8 Common Mistakes While Interning Abroad


It’s no secret that interning abroad is can benefit you in numerous ways. The experience alone will look great on your resume, and arguably it could be even more awesome than studying abroad!

But it’s also no secret that you get what you give when it comes to your time abroad. As an intern, it's easy to make mistakes, but avoid these eight (that we *ouch* keep seeing!) and you’re sure to earn yourself an incredible experience.

1. Not taking your internship seriously

Meghan Whalstrom in Madagascar

Yes, it’s awesome and exciting to be living abroad. You’re going to want to take advantage of the opportunity, have fun in your new city, and maybe even travel. But those are secondary to your internship; you’re not on vacation. Don’t slack off, come in hungover every morning, call off excessively to go on trips. Focus on learning, improving your skills, and getting the most out of your internship, then kick back and enjoy your surroundings!

2. Not having the proper language skills

Interning abroad tends to be more immersive than studying abroad. Unless you’re interning in an English speaking country or with an international company, your internship will likely be in the local language. And while you may be able to get by as a student with so-so language skills, in an internship you’re going to be expected to be able to competently perform your work in the local language -- which will likely include up-to-par listening, speaking and writing language skills.

If you’re interning through a program there will probably be minimum requirements, but even if you meet those it’s probably a good idea to do some brushing up, or even consider taking a brief language course in-country before starting your internship.

3. Not setting goals

What’s the best way to know if you had a successful internship experience? Set goals. Figure out what skills you want to gain or improve upon, how fluent in the language you want to be, what kind of experience you want to build upon, or what kind of direction you want to have at the end of your internship. You will get so much more out of your experience if you have goals you are working towards and the focus to keep moving forward.

An internship abroad can give students an edge in their careers by helping them gain global perspectives and hands-on professional work experience. Most importantly, interning abroad is personally enriching and can give students more confidence and independence. Living and interning in a new country is an exciting challenge that must be met with determination and an open mind.

Meghan Tankersley, Global Experiences

4. Not keeping track of your efforts

It may sound like a pain, but keeping track of what you do at your internship is an incredibly worthwhile thing to do. When you’re looking back at your internship in a few months and trying to craft a description of it for your resume, having records to look back at will be helpful. Each day, before you leave your internship, take a moment to sit down and write down all the major tasks you completed that day. This should be something you do in addition to journaling or blogging, which you are hopefully also doing to document your experience!

5. Not utilizing your co-workers

One of the best things about interning abroad, as opposed to studying abroad, is the opportunity to spend the majority of your time with locals. Working every day with your co-workers offers up a great chance to form strong relationships and have an especially immersive experience.

Get to know your co-workers, ask them questions, learn from them and soak up their culture firsthand. Show them you’re interested in getting to know them and their customs, and you may just find yourself with some fantastic opportunities -- such as invites to dinner, or even cultural activities or holiday celebrations. Don’t pass those offers up!

6. Not keeping an open mind


You’re going abroad to experience another culture and way of life, so don’t forget that. Especially when you are in an workplace atmosphere, some of the differences in culture may be frustrating, and you may even feel you can’t perform your best work while dealing with some of these differences. Take a deep breath and accept it. It’s all part of the experience.

“Having the right expectations and an open mind is vital to a successful internship abroad,” says Meghan Tankersley, Inbound Marketer for Global Experiences, which provides international internships for university students and graduates. “If any student goes into an international internship expecting everything to be flawless and life as it is back in their home country that person will be bound to have a miserable time because reality and expectations will never align.”

7. Not taking the time to reflect

Set aside time -- halfway through your internship, at the end of it, and then maybe again a few months later -- to sit down and really reflect on your experience. Look back again at those goals you made and how much you achieved toward them. Look at your accomplishments. Think about what the experience has taught you about yourself. Did you learn this is what you want to pursue, or perhaps that this field wasn’t for you after all? Did you discover you want to get an international job next? Dive deep, taking this time -- and multiple times -- to reflect now will be immensely helpful when you find yourself out in the “real world” and trying to figure things out!

8. Not keeping in touch after your experience

After you’ve worked so hard to form strong relationships with your coworkers, don’t let it fall to the wayside when you leave! You never know when these kinds of connections might come in handy. (Perhaps you might just want to return to your host country to work some day!) Or you might just find they provide some of the best references when you’re conducting your job search at home.

Of course, no experience will work if you’re constantly trying to follow rules. But these 8 simple suggestions should serve as a guide to making the most of your internship experience. There’s nothing worse than returning home from what could have been a life-changing experience and looking back to find you didn’t get what you should have out of it.

Go into your international internship with your eyes wide open and a plan of attack -- paired with a lot of flexibility! -- and you will be on your way to a memorable and enriching experience that will stay with you and benefit you for years to come!

Photo Credits: KL Skyline, Peace Corps Rockstar, Meghan W. and Peter Swain
Rachael Taft
Growing up in the Midwest, Rachael couldn't wait to get out and see the world. She's studied abroad in Italy and Thailand, interned abroad in Sydney,...