Last spring, Dennis Miller, executive director of external communications for Bryan, told the Principles of Management class about an internship opportunity at a bank in Bratislava, Slovakia. After approaching Miller after the class, a series of meetings and correspondence began that would lead me to the week-long internship in Bratislava, Slovakia, with the bank Slovenska Sporitelna (SLSP) during Thanksgiving Break.
Through his contacts in Slovakia, Miller was able to set up an internship much like he had done with seniors Nathan Eastwood and Jonathan Rajala, who both went to Bratislava on a two-week internship last summer.
After I got off the plane in Vienna, I was met by my host for the trip Peter Bujna, who is a project manager in the IT Strategy and Governance division of Slovenska Sporitelina. He walked me around the city, showed me some of the sights, introduced me to the ongoing Christmas Festival, and even took me to a local castle with a colleague of his.
Looking at the different sights and listening to the different sounds reminded me of a typical city, but once I had some time to walk around and explore on my own that Sunday, I realized just how much it was not just like any U.S. city.
All the traffic is on the same side as in the U.S., and there are basic street directions as well as aggressive drivers much like any city. The big difference is really in the amount of change that the city has gone through in the past 10 years. A dozen or so skyscrapers scattered across the skyline of the city, along with more than five multi-story business centers (or malls), were all created in the last 10 years as business started moving into the area.
The city of Bratislava is a center for tourism in Slovakia. This is due to the diversity in architecture and festivities, the cheaper price for certain commodities such as wines and coffees, and the location of it being close to the center of Europe.
One of the most difficult barriers is the language, and Bratislava is no exception. One advantage to speaking English is that many people in Bratislava can speak English, but that does not mean everyone there knows English. The best course of action is not to be afraid of running into the problem. The times in which English was absolutely necessary were very minimal. Most of the time buying something or getting somewhere was pretty self-explanatory. I had the advantage of having my host, Bujna, guide me and act as a translator. Both he and Miller went out of their way to make sure I could handle the time I had to myself.
The first day at the bank was fairly short, I was able to sign the appropriate documents, and then it was off to the call center. A very gracious Gabriel Sepesi, manager of the entire call center, and another manager of sales calls, took time out of their day to show me the structure of the call center and the front-line of sales over the phone. I was also able to learn the structure of inter-department relations from their point of view.
The second and third days I spent at the Treasury. My time was spent in three different departments. Everyone was very helpful and took their time to describe to me the different elements that make up the business of banking on an investment level. Whether explaining basic sales and storing of different securities to structuring the wording of agreements and evaluating whether a security can be offered, the different teams in the treasury department did what they could to explain their job and responsibilities to me on a level I could understand.
The fourth day I spent in the Retail Department. The managers in that department put me to work calculating whether or not a loan would be acceptable and for what amount could the bank take the risk. Later on in the day I was able to do some research for them on a company they were looking into doing business with. The hands-on experience was crucial in solidifying the concepts they were explaining to me.
The last day I visited three departments in rapid succession. The first was IT Project Management, and the host was my host for the trip, Bujna. He was very clear and had put together a very extensive presentation that I could also refer to later on because he knew he did not have much time to show me everything over a cup of coffee.
Then it was off to the Communications Department where I was able to meet with one of the communication coordinators in charge of internal communication. He described the responsibilities involved in his position. He showed me that internal communication is crucial in keeping the employees connected, and he also showed me how external communication is important to keep clientele connected to the bank. SLSP runs a very socially aware business with different projects helping the community, including events where the employees can donate blood or participate in a badminton tournament.
The last department that I visited was Market Analysis, which does exactly what the name implies and much more. Not only do they prepare reports and estimates on the economy, the market, and the perception of their bank from their clients’ point of view, they also gather with the minister of finance of Slovakia in order to give their analysis of the current plans and budgets purposed. The minister of finance often consults with SLSP since it is the largest bank in Slovakia.
My last full day on Saturday was filled with a lot of final gift shopping and sight-seeing. Bujna invited me to a day of traveling through the outskirts of the city and seeing some of the dams on the Danube. These proved very interesting as the smaller dam is used in international canoeing competition due to the rapids that the dam can create and control. World and European competitions are held there every year. We also went to a modeling exhibition where model vehicles like planes, cars, and boats were put on display. It also served as a market for modeling kits and parts. The end of the day was spent at one of the local shopping centers where Bujna treated me to a great meal at a local pizzeria.
The next morning at 5 a.m., my bus took me to Vienna where I was to catch my flight to London for a five-hour layover. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to leave the airport and go to London for what little time I had, I was unable, due to the amount of work I had to do before I returned.
I plan to go back to Europe sometime and would very much like to stay in Bratislava. I encourage any students to do the same. Get out of the country, out of the bubble. I also recommend this specific internship for all business students, though I recommend they do it over the summer and stay for a month in order to be able to have more time at the bank as well as time to experience Europe.