Lehigh University student spent the summer getting hands-on experience in Chile through internship program

Noah Griffin spent summer 2023 doing something he never imagined when he first came to Lehigh University from his home in Pasadena, Calif. Griffin, a junior finance major in the College of Business, participated in the Iacocca International Internship Program in Chile’s capital city, Santiago.

Griffin interned with Watgen, a startup solar company. He wrote business and marketing plans to introduce an innovative solar panel developed by the company, targeting industries that included construction, mining, emergency response, and off-grid housing industries.

“It’s a solution that allows you to drop (the panel) somewhere and immediately start generating power,” Griffin said. Watgen is a small company, with just three employees and six interns that included Griffin, so he and another other intern were given significant autonomy in developing a marketing plan.

“They simply said, ‘Develop something that will help us provide more value for the company,’” Griffin said. He also researched inexpensive solar providers for local flood victims.

“The Iacocca International Internship Program provides practical work experience and research opportunities grounded in global context, said Carol Strange, Director of International Internships at Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs. “International experiences such as Noah's internship help enhance students’ career readiness as well as their intercultural competency."

A young man waves and smiles at the camera while standing on a street in Santiago, ChileOne of the most significant challenges was being in a country where he did not speak the language. Watgen’s owner was fluent in English, so communicating about projects was not difficult. It was different in meetings that were conducted in Spanish and often included unfamiliar, technical terms.

“It was interesting to be in a setting and not understanding. I was just trying to pick up on body language and social cues,” Griffin said, adding that he relied on co-workers and other interns to translate for him.

He notes that the preparation he received in iiPATH, the semester-long program that prepares students for their Iacocca Internship, was useful in navigating the experience.

“It prepared us to think in a way we’re not used to thinking,” Griffin said. “It helped us understand our own strengths and weaknesses and how to interact with other cultures.”

Griffin became interested in applying for the International Internship after participating in the Iacocca Institute’s Global Village. The Global Village brings together university students and young professionals in a global community for both a virtual experience and an in-person program on the Lehigh campus to learn entrepreneurship and leadership skills.

“I got a taste of the global experience in it,” Griffin said. “I’m still in touch with people I met there.”

When selecting possible sites for his internship, Griffin indicated he was willing to accept an assignment in any country. Interning in South America was not something he ever expected to do, but the fact that the Iacocca International Internship is fully funded for accepted students made it possible.

“I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the financial support,” Griffin said. “It was definitely kind of a surreal thing to get accepted into and it’s something that is a blessing.”

Cultural immersion – a significant part of the Iacocca Internship – extended outside the workplace. During his eight weeks in Santiago, Griffin lived with interns from other U.S. universities in a homestay in the Providencia district. Noting differences in day-to-day living between Chile and the United States, Griffin says Chileans were careful to turn off lights and that city streets were cleaner than urban areas at home.

“They were very conscious of the environment, and everyone took that responsibility upon themselves,” he said.

Although he found Santiago to be a bustling city, like many in the States, he enjoyed how easy it was to travel around it by bicycle, which he could rent for the equivalent of about $5 a month. “It was really cool being able to feel that independence without a car,” Griffin said. The location also allowed him to participate in other activities, such as visiting museums, learning traditional dancing at a local restaurant, and even a cooking demonstration. A trip to the mountains allowed him to try snowboarding.

The work he did in his internship has helped Griffin to clarify career direction: “It opened my eyes to different skills and different styles of working that would suit me and play toward my strengths.” He realized that he functions best in situations that require change and adaptability rather than in highly structured settings. His work in Santiago also made him want to learn more about analyzing data, so he is earning a business analytics certificate since returning to Lehigh.  

Griffin would recommend the Iacocca International Internship to any students – but with a caveat. “It’s not a vacation,” Griffin said. “It will sometimes be uncomfortable, but it will be an experience you won’t forget. I guarantee you that.”