It’s no secret that upping the ante to gain experience in the workplace earlier on (read: before college) is becoming increasingly vital. As a former university instructor, I can speak from personal experience: colleges, universities, and even future employers want to see a long track record of success both in and out of the classroom. Those clubs, sports, and volunteering activities are important, but now internships are becoming more and more popular. And necessary!
As these tough economical times persist and the number of bachelor's degrees conferred rises, that internship can be the edge you need to surpass other qualified candidates. A domestic internship can give you an edge...but an internship abroad can skyrocket your resume or college application to lengths you haven’t even dreamed of.
Yearning for that acceptance letter to an ivy league school? Can’t quite pay for the private university that has your your perfect major? Or do you just want to escape your small hometown for awhile - and make your friends totally jealous? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then an internship abroad while you’re still in high school may be just the ticket for you. You can build impressive experience to wow the admissions teams at all the top universities, impress the review board for a full ride at that private, out of state college, or get a nice change of pace from your one stoplight town.
Now, I’m sure that just the thought of interning abroad raises tons of questions. Where should I go? What kinds of things can I do? How much will it cost and how can I afford it? When is the best time to do an internship while still in high school? Where will I live? Don’t fret - planning an internship abroad is easier than it sounds. Keep reading for answers to all of these important questions.
How do I start the process of finding an internship abroad?
Trying to find an internship abroad can be a daunting task. When I was looking for an internship as a sophomore in college, my only friend was the trusty Google.
Luckily, you have far more resources at your disposal. A great place to start is social medias: to search Twitter (and now Facebook!) for potential leads, use hashtags like #internabroad or #internship paired with the country you’re interested in. Plus, if there’s a particular company or organization you’re interested in, follow their social media sites and connect with their LinkedIn page.
Even if you aren’t ready to apply now, it's a good idea to start gathering information so that preparing an application when the time comes will be much easier.
Remember, social media could also become your internship. More and more companies and organizations are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and the like to engage their customers, build a community, and get the word out about who they are and what they do. Let’s be real: you’re on social media a ton already anyway, so why not use those powers for good?
Where can I go and what type of internship will I do?
A better question to ask is where can’t you go! If you have a country or region in mind, chances are there is at least one opportunity there for you. And remember, the sky is the limit when it comes to types of internships.
A domestic internship can give you an edge...but an internship abroad can skyrocket your resume or college application to lengths you haven’t even dreamed of.
Since more and more students are doing them abroad, there are far more opportunities to find something that best suits your needs, interests, and goals. Use your internship as an opportunity to develop new skills and help determine what type of career you might want to pursue. Here are some popular types of internships and hot-spot locales.
- Work at an HIV/AIDS nonprofit in Buenos Aires - excellent for nursing, pre-med, and health care focused hopefuls.
- Assist with information flow and education in Kenya - perfect for those on an education and communication path.
- Try your hand at PR or marketing in Scotland - perhaps this is where your social media skills could come in handy!
- Expand your graphic design skills in the Czech Republic - a fabulous fit for the art-favored folks.
- See how the business world suits you in China - a paradise for those pursuing accounting and business administration.
- Customize your best fit internship in New Zealand - a great option for anyone and everyone!
These are just a small sampling of potential internships, so if you don’t see what you like, don’t stress! Read through our vast library of resources to find more opportunities based on your desired region. We know there's a perfect internship abroad waiting for you!
How much will an internship abroad cost? Can I afford it?
If your internship research was anything like mine, you were a bit floored to realize that you have to pay to intern. What!? You mean I have to pay someone to work for free!? How does that work? I didn’t understand it at first either, but let me break it down for you.
- Providers typically serve as a liaison between you and the potential organization where you’ll intern. Establishing relationships with organizations, companies, and businesses takes time. Providers take care of this for you, so you don’t have to find awesome internships on your own! They’ve cultivated these relationships and taken the time to get to know them and understand their needs. As a result, they can find an internship that meets your skill set and goals.
- Providers serve as a vetting system - you wouldn’t want to work 60+ hours cleaning or working in environments that are unsafe, unhealthy, or just plain unfit! Providers ensure that internships will be mutually beneficial and that you will not be taken advantage of.
- Rarely anything in the organization and administration world is free. Providers coordinate paperwork, applications, and scholarships and provide recommendations.
It's important to know that there are some internships you can do for free. Also, many providers offer a scholarship program to offset some of their fees, travel expenses, lodging, and the like - you just need to know where to look! Take the time to dig through the provider's website or shoot them an email. You might also look into the number of different scholarships for interning abroad that are available to high school students.
When is the best time to do an internship abroad? And for how long?
Another big question is a matter of when to do the internship. During spring break? Winter break? The summer? Which summer? I would recommend that you pursue an internship during the summer before your senior year. This ensures that you can highlight the experience on your college applications. You'll also be mature and old enough to be away from friends and family for an extended period of time, and you'll still have the opportunity to take advantage of all the fun high school activities before you graduate.
You internship can be any length you'd like! Most are at least two months and can last up to six. Depending on the length of your summer break, you can easily do a two month internship and return in time to hang out with your friends and family before the new school year begins.
Who should organize my internship abroad?
There are a number of different organizations that specialize in facilitating international internships for Americans. The key is to find a program that aligns with your professional development goals and run with it. Though there are bunch of internship programs to choose from, here's a list to help you get started in your research:
Where will I live?
Most internship programs will assist with organizing housing, and you’ll typically live with a host family, in a shared apartment with other interns, or in a dormitory. It will be based on personal preference and availability.
When I interned in Córdoba, Argentina, I lived with a host family and had roommates from Brazil, Texas, and Tennessee. I learned a great deal about the local economy and just how hard my host mom worked to make ends meet. Not only did she host at least three foreigners in her home at one time, but she worked as a painter and a social worker. Talk about a hard worker! She was also my local guru and guide. When I got sick, she directed me to the best and most affordable hospital. When I was looking for suggestions on where to stay in Buenos Aires, she arranged for me to stay with her friend. And when I had questions about the bus system or cultural misunderstandings, she was my in-house teacher.
I strongly recommend living with a host family so they can assist you with whatever you need on site - something you most likely won’t get living with other interns. However, make sure to consider your own goals and needs and to choose a housing situation that's right for you.
What can I do outside of my internship duties?
While working at a nonprofit by day in Argentina, I learned about local art from my host mom, learned a little bit of Portuguese from my Brazilian roommates, and explored the neighborhood delights. I visited the local art fair, Paseo de las Artes, discovered the best place for empanadas, and watched live tango in action. Most internship providers will have a social director that organizes cultural activities so you can meet other interns, learn more about the local culture, take weekend trips, and dive into the local cuisine (yum!). Or, if you're more daring, look into local adventure tourism, like paragliding off the top of a mountain in Argentina! I think I can officially say that my fear of heights was been conquered during my internship abroad experience.
If you're looking for activities, ask your host family for suggestions, consult your program provider, or ask your internship folks what they do for fun. You have a wealth of knowledge at your disposal, just make sure you use it.
Most internship providers will have a social director that organizes cultural activities so you can meet other interns, learn more about the local culture, take weekend trips, and dive into the local cuisine.
Interning abroad while still in high school is hugely impressive to employers and college admissions teams. It will also help you mature and grow personally. If you’re thinking about a certain career, now is the time perfect time to check it out before investing tons of time and money in your university education. Plus, it's best to avoid the later-in-life intern scenario played out by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in their recent movie The Internship. Why not be ahead of the curve and intern abroad as a high school student?