Currency Event

Foreign Exchange

International interns build business.

Business cultures vary, and it's no surprise that firsthand experience is the key to familiarity. But before you book that trip overseas, consider something a little closer to home instead--like a foreign exchange program for business professionals.

"For people who are thinking about going into [international] markets, this is a great introduction," says Jeffrey B. Samudio, co-founding partner of Design Aid Architects, a Los Angeles firm specializing in the preservation and restoration of historic properties. For four years, he's hosted Japanese interns from one such program--the Tokyo-based International Internship Program (IIP). Its mission? To promote better international understanding through professional and cultural exchange.

Samudio insists the skills he's learned from the interns--ranging from the Japanese style of presenting business cards to understanding the formalities of the country's bureaucracy--were instrumental in securing his first project in Japan, the restoration of the Cheouke House, a Victorian structure damaged by the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Often referred to as "cultural ambassadors," IIP professionals offer experience in a variety of industries and work for up to one year as unpaid interns for host companies. They pay for airfare themselves, as well as their living and transportation expenses once in the United States. In turn, the host companies take them under their wings and give them experience money can't buy--such as improved conversational language skills and a better understanding of the Western way of doing business. It's a win-win situation, says Samudio: "The experience has been rich for the people who work for us and the interns themselves."

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This article was originally published in the March 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Currency Event.

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