After Abroad | ISA Internships in Australia

An interview with Elizabeth Gibson, a North Dakota State University alumna and an ISA Internships alumna. Elizabeth participated on an ISA Internships program in Australia in Summer 2015.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a 21 year old North Dakota State University graduate with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and a minor in Business Administration. I am a baker obsessed with chocolate, and I love eating dessert more than anything in the world. I am an avid rock climber, and I would love to travel to Thailand so that I can do free climbing over the ocean. My two older brothers are brilliant and social butterflies, so I have learned a lot about life from them. I also have the two cutest dogs in the world who haven’t left my side since I came home from Australia.

Can you describe your experience through the internship matching process?

My experience with ISA was amazing, because I felt as though my preferences were taken seriously. I spoke with my Program Manager, Shannon, on the phone and via email often, so I felt comfortable that she understood what I was looking for in an internship and that she was more than capable of matching me with a great company.

Where did you intern?

I interned for Hamilton Island Weddings, which is a wedding planning company on Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday Islands.

What was a typical day at your internship like?

A typical office day included a lot of work with the wedding planners in which I learned about the wedding event orders, vendor communication processes, the booking process for couples as well as for venues, and all other aspects of the planning process.

During my internship I was also able to sit in on pre-wedding meetings with the planners and the couples so that I could see how everything was reviewed and covered the day before a wedding. The day-of weddings, the planners gave me tasks to do and let me assist them from the start of the day until they turned the reception over to event staff. Each wedding that I worked on was different, and helped me work with problem-solving skills when situations came up on the day. Some of the problems that I encountered included damaged cakes, wedding dresses and suits with stains, groomsmen that forgot their ties, couple’s whose families flights were delayed or cancelled, entertainers with sound equipment issues, etc.

4th of July celebration in Australia with my internship co-workers
4th of July celebration in Australia with my internship co-workers

What did you learn about your industry during your internship?

I learned that anything can happen no matter how much you prepare, and that it’s your ability to keep couples calm and find a quick solution that is the most important trait in a wedding planner. The industry is growing for wedding planning services as people realize the ease of not having to do everything by yourself. This is an incredibly fast-paced and time consuming position that allows you to help couples with the most important day of their lives. I was a part of a team that devotes each day to making every wedding on Hamilton Island the first page in the best love stories ever written.

What was your biggest accomplishment at your internship?

I was trusted to run a full wedding at the end of my internship from the pre-wedding meeting to the end of their reception. I have never had an employer have this must trust in my ability to do my job before, so it was incredible when I got to the end of the day and knew everything had run smoothly.

What’s your favorite story from your time in Australia that you find yourself telling over and over again?

The first wedding I helped with was an elopement (just the couple – no guests) that took place on the famous Whitehaven Beach. I got to fly with the wedding planner, celebrant, photographer and the couple in helicopters over to the beach. We did the ceremony, and afterwards the wedding planner and I got to sign this couple’s legal paperwork as their official witnesses. I got home that night and couldn’t calm down enough to sleep after the incredible once in a lifetime experience I had just had.

What happened after your finished your ISA Internship program?

I was actually offered a part-time position at the company, so I stayed with them for another four months until my visa expired. I then traveled to Melbourne with my mother who had come to visit me, until we flew home to Minnesota for Christmas.

Did your internship change your career path?

Absolutely. I went into this internship looking for experience so that I could better my chances at getting a position for a hotel. I believed that Hotel Management was the path I was meant to be on, but after this internship I realized I will never be able to resist the allure of wedding and special event coordination.

Did you do any traveling around the Pacific?

I traveled to Sydney, Melbourne, and the North Island of New Zealand. I loved being able to explore the country, because each city is unique and has so much culture to offer.

Enjoying high tea in New Zealand
Enjoying high tea in New Zealand

I was able to do the Bridge Climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge one night, and got to star gaze over the entire city. This was probably the second most amazing thing I did in Australia, with snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef being the first.

New Zealand
New Zealand

The dreaded question: what’s next for you?

I am currently job searching state-side for an event coordinator position. I would love to go back to Australia and work, but haven’t found a position in which I would qualify for a work visa at this time. It is difficult having to accept that the job I loved so much, and the friends I made are almost 9,000 miles away, and I am sitting in -10 degree weather in MN, and searching HCareers from 9am-5pm.

The World Awaits…Discover it.

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