How to Make the Most of Your Internship Abroad

Dana Goble
Topic Expert

After growing up in the Great Lakes state, Dana decided to embark on a more exciting journey by attending college in Indiana, studying abroad in Mexico, volunteering abroad in Chile, and working abroad in Peru.

Internship abroad

An internship is a great way to kick-start your career. It gives you the opportunity to gain real world experience and make important connection with people in the field you're interested in. Doing an internship abroad is an even more valuable experience, because it also allows you to experience a new culture and sets you apart from the pack.

If you've found an internship abroad, you're probably excited but also a little worried. It's true that internships can be frustrating. Sometimes the pay isn’t great, appreciation is lacking, and tasks are mundane. Whether in your home country, or abroad, the trick is to make the most of your 40+ hour workweek. This can be a life changing and formative experience, but you'll only get out of an internship abroad what you're willing to work for. Keep the following tips in mind to ensure that your internship experience is the best it can be.

1. Before arriving, research the business culture

Dress code, etiquette, hierarchy, and the importance of being on time; these are the basics of any work situation that you have likely already figured out in your own culture, however, there may be key differences between practices in your home country and the one you will be working in. If it’s a hot climate, do the gentlemen have to wear a jacket and tie, or is it acceptable to simply wear suit pants with an open-collared business shirt like in Singapore? Will the culture you work in run like the timely trains in Switzerland, or are they on “Mexican-time”, where a 4:00pm meeting might really start at 4:30pm? Is expressing your views encouraged, or are you supposed to only speak when spoken to? Make sure to know how to behave prior to arriving, and be sure to pick up on other cues from your coworkers.

2. Have a positive attitude

When you’re used to work being done a certain way, it’s easy to get frustrated if your host country’s work ethic is be completely at odds with yours. The business culture may feel too rigid or too relaxed, and some of your coworkers’ behavior might be downright offensive. At the end of the day, it’s important to always be patient and keep a positive attitude. At the very least, you’ll be gaining invaluable experience by working within and learning from a different type of corporate culture.

Collabroate on projects

3. Work hard!

Don’t settle for the minimum requirements, and always go above and beyond what you’re asked to do. Working hard, especially at the outset, is the best way to make a good impression and to set yourself up for success in the future. Additionally, asking for more work - without making a song and dance about it in front of your colleagues - will demonstrate to your supervisors how capable and conscientious you are. Just be sure not to outshine your boss, either!

4. Network

You may think that since you’re in a “faraway land,” it isn’t important to develop and maintain close networks with your colleagues. When will you see them again, anyways? Wrong! The opportunity you have to network with your co-workers, boss, and others in the country is quite probably one of the most valuable aspects of working abroad. With the ever increasing rate of globalization and international expansion in the world today, it’s entirely feasible that your future employer may open new offices in your country, or will someday expand internationally. You can never predict when your international connections will come in handy, so don’t be afraid to get your network on!

5. Make friends with your coworkers and hang out with them outside work

This suggestion has less to do with your professional life and more to do with your personal one, but it is still just as essential and important as the rest - doubly so if you’re in a country with a different native language than your own. We all know the benefits of being friends with your coworkers, but in your international case, these people are your lifeline to the place you live, as they’ll take you out, show you around, and give you the locals’ lowdown on how to get around wherever you are. Similarly, make friends with people outside the workplace by joining a club, or attending a religious gathering, in order to diversify your friend group.

6. Study and practice the language

If you’re currently studying the language spoken in your chosen country, or if you’re simply an amateur enthusiast looking to develop your talent of the tongue, consider taking a language class outside of working hours. In order to master a new language, you’ll need to try as hard as you can to limit how much you speak your native language. It's important to shed your fear of making mistakes and embarrassing yourself, and there is no better circumstance to acquire a new language than living and working in the country where the language is spoken.

Personal life

7. Live with native roommates

This might be the most challenging task, but it really doesn’t have to be. We all know it’s hard enough to find a roommate you get along with in your own country, in your own culture, and so the prospect of living with someone from a different culture is a pretty scary thought. Having said that, if you can find a roommate you think you’ll get along with, the benefits of cohabiting with a foreign roommate are innumerable.

8. Be curious and ask questions

In both your personal and professional life abroad, don’t be afraid to ask questions. While it may be embarrassing to display your misunderstanding or ignorance on a subject, quietly clarifying things with a colleague or friend you trust may help you avoid really embarrassing yourself in the meeting with the CEO tomorrow morning, or heading to that part of town that not even locals dare enter.

Of course, exercise discretion appropriately; don’t ask your co-workers their opinion of the government in the People’s Republic of China, nor how your German colleagues feel about the Third Reich.

9. Request a letter of recommendation

This is another key opportunity that you cannot miss out on. The good news is that most, if not all, types of business cultures are comfortable with this practice. The only question is how to go about requesting the letter, and indeed who you should ask to write you one. Check in with a coworker for their opinion before asking the CEO to write you a recommendation letter - it could be better to ask a lower-level colleague.

10. Travel on your days off

This is a perk only afforded to those interning abroad - the chance to travel to Machu Picchu, the Australian Outback, Teotihuacan, or Oktoberfest. These are once in a lifetime opportunities that you won’t want to pass up. Request days off work or plan around your schedule to make sure you balance your internship with your personal life.

You can never predict when your international connections will come in handy, so don’t be afraid to get your network on!

So there you have it, the top 10 ways to make the most out of your internship abroad. Now all you have to decide is where you would like to go and you'll be headed to your dream destination in no time. Bon voyage!

Photo Credits: API Study Abroad.