An Internship in New York: How I got there – Charlotte Senger

I decided to spend my third year abroad in the United States of America doing a six-month internship in the art world, which was not the easiest choice because of the political atmosphere nowadays in the US. However, I decided to go down this difficult path knowing how beneficial it would be for my future career. Getting an American visa is hard and must be considered as well as making sure that you meet all the requirements before starting the process of finding your internship.

I started doing research for my third year abroad already during my first year. My research included the requirements, where I should go to have the most fulfilling experience and which professional experience would be the most useful for my future career. My love for Arts led to my first professional experience in an auction house before starting my bachelor’s in international management at King’s and continuing this path was a logical decision. New York is considered to be the world capital for arts, thus this is where I focused my research.

Contacts and your network are primordial in the art world unlike other sectors such as finance, for example, where the application process is based on your performances. Knowing that, I went to art fairs in London and Switzerland in order to build relationships that could help me in the future. Furthermore, I reached out to friends, friends of my parents and family in order to find someone who could help me find a six-month internship in the New York art world. Some art institutions have an online application process; however, you must apply in the Spring 2018 to start in September 2018 and King’s requested that we had secured an internship by January 2018.

By the very beginning of my second year at King’s, my godfather reached out to me and informed me that an art dealer and curator was looking for an intern as of September 2018 in the Big Apple. I sent him my CV and a personalized cover letter, and he agreed to a Facetime interview. After a second interview, the art dealer informed me that he would hire me, and we started planning an internship program together.

I took the decision to fly to New York, in November 2017, during Reading Week, to meet him and see if it would be a suitable internship for my career. Since his company is very small and that he works mainly with freelancers, I could not find much information about him and his company online, so I felt the need to first meet him, see where he works and how he works before going further. The trip went really well, and I got to meet other art dealers, curators as well as gallery directors, this trip was the perfect preview regarding how my internship would be.

King’s had approved my internship program in January 2018, however, when I started my visa application in March 2018, after thorough research on which visa I needed (J-1 visa), the Visa agency informed me that it will be difficult for me to obtain my visa. My future employer was a sole-proprietor and his office was at his personal home. After weeks of struggle, I hit a brick wall in the visa application process, and I could not apply for the visa. My future employer, as a sole proprietor, did not have “workers compensations”, which is an essential document to get the visa. That is why starting the process as early as possible is essential as well as making sure that you and your future employer meet all the requirements. There are no negotiations possible, so in order to save you time and energy, you can research on the American Government’s website as well as on J-1 agencies’ website and I also saw a lawyer in London, who warned me about those difficulties. I decided to bear in mind her warnings but went ahead with the process anyways and I should have listened to the lawyer. In a visa application, do not listen to anyone who never went through the same process as you, I heard so many things that did not apply to me or were simply wrong.

Seek advice from professionals, visa agencies and peers who did it, also the Trump Administration has changed many immigration laws, another element to bear in mind.

We are at the end of May 2018, few months before my start date and I have no internship due to the “workers compensation” issue mentioned earlier. I had to think quickly and be efficient to find an alternative as soon as possible. Thus, I reached out to as many people as I could, even contacted my previous employer at the auction house, but could not find anything, all the internships were taken as of September. Therefore, I made the trip to Basel, mid of June 2018, to go to the Art Basel Art Fair, which is one of the most important art events worldwide. Galleries come from all over the world as well as art dealers, curators, art advisors, consultants, etc. I went there for 48 hours with a VIP pass that the art dealer gave to me, since he was not going, and with a few meetings in my calendar. The art dealer and some of my contacts had reached out to some people, explaining my situation and informing them that I would be talking to them about the possibility of a six-month internship in New York City as of September 2018.

Art Basel is one of the busiest weeks in the art world. I had my CV and cover letter ready as well as a two-minute speech to convince them to hire me. The first meetings did not go as planned and nobody had an internship position available. However, my meeting with the senior director at Anton Kern Gallery in Manhattan, who I had met with the art dealer back in November 2017, listened to me and decided to hire me on the spot. They usually take interns for two or three months, but he accepted a six-month long internship since I was an International.

After confirming my new internship with King’s and submitting another Internship host agreement, I reach out to my J-1 visa agency, told them that I had found another internship and that we could start the process again with another company. But the clock was ticking, the application process takes 4 to 6 weeks and by then, it was already the end of June. Since the company was bigger and could provide all the right documents quickly, I was able to get my DS-2019, which allowed me to apply for my visa at the US Embassy. My application was accepted, and I had to go the US Embassy for the interview, which is the last step of the whole process. However, my interview was in August, 10 days before my start date, so I requested an “emergency appointment”, which was approved. I went to the Embassy and had my interview where my visa was approved. I could then book my plane tickets and start with my flat hunting in New York City.

The Embassy recommends not to book your plane tickets before your visa is approved, for obvious reasons, but if you wish to book them anyways there is nothing they can do. My visa allowed me a 30 day “grace period” before my internship start date, so I arrived in New York 10 days before. Going through customs I had all the documents I acquired during my application process, documents proving that I can finance myself during my time in the US and official documents given by the agency and the Embassy. All of them can be requested going through customs. Everything went well and I took a cab to my Airbnb, which I had rented for a week in order to find a sublet in the city.

Living in New York City is not easy, I was staying in New York for seven months and needed to sublet, since all the brokers require a one-year lease and have very expensive fees (usually a month of rent). I downloaded all the apps, checked all the websites I knew as well as Marketplace on Facebook and other groups on social media. However, I avoided Craigslist, a platform known for weird ads and scams. The choice was crazy, and the price was crazier, which I was of course aware, a nice room in Manhattan is at least 40% more expensive than in London (Zone 1 & 2). I had been warned about scams, and you must be careful, they are everywhere! Do not pay for something you have not seen, most likely it does not exist, and you will lose your money, do not pay any fees before seeing the flat or the room. When I started my research, I had some criteria, well you give them up one by one, the competition for sublets is insane and everything goes quickly. I must have written a hundred messages per day to receive less than 10 responses and then out of those only a couple would still be available. Flats in Manhattan are very small and the myth of having a view is truly a myth unless you are willing to pay between 3,000$ and 4,000$ for a room. Having an elevator is also rare, especially in Brownstones and having a washing machine in your apartment is luxury! Be careful of what they call “flex rooms”, which are rooms that are usually “built” in the living room and where you basically just have a sliding door for privacy. Those rooms are the size of a shoe box with restricted privacy and for the same price!

As I said earlier, your criteria list gets shorter by the day and I had two days left in my Airbnb and no flat to rent. I started looking at studios, they are of course more expensive and no luck on this side either. I started to freak out, but I saw a new ad on Marketplace. I texted the girl who was subletting and luckily, I was 15 minutes away, saw the room and told her on the spot I wanted it. If you do not say it then, the next person will, and you will have lost this opportunity. I got the room and could move in only on Monday, so I had to take a hotel for a couple of nights. Finding a sublet in New York is harder than in London, time consuming and very competitive, I found mine within a week and while looking full time. After talking with friends in the City, it appears I was lucky to have found a place to stay so quickly!

My advice would be taking your time! Arrive during your “grace period”, look for a sublet full time on all the platforms and applications. You can start doing some research beforehand, in order to understand how it works, what the prices are in each area and what kind of flat you would get within your budget. There is no need to book viewings before you arrive in New York, those rooms will be long gone for sure! Be careful of scams, they are easily recognizable, they approach you and often it is too good to be true and they ask for money before the viewing. This is why so many internationals are victims of scams, because the urge of finding a place from overseas leads to payment before seeing the place.

As always living with roommates is cheaper and will allow you to meet new people, who will help you and give you advice about the New York Life. Bear in mind that New York City, is a city that needs to be discovered, that there is always something else to do and that you will not spend too much time at home!

*The information above is provided on Charlotte’s experience and may have changed since her time abroad. All students looking for information on visas are strongly advised to do their own independent research ahead of their time abroad.