Interning abroad has undeniable benefits. Work experience in an international setting stands out on your resume and gives you a definite boost in the job market. An internship abroad is also a great way to meet locals, immerse yourself in the culture, and make a positive impact.
As Terry Cumes, managing director of Intrax explains, "international internships provide valuable professional, cultural, linguistic, and social skills that help students succeed in any work environment."
Interning abroad gives you the unique opportunity to interact with people who are not tourists or other students, get constant exposure to the local language in a professional environment, and contribute to the community. Ultimately, plenty of people can study abroad in Italy, but not everyone can say that had the opportunity to intern in an art gallery in Florence!
..and I have learned a great deal about the inner workings of a respected and influential non-profit organization in the process.
How to Find an Internship:
Finding an internship abroad doesn't have to be difficult. There are a few ways to approach the search:
You can apply directly to a program that will place you in an internship abroad. Some of these programs offer internships in conjunction with a study abroad program, or they offer coursework combined with work experience. For example, Boston University's well-established internship program offers international internships along with classes for academic credit.
Other programs will place you in an internship for a period of time, during which you will exclusively work at the internship. They will often help you get class credit for your internship. Dream Careers, Intrax, and CDS International are some examples of these types of programs. They are often competitive to get into, but they will guarantee an internship placement once you are accepted.
It is also possible to simply find an internship on your own if you are already studying abroad. Talk to the advisers and teachers in your program who might have information about local organizations that have worked with international students in the past.
For example, when I studied abroad in Cordoba, Spain, my advisers helped me find an internship at the World Fair Trade Organization Europe, a world-wide organization that promoted the principles of fair trade. WFTO Europe is very receptive to international volunteers and has taken on many in the past. One American volunteer, Elizabeth Dean, said of her experience, "I have been thrilled to work for a cause that I so strongly believe in and have learned a great deal about the inner workings of a respected and influential non-profit organization in the process."
Considerations & Challenges:
Because most student visas make you ineligible for paid employment, you probably should not expect to find a paid internship. Additionally, if your language abilities are shaky, interacting with people in a professional environment will not be easy. On top of the language barrier, the culture and rules of a workplace abroad might be different than what you are used to and require some adjustment.
Every company we work with has been carefully vetted by Intrax to ensure that the internship is a professional learning experience.
It is important to decide whether to line up an internship before leaving or whether to search for one on your own once you arrive. On the one hand, using a placement service such as Intrax guarantees that every internship opportunity is vetted and legitimate. On the other hand, talking to someone you know to connect you locally might land you a more genuine experience.
Benefits of using a program:
Once you are accepted into the program, you will be guaranteed a placement in an internship. By making the connections with employers for you, the program providers eliminate the difficult task of reaching out to people on your own. They will also frequently help you navigate visa regulations and make an effort to help you get course credit for your internship.
Terry Cumes explains of this process, "Intrax works closely with university students and host companies to personally match each person with their ideal internship, based on the student's past work experience and career goals for the future. Every company we work with has been carefully vetted by Intrax to ensure that the internship is a professional learning experience."
Benefits of going it alone:
Finding your own internship requires a bit more independence and drive. You have to know what you want and how to go after it. On the down side, you risk coming up empty handed. On the plus side, however, you will not pay the hefty fees that can be associated with internship placement programs.
Llanos Gomez of WFTO Europe explains that WFTO Europe looks for, "people interested in creating a better world for everyone," regardless of their country of origin. "The team wants [interns] to be part of the work and their motivation is essential for us. Ideas, working plans and willingness to learn and improve our current world are basic," she notes. Organizations such as WFTO Europe abound, and all it takes is a little motivation to find them.
Why should you spend your precious time abroad at an internship? On top of the immersion experience, the language exposure, and the new friends, your ability to market yourself after your internship is a great incentive. Employers are always looking for people who have distinguished themselves with international experience. An internship abroad will not only put you a step ahead on the job market, but it will also be a fun, fulfilling experience. As Terry Cumes explains;
In today's global economy, it's increasingly important for students to have international work experience. As the job market becomes more competitive, having a unique professional experience overseas is a great way to stand out from crowd.