Student Profile - Halee Polson
Halee Polson

Student Profile
Halee Polson

When Halee Polson left her hometown of Hartsville for a trip to Indonesia, she expected to encounter unfamiliar situations. But she wasn’t prepared to defend her personal property from a mischievous primate.

 

“We went to a huge temple in Bali, and there were monkeys everywhere,” she explains. “And this one monkey just comes up and grabs my water bottle from me! It was a little scary, but they were friendly, and they climbed all over you. It was like the real Jungle Book!”

Luckily, Halee was able to retrieve the stolen goods and escape the encounter with all of her belongings.

It’s now one of her favorite memories from the month she spent living, working, and traveling as an intern in Indonesia. It may be a lighthearted example, but it represents one of many experiences she didn’t expect—and of everything she learned while abroad, Halee says it was the unexpected (and sometimes uncomfortable) situations that taught her the most.

 

Wanderlust

Despite her stories of exotic primate encounters, it’s not hard to tell that Halee is, at heart, a Southern girl. Her warm, friendly disposition and her neatly styled long brown hair both hint at her Southern roots, but it’s the telltale note of twang in her voice that gives it away. A Hartsville native, the senior history and business administration major spends her spare time tutoring in the writing center or playing with her 3-year-old niece.

“I’m really big on family,” she says, mentioning that frequent home-cooked meals are a perk of attending college close to home. But don’t get her wrong: “I’m not a homebody,” she’s quick to clarify. “I definitely want to travel more.”

In fact, that love of travel is partly what brought her to Coker. Studying abroad was always a dream of Halee’s, and when it came time to choose a college, Coker stood out for the flexibility of its programs. When she researched Coker’s variety of study away opportunities, which range from two weeks to a full semester in length, Halee knew she would find a program to fit her needs. “I didn’t know if I wanted to do it for the entire semester, but I knew I wanted to do it,” she says. “Here I had the opportunity to choose.”

And she did. In July 2012, Halee and two other Coker students became the first group to participate in a new month-long internship program working for Indokemika Jayatama, a chemical supplier in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

Business time

For Halee, the program’s appeal was twofold: the chance to visit a new continent, and the opportunity to learn firsthand about international business techniques. Like most college students, Halee didn’t arrive on campus knowing exactly what she wanted to study. But business was always in the back of her mind. “I had to write a business plan in high school—we had to create a mock business and everything. And that really interested me, so that’s what pulled me into wanting to find out more,” she says. (Her second major, history, was added on later – just for fun. “I’m pretty nerdy,” she confesses with a laugh.)

On campus, Halee explored her interests by getting involved with groups such as Enactus, an international nonprofit organization that aims to enable progress through entrepreneurial action. Halee likes how the group helps underprivileged people by teaching them business concepts. “So it’s not just giving to people, it’s giving them knowledge,” she explains.

But the internship in Indonesia gave her a chance to explore the world of business in ways that her classes and extracurricular activities couldn’t.

Each week in Jakarta, the students had a chance to work with a different section of the company. Halee dabbled in marketing and research, but focused on sales and accounting, the areas she’s more interested in pursuing as a career. “They tailored it around what we wanted to do, which you don’t really get in a lot of internships,” she says.

Throughout the internship, Halee worked with accounting programs, met with clients and traveled all over Indonesia to every division of the company. She visited warehouses and docks to learn about international imports and exports, experienced international business practices first-hand and met employees from every branch of the company.

The work experience was challenging and hands-on, but Halee says she was able to build on her business education by applying what she’d learned in her Coker classes to a real work environment. “All of my business courses definitely went straight into what I was doing,” she says.

 

Culture shock

Of course, the trip wasn’t without its difficulties. From accounting programs written in Bahasa (the official language of Indonesia) to employees who laid down mats next to their cubicles to pray during Ramadan, the cultural differences were more numerous than Halee anticipated. “I’ve traveled to parts of Europe, so I thought that I would be fine,” she says. “But it was totally different from any places that I’ve traveled before.”

But the struggle of adapting to a foreign language and an unfamiliar culture, she insists, is one of the most valuable experiences of a study abroad program. ““You don’t understand their business concepts, but you work to learn them and interact with the people and understand their lifestyle,” she says. “If you learn to overcome that, then when you go to apply for a job you’ll be much more versatile in what you can offer.”

Coker believes that experiential, hands-on education helps students transition from college to a work environment, and international internships take this to the next level by preparing students for an increasingly globalized world. “Internships abroad expose students to a ‘different way of knowing,’” says Darlene Small, assistant dean and director of the Center for Engaged Learning. “You learn to live and work with people in a different culture. You prove your ability to adapt to a business model that is influenced by their values, which may differ from our own.

“At Coker, we believe that our graduates should understand the interdependence and interconnectedness of the world we all live in. They should be ready to take their place as citizens and leaders of a global community.”

Halee admits to encountering challenges along the way, whether it was exotic food or language barriers. But instead of resisting, Halee embraced the difficulties along with the perks. “The international aspect really pushed me outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “It allows you to do things that you wouldn’t have to do here. It makes you grow.”

 

What’s next

Halee bubbles over with enthusiasm about her Indonesian adventures. But when asked to single out the most valuable part of her experience, she goes quiet. “That’s a hard one,” she admits. But she isn’t struggling to find an answer—she hesitates because it’s difficult to choose just one.

In the end, it’s not the boost to her resume, or the people she met—or even the monkeys. It’s something less tangible, but infinitely more important: it’s the newfound confidence and the fresh perspective on life that leaves Halee feeling like she’s capable of more than she ever imagined.

For now, Halee isn’t quite sure where life will take her after she graduates in May. She mentions getting her MBA, learning another language, maybe even working abroad for a few years. But wherever she lands next, Halee knows that her experiences abroad have opened her mind to the multitude of possibilities in her future, and she encourages anyone who can to pursue similar opportunities. “You don’t know what happens to you when you have to do something on your own in a foreign country,” she muses. “I think it’s something that anybody who has the opportunity should do. I would go back in a heartbeat.”

 

 

For more information, contact Laura Hoxworth - 843.857.4103

 
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