Gabriella Rivero is a Texas native who is majoring in fashion merchandising at the University of Delaware. Recently returned from an international experience in Hong Kong interning for VF Corp., she has her sights set on attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City for her senior year. Rivero hopes to pursue her dreams of working in the fashion industry and continuing to travel the world.
In the early spring of my sophomore year, I was waiting for the elevator in the University of Delaware’s Alison Hall. I was on the phone with my mom when a piece of paper with the words “HONG KONG INTERNSHIP” across the top caught my eye. I scribbled down some information and stepped into the elevator. After my mom asked me how school was going, I mentioned what I had just read. Immediately, she screamed into the phone, “Gabi, you’re going!”
I was in shock. I had just returned from studying abroad in Spain and Italy and had not heard the end of it from my parents about my accidental shopping sprees. I could not believe that my parents were willing to send me to the other side of the world for two months. After a brief information session with Prof. Kim and Prof. Lennon, and several long conversations with my parents, I thought: “What do I have to lose?” Little did I know that I really did have nothing to lose—and so much to gain.
After being accepted for the internship, my countdown began, and before I knew it I was on a plane to Hong Kong, where we arrived late in the evening of June 5. I remember being exhausted upon our arrival at the airport, but the second we packed our things onto the bus taking us to our hotel, I felt incredibly alive and excited. I stared out the window in awe and failed miserably at taking pictures through the glass. Our first few days in Hong Kong were amazing. The other interns and I were in extreme tourist mode. We saw as many things as we could and ate everything in sight! The architecture, the food, the people, the nightlife â€¦ it was more than any of us could have imagined.
Inevitably, the first day of our internship came. We arrived at VF Corp. an hour early with butterflies in our stomachs. Our orientation consisted of icebreakers, massive amounts of information about the company, meetings with the senior management team, and finally introductions to our individual teams. Initially, I was petrified to have been separated from the others in my UD group, who had already become my family. I had been assigned to work with the Retail/Marketing Division of Vans, and that group could not have made me feel more welcome. They all introduced themselves, and I even got my own desk, complete with name plaque, computer, and office supplies. I was thrilled.
After getting settled, I met with my boss/supervisor Mitchell Whitaker. We talked about me and what I wanted to get out of my internship experience with Vans. After talking for a bit, Mitch gave me my main assignment and additional tasks to complete over the next seven weeks. I was going to be formulating my own case study. Through research, visits to the Hong Kong market place, and comparing Vans to its’ biggest competitors, I was going to put together a presentation and deliver it to my team. I would discuss my likes, dislikes, and suggestions for how Vans could improve and develop the brand as a whole in the APAC (Asia Pacific) region. At first I was a little overwhelmed. I somehow had to put together an entire case study in only seven weeks, while simultaneously helping my team of 16 people with any other tasks they needed me to complete. At the time, I did not realize how beneficial this assignment would to be to my experience as an intern and how much fun I was going to have.
The seven weeks that followed were a whirlwind of hard work and great times. Working at Vans was never short of fun. We wore jeans and Vans every day. It was not odd to see someone skateboarding around the office, playing the guitar, or testing out the latest version of Tony Hawks’ Ride, an interactive video game. The lifestyle was laid–back, but when it came down to business, things got done. Although this seemed like a real job, I did take part in a few “intern tasks.” Some of these included packing up shipments to send to local brick–and–mortar stores, shipping international packages, assembling seasonal catalogs, and putting together goodie bags for our “Vans–Go Skateboarding” PR event. Even though these tasks appeared to be simple, I was still able to learn a lot from every assignment that was given to me.
Through the grapevine, I had heard of other interns getting to go to China to see factories and participate in activities outside of the workplace. Since I was involved in some tasks that were not necessarily at the top of my list of things to my internship, I decided to take the initiative and talk to Mitch. I was determined to take away as much as I could from this experience. As my mom always says, “Ask and you shall receive,” and she was right. The next day, I was on a ferry with two of my other supervisors to mainland China to visit one of Vans’ shoe factories. It was such an eye–opening experience! I toured the factory with my own personal guide, who explained what each person did and taught me about each of the machines. It was very interesting to see how much work went into making a pair of sneakers.
Probably my favorite part of my internship was working with the marketing manager for Vans–APAC, Jenn Kong. After we talked about what I saw myself doing with my career in the future, Jenn gave me lots of extra projects to work on. First, I got to help plan, set up, and run the event I mentioned earlier, Vans–Go Skateboarding Day. This event was created to promote awareness about skateboarding in Hong Kong and around the world. We had contests, prizes, food, and camera crews covering the event. It was an exhausting day, but one of the most fun days of my life.
Second was my “claim to fame” and the most exciting part of my internship—styling a Vans photo shoot for Milk Magazine, which featured local and international celebrities. I selected styles from head to toe for each model, celebrity, pro skater, and musician involved in the shoot. I also helped with the different sets and was in some test shots. Working at the photo shoot was so much fun. It was a whole different side of the fashion industry that I had never been exposed to, and I realized how much I loved it.
To conclude my internship, I presented my case study to more than 30 people, including my Vans team and VF’s senior management. It was a total success. I received a standing ovation from my audience and ultimately an internship offer for the summer of 2011.
Working and living in Hong Kong was something I never expected I would be doing when I started college. The experiences I had and the connections I made during my trip were unparalleled. The skills and knowledge I gained, and the memories I have from those two months, will last me a lifetime. I am currently unsure if I will return next summer, but no matter what, Hong Kong will forever have a place in my heart.