True Life: I'm an O-tern

From adjusting to a new place to learning the lingo: An O-tern reflects on week one

The first week as an ICF Olson O-tern is less sink-or-swim, and more doggy-paddle-through-rapid-waters. As the New Business O-tern for the 1to1 group, I can confidently say I successfully doggy-paddled to the end of my first week, but not without a few incidents where the water (a.k.a. marketing jargon, advertising acronyms and analytics lingo) went right over my head. Conversations over rooftop lunches with the other O-terns quickly proved that I wasn’t the only one who was overwhelmed in this new environment.

The O-ternship itself is well-renowned and competitive, and this summer’s batch of doe-eyed recent college grads does not disappoint. We’ve got O-terns from all over the Midwest (just how we like them) and our roles span ICF Olson’s creative, PR and social, 1to1, analytics, new business and strategy teams.

In our first week, we were instantly thrown into ICF Olson’s culture. We were greeted warmly as we paraded around the four-and-a-half floors like ducklings in a single-file line—shy, but very excited ducklings. We spent a good chunk of our first morning learning about ICF Olson as a company, its history, and what to expect for our summer as O-terns.

Around midday on our first day, our respective teams brought us out to lunch. You’d be surprised at how hungry a morning full of tours, introductions and first-day nerves would make you! It was a relief to have another O-tern in my lunch group, but everyone I was with was extremely welcoming and fun to talk to.

The rest of the day and the next couple were a blur of more orientation and infinitely more introductions. I’ll admit I have yet to memorize all 300-something employees’ names but I’m not giving up! We spent at least half of the week going to capability introduction meetings, where we met people representing a variety of teams, from digital strategy to project management to PR and social. This was something I really enjoyed and appreciated, as my previous internships never gave us the chance to meet people outside our discipline. As a relatively shy person who might not approach these people otherwise, I really valued the opportunity to put faces to email signatures and learn about agency offerings that I might not work with on a day-to-day basis. Past internships of mine have also prided themselves in how nice and welcoming everyone is, but that hasn’t always rung true. We may only be in our first week, but I have yet to walk past someone in the hall or the rooftop or even just the elevator who hasn’t at least smiled at me. Other workplaces, take notes! A smile can go a long way when you’re the anxious new kid.

We also have already dived headfirst into our O-tern project. Our client: Seven Sundays. Our goal: Make muesli cool again. It’s an exciting task. Seven Sundays is a local business with national reach that has the goal of bringing Europe’s breakfast of choice (made of oats, grains, dried fruit and spices, by the way) to popularity. By the end of the project, we will bring awareness to muesli and even get a muesli truck out to NorCal to garner even more attention.

It’s now the end of our first week and I’m starting to feel more at home. I’ve memorized where the bathrooms and the café are, two very important places to know. When I asked my fellow O-terns if they had any stories from the first week, I was relieved to hear their experiences were pretty similar to my own! One told me she didn’t realize a daily workout was part of the job description, as she has to go between floors multiple times a day. Many of us have quickly realized the coffee pots stay full for a reason—the majority of us haven’t been up before 8 a.m. since freshman-year lectures. (I’m writing this three cups in, by the way.) In all, we’re just really happy to be part of the ICF Olson family, and excited for what this summer has in store for us. There are so many things to look forward to: our O-tern project, working with real-world clients, and most importantly, unlimited 25-cent cans of LaCroix.