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International Internship Improves a Cybersecurity Student's Career Post-Graduation

He already had a job. Most of his studies were completed. Soon, James Lakko would graduate, but he still had one thing left to accomplish: an international internship.

Every year, students attempt to start internships in hopes of getting real-world experiences. While many intern within the United States, some explore their career fields in international settings. Cybersecurity alum James Lakko decided to pursue this option in a country that no other employee from his company had interned in before: Poland.

Over a year before Lakko began his internship, he took a position working as a Security Operations Engineer part-time at Qualtrics, an American experience management company with co-headquarters in Provo, Utah and Seattle, Washington. Over time, Lakko developed an appreciation for one of his teammates, Maciej Weksej, who worked at their location in Kraków, Poland. It seemed that Lakko could learn much from Weksej, but doing so virtually would not work as effectively. Instead of meeting up online, Lakko wanted to meet in-person, and he wanted to do so for a semester-long internship.

Like other students desiring to gain school credit while abroad, Lakko needed to get approval from the BYU Kennedy Center Office of International Study Program (ISP). Instead of selecting one of the prepared options, Lakko decided to format his own international internship, something the ISP office calls “the individual experience.” This process requires students to proactively organize and fulfill expectations for study abroad experiences, and it involves a longer approval process.

Lakko appreciated the opportunity to bond with his teammates while creating successful collaboration for the 24/7 needs of Qualtrics' international security operations center's coverage and growth.

The administrative assistant for the ISP office, Rachel Mehling, assisted Lakko in his application process. “We first and foremost encourage students to look at the programs we've already arranged, but the individual experience program is there for students who want to go beyond that,” Mehling said.

Lakko waited patiently as he overcame different application barriers. By the fall of 2021, he found himself standing on a charcoal colored floor in a white walled building. He had made it to Qualtrics’ Kraków office. The team welcomed him, and Weksej, who also led the team, prioritized helping Lakko with his projects. Weksej made it clear to Lakko and the other team members that his schedule was open to anyone who needed assistance with anything. Lakko recalled him saying, "If you get blocked on a project, slap a meeting on your calendar and I’ll help you."

With such a supportive team, Lakko quickly accumulated more cybersecurity skills. Over time, he helped Qualtrics implement better security audits and response systems, and his abilities increased so much that he began to train other employees on those processes.

However, his international circumstances brought different challenges. Lakko had to work extra hours and attend late night meetings in order to synchronize with the 6-9 hour time difference between Poland and the United States. While his fellow Kraków employees seized the chance to practice English with him, language barriers in the town often required him to use Google Translate when buying groceries and doing different errands.

Lakko not only enjoyed his time learning about cybersecurity, but he felt tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to visit the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp and learn about a history that many regret.

Still, he equally enjoyed his time in and out of the office. Lakko took time to explore the history of the city and discovered places that refined him. Like many places in Europe, the German army had invaded and occupied Kraków during WWII. Uniquely though, the German soldiers did not destroy the city like they did in other towns. Kraków today has a concentration camp open for visitors, so everyone can look back on the history and avoid repeating it. “Seeing that they preserved the camp so they could remember what happened and hopefully never let it happen again–that's something I'll never forget,” Lakko said.

When Lakko returned from his internship, he graduated from BYU and transitioned into a full-time position at Qualtrics. He continues to work with the team in Kraków, and can now empathize with them and better adjust to their needs, thus creating a more efficient, pleasant work environment for all. Without that internship, Lakko would have learned less about cybersecurity, learned less about his fellow employees' circumstances, and may have struggled adapting to his post-graduation work expectations.

“I’m very grateful that BYU let me go on this experience,” Lakko said. “Actually putting it all together was tough, but totally worth it. I’d recommend if someone else has the desire to do it to totally take advantage and do it.”