Starting the Start-up: Claire Van Raaphorst's London Internship

November 21, 2013

Claire Van Raaphorst, '14
Claire Van Raaphorst, '14 (left), with other University of Edinburgh Educational Programmes Abroad students at London's Tower Bridge. Van Raaphorst is majoring in communication studies and English and minoring in art history. She is the daughter of Paul and Joanna Van Raaphorst of Rochester, Mich., and a graduate of Stoney Creek High School.

An English and communication studies major may seem an unlikely intern for a tech start-up, but Claire Van Raaphorst, '14, tells a different story. She describes her recent experience below.

This summer, I worked in London, England, for a start-up technology business so new that at the time, they still hadn't decided on a name. They hired me for my English major, and I worked on writing and editing their investor document and some of their other business documents.

Since it was a start-up company, I had to have my hand in a bit of everything. I did market and company research and helped write a sales pipeline and sales pitch. I had never done this type of writing before, but I found some instruction on the internet and asked my bosses about their previous experience. Using this and a large dose of creativity, I pulled off something that the bosses were enthusiastic about.

Besides learning a lot about business and business writing, I sort of got Computer Programming 101 on the job. When I left for London I always had to call my brother or dad for any hiccup on my phone or computer. At the end of my internship, when I thought I broke a computer program, I could actually work through trying to fix it.

Beyond living in a foreign country, the workplace itself was a new culture for me. The majority of people I worked with were men and most all had backgrounds in computer programming. I felt pretty lost when they'd launch into explanations of Python code or Javascript. Even when they talked about our business plan or pitching to other investors, I had no background in what they were talking about.

On the flip side, I was the resident expert on writing. I made substantial revisions to many important documents, to make them more clear and understandable. The business owners respected all parts of what I did even though I was an intern.

Living in London was crazy, but I caught on fast to reading maps and being on my own. Coming out for dinner with a friend one evening, we walked right into a movie premiere. I scurried through the crowds and got up to where actor Simon Pegg was signing autographs. It was definitely an event I wouldn't find in my sleepy Michigan hometown!

This experience gave me a great feeling of empowerment that a liberal arts degree in English and communication studies has a very real and powerful application in a real-world business place. So many people ask me what I will do with my majors, and I can now say proudly that I can do anything.