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Into the unknown

On Tuesday, May 28, I entered the SSDM office in Troy, Michigan to start my three-week journey with one of the coolest and strongest teams I would ever meet.

In February 2019, I was selected as one of 30 young people to participate in a Russian Business Leaders program by American Councils for International Education. For four weeks we would come to America, meet other professional fellows, have sessions on leadership and business management from industry leaders and shadow our supervisors in local businesses and universities. We were distributed to 5 hub cities: Austin, TX, San Diego, CA, Denver, CO, Chicago, IL and … Detroit, MI.

Until March we had no idea where we would go and all of us secretly hoped to go to California. From Hollywood movies, we were all craving modern offices with ocean views, warm weather and hopefully celebrities living nearby. OK, if not San Diego, Chicago sounded pretty cool, too.

Overcoming fear

So I’m not going to lie that when we found out we are going to Detroit, we were upset and scared! A brief search on the Internet would have us believe that Detroit is a very tough place with high unemployment and crime rate. Photos showed a ghost city. No kidding, I even considered not going!

A bit later I found out that my placement would be with SSDM. And let me tell you, this is when a website came to the rescue! Looking through the SSDM case studies and seeing videos of young adults working hard and having fun, I thought it must be not so bad.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Fast forward to May 2019. Detroit turned out to be nothing, NOTHING like the pictures show. Not only is the city “rising from the ashes,” it also has this incredible vibe of creativity and ambition. Honestly, there were people on our Russian team who nearly cried on a tour of the city … this is how much they were moved by the stories they heard. But the most impressive part is people. The people who live in Detroit, who are building Detroit all over again. These people who are so proud, you can’t help but feel the same way.

It wasn’t my first foreign exchange experience; I also was an exchange student in high school. But this was very different, as I had never before been able to experience the professional side of the culture. I was in the good hands of Laura Oliveto and I will forever remember how, after my first five minutes in the office, I was already shadowing her on a new business discovery call. There are a lot of calls and meetings at SSDM throughout the day, and as I was sharing this fact with my Russian fellows, we couldn’t help but remember the old meme:

Are you lonely meme

Let’s meet!

With a huge difference though! SSDM meetings are super fast and efficient. After one marketing meeting, when it was time to update the task list, Kelly had already done two of them!

My takeaway: always have an agenda for the meeting and document all the promises that were given there. Also, always follow the time frame! Too many tasks, too little time.

The team was very open and friendly. It’s a great feeling to know you can always ask for help and when asking a silly question, to be told there are no silly questions. I felt at all times welcome and supported and sometimes curious: is there a limit to their patience? Short answer – I didn’t quite get there.

Different is sometimes good

It is a very big deal at SSDM to have total transparency. And total means total: transparency in workflow, in conversations with clients, between each other and even – literally – transparent glass walls. This was something unusual and uncomfortable to me at first as I come from a different mentality that makes us very protective of our personal space. This took some time to get used to, but I managed. Also helps to keep your desk clean!

I have always worked on the client side of marketing and being on the agency side for the first time was very overwhelming. SSDM has a lot of clients, which to me means: multiply my job by 10! You really do get used to it, but it takes a lot of effort to make sure that things are in order. My takeaway: dedicate at least 30 minutes twice a week to tidy up all your Google Docs and tasks to manage your work efficiently.

New friends halfway around the world

Three weeks literally flew by. I had to leave with some of the questions still not answered, as I just had so many every day! But I know I can simply email the team with my questions and get a response. It’s crazy how this team can be such hard workers but also have fun. I teared up a little at the going-away party that SSDM threw for me. I’m in love with Detroit, I love them and there are not enough thanks in the world to express how grateful I am for letting me a part of their team for a while.