Summer intern at Operadora Ganso Azul (Blue Goose) in Mérida, Mexico
For most college students a summer internship can be simple resume building experience, but for Millsaps student Sarah Hartzog completing an international internship in Mexico opened her eyes to how cultural differences affect day-to-day business relations.
Hartzog, a Spanish major and business administration minor from Silver Creek, is the first Millsaps student to participate in an international Spanish and business internship. In May, she began her summer adventure by shadowing the annual Global Business in Latin America class, led by Millsaps associate professor Harvey Fiser, and attending an intensive language training school in Mérida, Mexico.
In June she began working as the summer intern at Operadora Ganso Azul (Blue Goose) in Mérida. This "maquiladora" makes specialty uniforms for law enforcement and fire departments. Their customers include the United States Postal Service and the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
"Everyone knows that life experiences can provide so much more than a textbook ever will. More than anything, I think this summer has made me more aware of differences in culture," Hartzog said.
"At OGA, I can see such a difference in the way I tend to want to approach a situation as an American and the manner in which will be most successful with the workers. There is a different mentality among people from different countries with regards to work, to life, to everything. Acknowledging those differences and working with them, not past them, is what is going to make me a better worker or boss."
At OGA, Hartzog works with the co-owner of the company Gus Gordon. Gordon, who is also a professor of accounting at the University of Texas, has been working with the Millsaps business school's study abroad classes for a number of sessions.
"One of the greatest things about Sarah is that she is unafraid. When given a task that she might be unsure about, she is willing to learn and figure it out," said Fiser about why Hartzog was chosen for the internship. "Her Spanish was very good and in a few weeks of being immersed in the language she was able to easily communicate - even in the business world. Plus, her business interest and knowledge fit in perfectly to what the factory needed in an intern."
As an unpaid intern, Hartzog has spent the summer on a variety of tasks including making training videos and working with managers at the company collecting data from different departments to recommend ways of lowering production time and costs in the manufacturing process.
"While tracking down and staring at numbers all day can become tedious, I've been given an opportunity to see first-hand the work that goes into making a business profitable. Each project also has me practice Spanish as I chase down department heads to solicit their help," Hartzog said.
In Mérida Hartzog is living with a Mexican family. Her Mexican "padre" is a veterinarian and her "madre" is a homemaker. Being constantly surrounded by Spanish-speaking people, she feels her language skills have dramatically improved.
"I've heard two different people comment in the last week that I speak 'very good English.' I'm not sure if it's because they think I'm Mexican or because they know I'm from the South. For the record, I'm flattered by the former and insulted by the latter."
Hartzog's interest in Spanish began three years ago on a mission trip to Sonora, Mexico with First Baptist Church in Brookhaven.
"This internship seemed perfect for me and I jumped at the opportunity," Hartzog said.