master’s degree in the south of France and in China. Before commencing the final year of his studies, he opted for a gap year to broaden his professional interest in project management and international business development.

Le Cap 40, a business-social network between France and Cape Town, led him to Fetola, where he spoke to Tatum-Lee Louw about the experience:

What made you apply for this internship position?

In the first place, I had heard great things about Cape Town and I really wanted to discover South Africa. Secondly, when I stumbled upon Fetola’s offer whilst doing my internship searches, I felt an affinity for the company, its beliefs, and actions. I had previously worked at Deaz, a small startup that developed mobile applications, and at Thales, an electronics group specialising in cyber protection.

I sensed my ability to adapt to a demanding international environment and was keen to gain insights into the SME sector.

Did you have a particular interest in Entrepreneurship before you came to SouthAfrica?

Entrepreneurship is trending in France and various of my family, friends and classmates have created their own businesses or work for start-ups. While working at Deaz, a new business launched by two French youth entrepreneurs, I saw the particular challenges of being self-employed. Moreover, I really like to see people take the entrepreneurial turn, use all their skills, energy and motivation to start, run and develop their business. I love innovation and my aim is to run my own business later.

Is there anything in particular that fascinates you about Fetola’s work culture?

Even after ten years of operation, Fetola still has the dynamism and spirit of a startup, which makes it very pleasant to work there! Everyone has an important and active role. It is easy to meet each team member and to discover other jobs that expand the scope of your skills.

Which workshop did you attend and what did you learn from it?

While attending the Finance workshop I was reminded of the corporate finance that I had studied. I felt lucky to attend the SAB Foundation award ceremony for the Tholoana Enterprise Programme in Johannesburg and to experience the Vision workshop for prospective candidates. I realised fully how important motivation and belief are to entrepreneurial success!

Do you feel the work was a valuable experience in relation to your studies?

In France, it’s easy to get the impression that a masters degree is something normal, and without real value. Fetola’s CEO, Catherine Wijnberg, gave me interesting and, sometimes, tough tasks to do including research, studies of different markets, and the task of improving the company’s internal communication and project management system. When you start working in a new company, in an unfamiliar country far from home, in a language not your own, it forces you to attend to your surroundings, to give the best of yourself whilst improving your flexibility.

What were the strongest points of your internship experience?

I was asked to find something to help the team manage their various projects, so I looked for a tool to facilitate and foster the communication in the company. At the time, I was new at the office, knew nobody’s portfolio and the projects being run were fuzzy to me. My research and tests led me to a digital tool that I presented to the team leaders. I successfully solicited their approval, and then set about implementing it for the organisation, presenting it to the team as a group, initially, and then individually, showing them how it works and how to use it. The toughest part was changing everyone’s habits and persuading them to use Dapulse daily. It was a challenge but I was very happy to achieve my goal before I left in early July.

What new skills, techniques or knowledge have you acquired since joining the team?

I learned a lot about South African entrepreneurship, the local culture, and history, which was very rewarding. It was particularly valuable to learn firsthand about how to manage and conduct change in a team. It is work requiring knowledge, technique and a lot of energy.

New graduates wanting an international experience need to be alert to scams. Do your research by checking with the Better Business Bureau. If an internship requires you to pay a deposit in advance or seems to good to be true, it probably is. That said, get a review from a friend or try your luck online. The following might be a place to start: Connect 123IAESTE (the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience), Humanitarian Aid Foundation, KPMG and H&M.

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Tatum-Lee is a part of the Media Team at Fetola. She is a freelance writer and blogger who has a particular interest in Social Media and Digital Content producing. She is currently completing a postgraduate degree in Critical Media studies and Political communication at the University of the Western Cape. Follow Tatum-Lee Louw (@TatumLee_25) on Twitter.