An Experience + Tips: How A Student With Poor Academics Makes His Way For An Internship In Scandinavia

(This is a personal experience with ups and downs. It’s mainly for students who are seeking internships and opportunities to give them a boost to never give up and learn everything is possible. It’s not a guide but with every section I have tried to write down what you can learn/tips from the things! Have a good read:))

 

The feeling when you are in college and have already failed 4 subjects in your third year, but still you plan to do something challenging. Welcome, that’s me, Jamal and this is my story where I made to one of the best countries in the world for an internship. Some college days were missed, waking up late nights and sleeping throughout the days got common. The room becomes your world and you try hard to get the most out of it. It’s a living room, it’s an eating room, it’s a room where you entertain yourself. It was a silent midnight, the table was cleaned, coffee was brewed and laptop was turned on. Now, I could count on my fingertips how much time the laptop would take to load Windows! The noise from the laptop could be hear due to messy heat fan, sometimes the leg got scratched due to an iron piece bulging out of the table. The chair was setup and I got a seat. Often I used to offer night prayers.

 

 

This continued for a few months after I returned back to India failing an internship interview in the U.K. Interested what happened there. Click here. The passion to travel the world, the passion to know what is abroad, the passion to know what is considered as the ‘west’, the passion to learn abroad fueled me to follow the procedure eat -> sleep -> rave (work) -> repeat! for consecutive for 74 days. So, clearly my aim was not to score the academics, my aim was not impress people with an honors, my aim was to follow the passion.

 

Days and days passed, sending resumes/CV and application letters to companies abroad became common, somewhat frustrating at a point. Haha, don’t think I won’t get frustrated just because I am blogging and I am a super human. I am just like a regular human being. I used to use a mixed number to websites to find internships, mostly through Google. Like a usual day, it was 21st April 2014, in the evening, I was on this website www.graduateland.com. (Thanks @Patrick Lund for making such a great website! ;)) I was browsing randomly for internships and saw various internship listings in Europe and applied to all of them. I am not sure how many I applied to, maybe 5 or even 10. Yes, I was applying to a lot of companies and spending most of my time in searching for opportunities online.

 

What you can learn: failure is not an end, it just a bridge between success.

When I found my this dream company

Then there was this internship listing with the company name ‘Morning Train Technologies ApS’ based in Denmark on an island Funen. This was a small web bureau or a web design/development company having less than 5 permanent employees. To my understanding, when I found this listing it was around 5pm on that day. I found this internship just like every other listing at least for the first moment but when I read the description I found it interesting. The description impressed me but when I looked at the skills required, I got a bit sad. It was a web development internship and the skills required seems complicated to me because I just knew the basics. Still, I made my way to apply. I researched the company well, read about their employees, management, history, what they do, their current projects. I started with the cover letter on Microsoft Word but cancelled it because I was in fear that my cover letter might not be read if I would send that as an attachment, so I typed my cover letter in the body of email directly, so, that the reader would have a direct impact. In the email itself I showed my interest, more importantly my passion, my feelings for the company. That’s it. I am not sure if I had knew more than 20 percent of the skills they were expecting. After the email cover letter, I had to see the format of resume according to the country’s specifications. So, now I got the format of Danish resume which is below: (Danish resume format is a lot simpler than US version :D)

 

Résumé

  • Personal Data (also include nationality, marital status and work permit)
  • Key Competencies
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Relevant Coursework
  • Skill Set
  • Languages
  • Volunteer Activity
  • Hobbies
  • Achievements and Activities

What you can learn: if you are not a master of skillsets, try to be a master of passion and positive attitude. Now you also know the format of a Danish resume 😀

I sent the application

The great thing is that you don’t have to worry about formatting, you just have to list the things in a Danish resume which makes it simple and easy to read. Anyway, now the time is 9:32PM and I was ready to push the email below. (LinkedIn won’t allow you view the image in original size, do please don’t try read the text in email, I would make separate post regarding it.)

So, I had put all my efforts into these lines above. This was the best I could have wrote to impress someone. Just before I hit the button, I could see my heartbeat rising and I was very nervous. I took a deep breath and finally hit the send button.

Now, I just had to wait for them to reply me. At this point, I had some expectations but I was not fully confident that I would get a reply. Why? because I didn’t had top skills, inviting someone from abroad is a very expensive process which needs time and money both, immigration rules are strict (which now I think is one of the most hyped things today) etc.

What you can learn: 1. to decide whether it is a good idea to type a cover letter letter or attach it. If it is not a requirement to attach it, type it. 2. Be honest, say the truth, let your feelings come out, let employers know what you can do for them. Caution: make a balance amongst all these.

 

I got a positive reply 😉

 

But something happened the next day, I got a reply from Karsten Madsen, the CEO of the company. When this email arrived, I was in my college where I was studying Bachelors of Information Technology. My college was United College Of Engineering and Research, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India which was 60 kilometers away from the home. I didn’t had the habit to check my emails while being at the college. But throughout the whole day I was there, I was expecting something positive. So I reached home in the evening and checked my email. I noticed an email from the company, my heart started beating faster (due to the reason I had been going through the phase where you receive negative replies and phrases such as “Hi, thank you for applying for this position……This time we have decided to move on with another candidate. …..We would keep your application for x months”.) These are the moments where you feel like, it’s the end sometimes, you have been failed, you can’t do anything. But anyway, not for me, so here is the email I got at 1:25PM on 22nd April 2014:

 

“Hi Anvar,

Well I think that is the most time anyone has ever spent on writing about our company haha 😉

I like your energy and enthusiasm, so you have granted yourself a skype meeting. It will be in 1-2 weeks from now. I will return with details.

Best regards / Med venlig hilsen

Karsten Madsen

T +45 2781 xxxx

Email: xx

www.morningtrain.dk

I was so happy to read this that for the first time in several months, I felt like I am really so happy from within. I told my mom about this and she gave her blessings to me. I told my family about this and they were so happy for me.

 What you can learn: a good strategy and an honest approach worked. 

 

I replied them but didn’t get a reply

I replied them at 8:32PM the same day I asked if they needed anything from me like work samples and shown my interest to know more about their company. I didn’t receive a reply from them till the next day. There was just one thing revolving in my mind, if you go through failures and failures, admit it or not negative things start coming into your mind. I doubted whether they might have accepted someone else, or no, what is the reason they didn’t reply, were they busy? or were they ignoring me? I decided to play my shot again.

What you can learn: it’s just natural to not to receive a reply within a day or two. So, just be relaxed. Don’t be over conscious like me.

I impressed them again

I observed their website, their SEO and performance with their priorities. I made nice list explaining the problem their website was going through and sent to them. Some of the issues I encountered with from CSS, missing files, meta tag etc. Guess what, I got a reply from the CEO Karsten Madsen in just two hours thanking me for sharing the observations. Then we started getting in touch more often.

What you can learn: If you feel there is something wrong, sharing good things (which are economically beneficial) is always a good idea.

 

I super impressed Karsten again by sharing a business plan

The fear of losing an opportunity kept me tight and I kept on saying to myself, doesn’t matter what happens I have to super impress them. I prayed at nights, sometimes I even cried. I had to see the world, I had to grow, I had to see mountains, meadows, abroad, had to enjoy, had to fly, had to see the skies. I researched around the company services and made a plan how can we offer better services to Danish customers and what we can offer them. I sent my ideas on 25th April 5:41PM and on 5:52PM I got this reply:

“I am impressed.

Although this is not what we will do – at least not quite like you proposed it. One year ago I would have wanted the same thing, but the strength of our business is our niche, which is web programming, and that is what we want to push further. I am thinking about building a blog or knowledge website that will somehow target customers who needs programming. The SMS idea and some other ideas sounds cool.

Thank you for these suggestions, you are wild i like it ;)”

I didn’t leave any loopholes

Whenever I had time, I researched. I came up with an idea of a study app for international students studying in Denmark to give them some tips, an idea of a website for to let the students exchange exam papers. The great thing was I also made prototypes. Thanks to some of the softwares and services I used- subdomains, cPanel, Arvixe hosting, Softaculous etc. I shared these prototypes with Karsten and at last he replied:

Hi Anvar, not a bad idea!

Here you will find possible schedules for an interview regarding the internship position, please choose on or get back to me if nothing fits

Yes, I was waiting for this moment, the moment where I can Skype with Karsten and show my enthusiasm.

I replied:

Thanks Karsten for the reply very early in the morning. May be this is the reason why the team calls the company as ‘Morning Train’.

Second, thank you again for giving me an opportunity to get interviewed at MTT and giving me a chance to get to know each other well.

What you can learn: whenever you find time, even 5 minutes, dive into the products, services, history, values, connections to see how you can contribute. Do something practical. This shows you are proactive and you are proving yourself.

Finally had the Skype where no skills related questions asked, still no verdict as there were other candidates

 Before starting the interview, I prayed to Allah that everything would be fine. My mother, my family gave me blessings and prayed for me. I had just returned from my college and the Skype was scheduled at 7:30PM. So, I had mere 1-2 hours in between. While returning from college this time, I felt very happy that at last, I can face and talk to the company face to face. Since this was the first Skype interview I was a bit nervous that would I be able to understand their English accent, what if I didn’t understand?? Other things, I wore a white formal shirt and used my old HP laptop gifted to me by my elder brother. I still remember the very first lines I said to Karsten, “thanks for giving me a chance to present myself……”. During the Skype, I could see the Danish sunny weather and nature. Karsten didn’t asked me much, he just gave me a short description what they do, what I have to do, that’s all. The company wasn’t even bothered about my transcripts and academics, how much subjects did I fail or not. Karsten told that they have other candidates as well for this internship position as well and I have to wait until all interviews are finished to get a final verdict on my selection. I left a thank you email after several hours of the Skype.

What you can learn: Why I wasn’t tested for my skills? because I had already shown them on a basic level. My average skills + passion to join them was able to counter attack the requirement for top skills. So, only skills are the part of recruitment. Recruiters are also humans and they respect passion!

A big hurdle- how I get past through the competitive skills of other candidates?

Recruitment is based solely on how can a candidate bring more skills on the desk unless other factors are considered. Naturally, ideas started coming to my mind. There were other international candidates from Europe fighting for this paid internship. There were total 15-20 applications for 3 intern roles. I had 3-4 days to impress Karsten and the company again and put my best possible efforts. I started researching more and more about the prototypes I developed earlier and asked for feedback. I was developing it, improving it and showing it to Karsten. It was just being proactive and never yourself down. I was so nervous on Sunday night that I wrote to Karsten the following:

Hi Karsten, just wanted to tell you that as the Monday is approaching, I keep on thinking whether what will be the verdict regarding my selection. I have many expectations bound to your company. Hope everything be good 😉

I didn’t hear a reply for that day. I again did the same thing, challenged myself, kept on researching, developing, working on the previous projects asking feedback and things.

Finally, the company accepted me officially!

on 4th May 2014, Karsten emailed me.

I know you are excited to know the answer. And since i have made all the interviews i can say that you are onboard the team – congratulations 😀

Now what was the next step. On 21st May I got my official contact letter. The next step was the visa documents. I was so excited that the same day, I researched out all the information on the process to get a visa or permit. It was really exciting to prepare documents for visa. Now I was happy, I was enjoying.

 

What you can learn: honest hard work paid off. Be honest, work hard from within, It would definitely pay off today or tomorrow!

The Visa process

On 27th June, I submitted my visa application to VFS Global New Delhi with contract letter and lot of supporting documents to make sure I get on the first try.

 

 

I know the girl in pink looks good 😀 but trust me I didn’t intend to cover her. What a postive thinking it was! I had my flight scheduled on 3rd Aug.

How I dealt with 4 months of absence at my college?

Since I had to be away from my college for 4 months which is more like a semester, I had to talk to the management as I would be missing sessionals, attendance, practicals, classes. There was a HODs (head of departments) meeting going on when I had decided to approach them and see any chance of collaboration. I was a little bit afraid. I had all the documents ready with me- the company contract letter, travel tickets, passport photocopy.

 

The room was full of conversations and moment comes when I asked “May I come in sir?”. I didn’t get a pleasing reply. This was the moment I felt I might get screwed if anything got wrong. But I kept my confidence and approach one of the HOD at the front, I still remember some of the lines I said at that time. I said “Sir, I have got an internship in Denmark, so I was willing to go for it for 4 months.” As I remember I wasn’t welcomed and things got wrong or I was unable to speak to them properly. Don’t know what was the reason. I left the room and went to my professor Ravi (the one who had supported me always for my passion),  he said, “don’t worry I talk to them”. He went straight forward to them and said “Sir, this student has got an internship abroad and we should send him. It’s a big deal.” Then the HODs thought for a moment and asked me to come in, they asked me if I have some proof to show I have got an internship, I said that yes I have the contract letter from the company. Then they asked for my travel tickets and visa. I said I have the tickets but not the visa. They asked why? I said “waiting for it to get approved”. They asked me to send it once it is confirmed. My professor said “No problem sir, Anvar can send to me”.  They were like “okay”. Everything went okay and then my professor told me “you fool, you should have come with sweets” to impress these guys 😀

 

Later or sooner, I was accompanied by my friend, Gautam and we went to a sweet shop to buy some sweets. We brought some good sweets, didn’t mind to spent few extra buck if that eases a task 😀 I had the opportunity to go to the top management of our college through my this friend as he was excited to share this news of mine with them. So, we went there and I introduced myself to her (Mona mam, she professionally is responsible for managing the whole college). She got very impressed with my achievement and the fun fact is that that the HOD whom I tried to negotiate with, was also present there. But this time, he was smiling at me 😀 We distributed sweets to almost everyone in the college from librarian to reception, from director to principal 🙂

 

If you have people who understand you and they would definitely back you, things get easier. Our IT department was good and supportive to me, even though I was bad at academics but they knew I am good at something 😉 My teacher Ravi sir, Aarti and Archana mam, HODs and college management they were also supportive. Overall everyone including my friends supported me for which I am happy. Just after a week or two, I got my visa confirmed.

 

what you can learn: be nice with everyone in your college, teachers/professors/HODs/management would support you for an absence for your internship or any document work.

 

 Finally got my visa approved

On 23 July within a month as they say, I got my visa approved from the Embassy of Denmark in New Delhi.

The problem at Delhi airport

(Including so that we students can learn how to handle these situations).

 

I had a flight booked with Aeroflot airlines. I was dropped off at the airport by my brother, mother, sister in law and cute nephew who was sleeping. My mother broke into tears while saying goodbye. Yes, this happens all the time in India. When I approached the airlines counter, a semi-fat Indian lady there at the same asked me for my passport which I shown. She also asked if I had some offer letter, I shown her the contact letter. She asked where I would stay. I said I would stay with my employer since the company arranged that for me. She said “okay, wait!”. She calls her manager and I don’t know what she tells him regarding me. The manager who was slim, suited, and having a moustache asks if I have college ID card, I said no I didn’t have. Then he started explaining things to me that the immigration won’t let me go through, I would be stopped and so on. I further told I have a letter from college which states my identity which I can show him if he want. He said “okay”, you can go and I made him satisfied with all the information he needed. Then he allowed, and asked the lady at the desk to process my boarding pass. I submitted my two heavy luggages (yes, I got a good deal with Aeroflot) , took my boarding pass, and proceeded towards the immigration. The immigration process was super easy. Nothing asked.  The airlines executives earlier seemed a bit worried from me, don’t know what was the reason. I didn’t want to make myself sad on this great day. So I said to myself, let’s go and not to think about that incident again.

 

 What you can learn: always carry an official ID card of your college/university while travelling abroad and always carry minor notes of things such as your accommodation address, supervisor contact details so that whenever the airlines staff or immigration asks, You don’t have to think about it, but you are like, “here it is, Sir/Mam! and there you go!”. Don’t be a stupid like me!

 

 

EXPERIENCE AT A GLANCE

The experience was full of challenges from day 1 like handling the visa documentation, embassy officer, airlines manager regarding small issues, but that was worth to learn and explore something. In Denmark, I lived on an island called Odense which is windy and cold. It was about 12 hours journey via Russia. The route was something like Delhi airport to Sheremetyevo airport to Copenhagen airport to Odense St. I started working the very next day I arrived there. In the company I got an opportunity to work on Web development and team management skills. I worked with other international interns, Paul from Greece and Marius from Romania. Paul taught me a lot of things about Greek culture like fotia me fotia 🙂 (music)They are my very good friends. I also found a
new hobby DJing which I used to do on weekends in our house parties sometimes and once in a bar. I got some very good friends like Calle, Georgi, Elena, Ieva, Edgar, Laura, Crille, Annina, Rokas, Peteris, Clemo, Dexter, Aleks, Alexandra, Tony, Daniels, Bjarne, Peter, Ronja, Glory, Liz, Bob, Dimitris, Catharina, Alex, McCullen, Jayi, Dragos, Ulari, Mariah, Irene, Toms, Giota, Tamas, Anturia, Mazvydas, Torben, Marta, Gizem, Mai mi, Rolands.

 

The very first steps in Denmark

It was a 10-12 hour long flight in total via Moscow (SVO- Sheremetyevo Airport). So from, DEL- SVO- CPH-Odense (by train).

 

My office was located in a small city (Odense) on an Island (Funen) in Denmark. But Odense doesn’t have an airport so, I had to travel through Copenhagen which is well know city then to Odense via train. So, having successfully landed at CPH airport, I could see the Danes  (the Danish people for the first time). The immigration process was super easy. No questions asked. I wished the office,  he offered me a smile and what then, he just stamped the passport. The Copenhagen airport is well connected to the city via metro. I exchanged Indian rupees for the Danish Kroners and I got a very good exchange rate which I was not expecting. Then I proceeded towards the Kastrup Station which is a train station inside the airport to go other cities. I realized I needed a ticket :D, then there were some vending machines but since I had never used one before, so, I was a bit afraid. I tried to use one and it was super easy. Carrying the two big luggage was becoming difficult. With some problems, I happen to reach the train platform where I happen to strike a conversation with two internationals (not sure if they were Danes).

They helped me in getting the right train. After a few minutes, the train arrived and I managed to get my luggage inside it. Then I had to find my seat number which I did. People were looking at me surprisingly because they are not used to see a lot of Indians. As I remember there were total less than 100 Indians in Odense city which is also the third largest city of Denmark. During the travel, I captured some photos of nature, farms, wind mills and specially the Øresund.

 

 

Bridge which connects the two main lands. So, now I was at the Odense Station and again handling the two big luggages and carrying them via escalator was a bit challenging which I did it anyway. Now I was at the Odense Station and Karsten was waiting for me to pick me up.

 

What you can learn: you can always purchase train tickets (‘billet’ is a Danish word for ticket) in advance using www.dsb.dk website for your Copenhagen airport to Odense journey. This can also save a lot of money.

 

The first funny day

My first at the company Morning Train was on 4th Aug, just the next day I arrived here. I dressed formally. As soon as I enter the kitchen/area where the company people used to have breakfasts, I was introduced with my team members, and other people working.

I was also told that wearing formals is not a requirement and in fact most of the Danish workers don’t do that 😀 So, that was the first and last time I wore the formal dress. Generally, Indian parents expect their child to wear formals at their office. The first day was easy, but soon we got the opportunity to work on live Danish projects mainly websites.

What you can learn: be original, be nice to everyone, take the step to introduce yourself to meet at least your team members yourself and don’t wait for them to come and meet you. 

Denmark at a glance, especially for Indians!

Well I got a treat from the company side on my arrival and it was totally Danish food. It was fish cooked in spinach served with rice and sauce. They eat less spicy, simple, fresh food and I liked it. The Danes speak Danish as their first language but they also speak perfect English and government
offer free classes for internationals. The houses are mostly hut shaped, detached, low height, wooden with energy efficient technologies. We used to live in a big villa like this. For Indians, the climate there will always be cold because summers for them is like winters for us. Danes love
riding bikes (bi cycles, yes Danes use the word bike to refer to bicycles). The transport timings are accurate by 1 minute so may be a problem for us Indians ;)

 

My team members

I feel like blessed to find such team members Pavlos Isaris from Greece and Marius Vaduva from Romania. Infact, they are my very good friends too. We collaborated on a great level on projects such as website development, SEO etc. I still remember the time we used to play in the kitchen.

  What you can learn: team members are not just for work, work and work! You need to show your true personality inside your team. Me, Paul and Marius, we had a great bonding because we used to work, play, chat and help each other. So, be great, nice and gentle, be helpful towards them! 

The new skills

I had the opportunity to learn the demands by Danish customers, the perfection in creating a website, you would be questioned if you even try to add a single grey line after the content ends on a website (Danish culture is highly sophisticated about quality). What they want is a strict requirement. Anyway, I got a whole new exposure to the web world such as WordPress website development, designing website using builder themes, basics of search engine optimization, researching open source solutions, working with e-commerce website, learning Google developer tools.

  What you can learn: learn skills!!

Not just computer, I also happen to learn to cook great noodles which got famous in the office and oftenly I gave treats to people in the office.

 

  What you can learn: learn cooking too because you need to be healthy and stay responsible for yourself!!

A great moment

The best moment there I receive a call from our CEO in the morning saying “hey Anvar! Our Olufbagersgaard customer wants the project ready before 1 pm today instead of next week. They want to launch it in a reception event today. Can you do it?”. My reply “Sure. I will try my best.” I relaxed myself and
took a cup of hot black coffee. I did it half an hour before the deadline and rewarded with an appraisal ;)

  What you can learn: if your supervisor would trust you, you might get challenges like this, but these challenges are just to make you standout!

 

The weekend fun and friends

Without fun, it’s not abroad yet! Yes, I also enjoyed there and happen to make a lot of friends throughout Europe. I also had the opportunity to spent a day with a traditional Danish family where I got so much respect, love, learning about Danish culture! I also went to Flensberg, the top most north area of Germany. Also had the opportunity to get to know the high school, TornBjerg Gymnasium in Denmark. I also represented our Indian food at ESN dinner event with a great team, me from India, two from US, one from Latvia, and last one from Germany.

 

  What you can learn: An internship is not just about working and learning on the skills side. It’s a complete immersion program of culture, work, ethics, people, places. So, try to balance your work life to enjoy too!

The journey back home!

 

That’s our team, from right to left: It’s me, Marius (team member), Paul (team member), Martin (Project manager), Karsten (CEO), Bjarne (the coding champion). Oops, where is Peter?

 

 

I felt great to be able to live in such as great country, experience a great culture and its people. It was a complete immersive experience. I returned back to India on 29th November collecting up all the precious memories from back there! What a wonderful experience it was. Thanks to all who made this possible specially Karsten who believed in me, Pavlos & Marius who found a great friend in me, Peter who helped us in understanding marketing, Martin is making us understand planning, Bjare in making us understand coding, my professor Ravi, my college, my family and friends. A lot of my friends ask me, how I actually did it, I say to them, I did nothing, It’s Allah who did it all!

 

  FINALLY What you can learn: never give up, there is always a way, just try to find it. Don’t let your stressed academics come in between your passion!

 

Please feel free to ask or share any views! I like hearing.

Denmark- was this my end?- nopes :D, a remote internship from US was awaiting for me!- stay tuned for it!