Internship journal: A professional immersion in Tunisia for Alexandra and Émilie

November 14, 2019

On September 6, Alexandra Clouette and Émilie Tanguay-Côté jetted off for a four-month internship at the Entrepreneur Financial Centre (EFC) in Tunisia, as part of the international internship program offered by Développement international Desjardins and the Desjardins Foundation. After one month of internship, they shared their first impressions of working in Tunisia.

Meet our interns

After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Université Laval, Alexandra Clouette worked at Caisse du Plateau Montcalm. Her internship at EFC Tunisia is focused on marketing and business development.

Émilie Tanguay-Côté has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Université du Québec à Rimouski (Lévis campus). Since graduating, she has worked as a senior accountant and an assistant controller. She is doing an internship in accounting at EFC Tunisia.

An experience steeped in curiosity, listening and open-mindedness for Alexandra Clouette

During my first few weeks at EFC Tunisia, I mainly worked in communications. I helped the organization in many different ways, including promoting the annual Proxfin network event, primarily with regard to assisting with sponsorships, drafting the press release, developing the media plan, creating a database and working on the customized media invitation. Professionally speaking, supporting the Proxfin project was a great opportunity to apply the more technical concepts of my training in business management. From a personal point of view, it was very rewarding to participate in Proxfin events as I met some compassionate people with a shared goal of success, which was really inspiring.

I’ve also been involved in gender equality at EFC Tunisia. This has brought me to EFC agencies in the south to meet with women business owners and ask them about their companies, their journeys and their needs in terms of non-financial support. I’ve also participated in discussion groups, which have helped me better identify the issues and needs of Tunisian women entrepreneurs from the very first weeks of my internship.

A new lens

Curiosity, listening and open-mindedness are my watchwords with regard to this experience, both professionally and in my relationships with others. These values have been extremely helpful in better understanding those I interact with and more easily adapting to this new environment. This kind of experience can throw you off balance and it can be difficult to find your footing! There’s a learning curve when it comes to the language, lifestyle and organizational culture. In this context, being open-minded has made it easier to adapt. And it’s helped me see the world through a new lens!

Émilie Tanguay-Côté: The weeks are flying by!

Since I got here, I’ve mainly worked on overhauling the purchasing process at EFC, from identifying needs to settlements. I also gave a training session to a few accounting co‑workers on using Excel to streamline processes and reduce the risk of errors related to manual operations. In addition, I worked with the financing manager on the due diligence required to obtain additional financing.

To successfully complete these projects, my auditing experience in Canada was very valuable and helped me identify areas for improvement as well as sound approaches already implemented by the EFC team. I was therefore able to recommend an action plan that was tailored to the organization’s needs.

In terms of challenges, I’ve had to adjust my way of working to fit the Tunisian context. For example, it took some time to adapt to working with a team whose native language isn’t French. I felt a little lost when my co-workers spoke in Arabic. After the first week, we had a discussion about this and agreed to use French more often in conversations to help me make more of a contribution to the team. This had a major impact on our working relationship!

The first few weeks were over in a blink of an eye. I feel like I left home only yesterday. I was quickly integrated into the team and welcomed by the other EFC employees. Time is racing by and I’m trying to take advantage of every moment to soak up Tunisian culture. Every morning, each person I interact with greets me with a warm “Sbeh khir,” which means “Good morning” for Tunisians. It’s friendly and makes it easier to start conversations. As you can see, people here are kind and welcoming. Aychek (Thanks)!