Dickey/Class of 1966 Internship Report

 

Name: Yelena Shklovskaya '02

Employer: KPMG Treuhand-Gesellshaft

Location: Berlin, Germany

Term: 2001 Winter

 

            A little company background: KPMG is an international company, is one of the so-called “Big Five” (other members of the group: Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte and Touche), and specializes in financial services such as consulting, tax & legal advising, corporate finance, and assurance. I discovered this opportunity during my LSA (Language Study Abroad) term sophomore year, when I met a Dartmouth alumnus who is employed by KPMG-Berlin. Interested in a career in international business and in further improving my knowledge of German (and knowing that I simply could not fit another official Dartmouth term abroad into my remaining time at the College), I inquired about the possibility of an internship for my upcoming off-term, mailed in my resume, and a couple of months later received an e-mail from one of the partners at KPMG-Berlin inviting me to work in the Assurance division during the busy period following the year-end (that’s when I was able to really appreciate the D-Plan, which allowed me to take winter term off). Most of the paperwork was taken care of by the company – for which I was thoroughly grateful – and the only thing I had to worry about was finding a place to live. After some time, I was able to rent a room (for a very reasonable price) from a woman who acts as a regular host mother with the LSA program.

 

            Assurance – aka auditing – was probably not my number one choice; I was more interested in perhaps consulting or corporate finance. In addition, I obviously had no background in this particular field since Dartmouth does not offer us any accounting courses. However, I did not seem to have much choice in the matter; plus, I was simply excited to have received the invitation. I assumed that I would be working with the Dartmouth alumnus, who was actually considerate enough to answer whatever questions I had prior to the start of the internship (including sending me a brief job description) and even spent a good part of December studying accounting with the help of a basic text which I found in my house. (I have to say that when I arrived in Berlin in early January, I was glad that I took the time to prepare – having some background in the field was definitely a great help.)

 

On the whole, I have to say that I am satisfied with my experience. It was, without question, a challenge – and not only because of the language hurdle As I have learned, university students in Germany who participate in internship (aka “Praktikum”) programs come into the office already with a significant background in the subject matter – quite a contrast to the American system, where specific and concrete knowledge of the field is not acquired until the later stages in the education, such as business or any other professional school. German “Praktikanten” are given substantial tasks almost right from the start. I, meanwhile, had to start practically from scratch. Nevertheless – or perhaps on account of that – I think that in the long run I have learned a lot, and obviously not only about Accounting and Assurance. It was a crash course in German business practice, in its standards, its culture and ethics. I have improved my knowledge of everyday as well as business German and learned about the differences and similarities between German and American accounting, auditing and reporting principles (and realized just how prized the knowledge of US-GAAP standards comes in Europe). The difficulties which I have encountered because of the language barrier (for, no matter how hard my co-workers tried to convince me otherwise, my German was far from seamless) certainly did not prevent me from picking up a lot of “insider information” about this field of work. I had the opportunity to spend some time reading the company’s internal manuals – which were written fully in English since they were intended for use by branch offices worldwide. I also had a chance to get to know KPMG the company and the people who work there. My co-workers were very nice and understanding – it was certainly a privilege and a pleasure to work with them. The conversation at the lunch table frequently and inevitably turned to exchanging stories about how things work in the US versus how they do in Germany – everything from the education system to highway driving and pop culture to the political situation. (It was also amazing that pretty much everyone I talked to picked up on my Russian background, even though I never volunteered the fact that I was born in Russia on my own – apparently, even though I learned German in the United States and speak what I like to think is flawless English, my German carries the same accent and sentence structure as that of the Russian immigrants in this country. I guess some qualities and thought processes have been inextricably ingrained into my head during my early years…)

 

My time at KPMG was divided between two assignments – both “off-site,” so I barely spent any time in our main office on Kürfurstendamm. On each of them, I (or any other intern) would be joined by people relatively new to the company as well as by those already experienced in the field, and usually a so-called “manager”; towards the end of the project, a managing partner would also join us for a couple of days. I think the way my schedule was planned, it worked out very well. During the first several weeks, which I spent at BerlinWasser Holding AG, I participated in the audit of the individual company. The work schedule was not terribly crazed and my colleagues could describe and explain to me a lot of new concepts. I was able to hear about and study the vocabulary and the legal framework of German accounting and audit practice, as well as that of corporate organization and regulation (for example taxation rules such as the so-called Solidaritätzuschlag, aka “Unity Tax,” which was introduced in order to finance the integration of the weaker East German economy into the newly united Germany). I was also able to finally see how a lot of the things which I read about in a book during December were actually applied in real life; the theoretical concepts acquired a tangible, recognizable quality. On my second assignment, I worked on the individual audit of JenOptik AG, which is one of the most successful companies in former East Germany. It specializes in high-tech optical, laser, and electronic equipment and is located in a relatively small town called Jena south of Berlin. Since we were not only out of our main office, but also out of Berlin, we were living in a hotel (the bill, of course, was picked up by the client), and eating our lunches and dinners in a shopping center next to the client’s office – so we got to know the four restaurants there pretty well, and I grew to welcome the home-cooking at my host mother’s house when I came back there for the weekends… But back to the job description. In Jena, I also participated in the second step of the year-end procedure – that is, in the audit and consolidation of the entire corporate group and in the writing of the official audit opinion report. I was able to work with the audit report and see how previous audit work on individual balance sheet and Profit & Loss statement accounts is translated into a report which is issued to the company and to the public.

 

So what exactly did I do? I have to admit that at times it was a lot of busywork: organizing, typing, double-checking paperwork, shuffling around numbers (the Euro area is right now required to do a big part of their reporting in Euro units, and let me tell you, that can get quite ugly). But there was also a number of interesting and challenging assignments – reading a venture capital firm’s contracts with its start-ups to identify possible business risks; proofreading the balance sheet and income statement of a client; reviewing the cost reporting and financing of an investment in a new subsidiary; reading a draft of an internal guidance manual and then having the opportunity to discuss it with a manager and make suggestions as to the possible clarifications and revisions to the draft. Moreover, as I mentioned already, I was able to pick up a lot on my own – and, frankly, given my knowledge of the audit practice and also of the German language, that is where I had to begin. (I also have to say, that as I am starting to realize, this is how internships often go, no matter where you are.)

 

Speaking of locations, if there is one thing that I enjoyed more than everything else, it was being in Berlin. I got to know the city during my Language Study Abroad term, and it is at the moment my favorite place to be – and you have to keep in mind that I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit and to see much of Europe. It is a city that never sleeps, a movie-going city which screens not only the mandatory Hollywood blockbusters but also charming and serious films from all over Europe, the city which is still struggling with its complex and difficult historical and cultural heritage, a city with an impressively low crime rate and an equally impressive number of cultural centers, museums, and theaters (recommended: the Romantic Gallery in Schloss Charlottenburg, the world-renowned Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Egyptian Museum), a city with an excellent public transportation system and the most fascinating patchwork of districts which seem to have been thrown together without any rhyme or reason and which you can explore for days and days on end, with the ultra-modern Postdamer Platz just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column and with the carefully reconstructed cobble-stone streets of Nikolai Quarter right next to the gray and metallic TV-Tower, that memorial to the communist occupation of the city. And a contrast to that was Jena, in the heart of former East Germany, an absolutely adorable town full of red roofs and streets climbing up and down little hills, and all the while home to a number of high-tech, cutting-edge companies and an upscale hotel swarming with visitors from all over the world. On weekends, I was able to visit other parts of Germany – Munich, Frankfurt-am-Main, Salzburg. (All right, so Salzburg is technically in Austria, but let me tell you this – its train station is considered part of the German rail system, and I found the language easier to understand than the dialects in some parts of southern Germany…)

 

As I am writing this report, I am in the middle of my last week here in Berlin. I hope to use the experiences and the contacts which I have acquired here to apply for an internship – or eventually a job – at the KPMG office somewhat closer to home – that is, in Boston – and, in what is now not a very remote future, hope to spend some time in the Moscow office. I am still in the process of trying different things and different fields of work; and with the internship at KPMG-Berlin, I definitely got a taste of the professional life. I think I will have to do a good amount of thinking and figuring over the next year – and this term has definitely given me some things to consider. Hopefully, the summer term will work out just as well.

 

I think what is left for me to say is thank you – to the Dickey Center and the Class of 1966, for making this experience possible, to my alum contact in Germany, who got me here, and to everyone at KPMG-Berlin who have made my experience as enjoyable and worthwhile as possible – I cannot imaging being here for 3 months without the friendliness and good humor which I was lucky enough to encounter.

 

 

Yelena Shklovskaya '02 is an Economics major, with a minor in Public Policy. Born in urban Russia, she moved to the United States in 1993, and has thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to return to Europe as part of her Dartmouth experience. She spent the spring of her sophomore year on a Language Study Abroad in Berlin, Germany, and went back to the continent a year later for an exchange program at Oxford University in England. She loves to share her enthusiasm for the college as an active member of the Tour Guide program. One of her other major commitments has been doing research work for Tuck Business School and as a Presidential Scholar in the Economics department. Yelena hopes to work in New York or Boston after she graduates next year and is planning to eventually attend business school.