Internships abroad can be a brilliant way to see the world, but chances are you won't find one quite like the experience 24-year old Miranda Lee has just completed. She spent four months travelling around Europe on a double decker bus with Memrise, a language learning app.
Now she's home, we caught up with Miranda to talk double decker living, the value of internships abroad, and the power of language.
Hi Miranda! The last four months have been pretty interesting for you! Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to?
Sure! So I’ve spent the past four months on the Membus, an epic 4-month road trip around Europe aboard a double-decker bus, collecting video content for the language-learning app Memrise. It’s been a pretty mad adventure to say the least, travelling over 12,000 miles through 9 different countries with 8 fellow team members.
And while the complex - and often unpredictable - logistics of manoeuvring a 1970s double decker (and its crew!) haven’t always been easy, it’s certainly made for my most memorable professional experience to date.
It certainly sounds like a very involved internship! What was a typical day like on the trip?
To be honest, being on board the Membus was so atypical that it’s difficult to describe an average day! Whether spending a morning with a silicon pistol mending cracked windows, or breakfasting with a charming old electrician (in downtown Florence no less) while he fixed our melted Wi-Fi box, each day on the Membus would throw up fresh surprises. And that’s what I liked about it so much.
Once we had the bus in perfect nick again, I would split my time between organizing logistics, liaising with Memrise HQ, writing the next blog, or using any free moments to go out and explore the town! Often, the nicest part of each day would be joining up with the filming teams for dinner (which was normally the latest culinary feat by Renato, our extraordinarily multi-talented driver) and reviewing the day’s shoot together.
Had you travelled much before taking this internship?
I studied modern languages at university, so I had spent a good deal of time travelling before, especially around Europe. But travelling by Membus gave me a totally new perspective, and not just of the myriad challenges involved with taking a very old bus (which wasn’t always 100% EU-friendly).
In order to capture languages in all their diversity, our mission took us not only to the big capital cities, but also to lots of smaller rural spots that I would never have ordinarily visited, and where the locals’ baffled reaction as to why on earth we were there was priceless.
The thousands of natives we met en route opened my eyes to the rich variety of accent, local tradition and cultural idiosyncrasy that can exist within one country. It was a fantastic way to experience the great variety that Europe has to offer, and all through the prism of language.
What was it like living on a double decker bus with others for such a long time?
Actually a lot more comfortable than you might think! Dan, our conversion man, had done a great job: turning the lower deck into a very refined kitchenette-cum-dining room and the upper deck into the cosiest dorm room. I was amazed by how quickly I became accustomed to “bus life”, and by the end of tour we definitely considered it our home.
Don’t get me wrong, there were moments where I could have murdered a hot bath and a room all to myself, but looking back, the magic of the Membus was the communal spirit on board. All the best moments you get to share with a bunch of others, and the hardest, you have companions to help you carry the load. If ever there was a successful way to bond with your colleagues, this is certainly it!
Do you think it’s better to learn the local language before you travel, or to learn it while you’re in the destination?
I’d say a bit of both! It’s always going to be valuable to learn the local language before you travel, not only as it helps you get by once you’re there, but also because it’s so satisfying to put your hard work into practice.
That said, we all know the best way to learn a language (as goes the motto behind the Membus’ mission) is to learn directly from the locals themselves. So I would travel with some basic knowledge of the language, as it will only improve, and considerably so, while you’re there.
What are the advantages of being able to speak the local language?
For a start, I think you can have a much richer travelling experience by being able to interact and build relationships with the locals. Language can help to unlock so many barriers, not only in terms of understanding, but also in terms of revealing the personality and entrenched culture of each individual, which is exactly what we tried to incorporate into our videos.
What’s more, whenever you find yourself in a spot of trouble (needless to say, this happened more than once with the Membus), it helps a great deal if you can communicate directly with the locals. An example of this was our first experience with mechanics in Salamanca, where knowing how to say “leaking rear oil-hub seal” in Spanish (or near enough) came in pretty handy.
If you had to give a first-time traveller just one piece of advice, what would it be?
To not rely so heavily on any travel guide, and just go out exploring yourself. The best moments for me over the tour have been the times where I’ve carved out my own favourite spots, and discovered undocumented attractions in each location. One great piece of advice I once received was to explore each new city by foot. That way, you inevitably get to see so much more and develop a much deeper feeling for the place.
Finally, what’s next for you now that the internship is over?
Good question! The truth is that I’m not entirely sure at the moment. This internship with Memrise has really helped me to understand what I do and do not enjoy, what I’m good and not so good at, as well as giving me a lot of experience in logistics, marketing, and project management. I would love to move onto something which still involves languages and travel, but which helps me to develop my skills to the next level. If anyone’s hiring, feel free to get in touch!