When Lucie Merieux, a young woman from France, began an internship at a marketing firm in Los Angeles she knew the experience would be different than any internship she had completed before.
"I felt like people would expect much more from me here than in a company in France," Lucie said.
"You don’t know what to expect [when you start interning in another country]," she added. "You know the language will be different, and also maybe the pressure. In France when you talk about working in the U.S. everyone says 'oh they are under pressure over there. Everyone is working like crazy,’'but you don’t really know what it will be like."
After spending six months in California assisting with a variety of tasks in marketing, communications, and social media, Lucie gained a new perspective on what it is to work in the United States through her internship.
"I learned a different way of working," she said. "You learn a lot from people because they have different ways of working. I felt like as an intern [in the United States] I had more responsibilities than in France. I learned methods of organization, reporting so you really know what the results of the actions you took are and team work."
Having completed her internship in the United States, Lucie is heading back to Europe for a job in marketing. She noted her internship abroad gave her many skills she will carry forward in her future.
"When I go back to France I’ll probably be more organized and more efficient," she ended. "It’s a great experience. Everyone should experience this one time in their life."
No matter where you are from or what country you choose to do an internship in, interning abroad will likely differ from interning in your home country. After all, the cultural differences one experiences in social aspects are also found in the working world.
As interns like Lucie will tell you from personal experience, there is no way to fully prepare for what differences await you as you intern abroad, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take our best effort to prepare you for what you might expect. Read on to discover some ways interning abroad differs from interning in your home country.
What it Means to Be an Intern in Different Countries
The definition of "intern" can vary greatly from company to company in the United States so it should come as no surprise that this definition can also vary widely across the globe.
Expectations about your responsibilities and job duties may be different than previous internships you’ve held on your home turf. Ask for clarification in your first few days and weeks on the job as to what is expected of you to make sure you are on the same page with your company.
If you receive more responsibilities than you are used to, try not to get overwhelmed. Think of the experience as a great practice trial run for your first full-time job back home and just do your best. If your responsibilities are more limited than you were hoping, talk to your supervisor and see if there are any other projects you can assist with -- after you’ve finished all your assigned work first, of course.
Even if the level of responsibility at your internship is not what you were expecting, you can find ways to explore your passions and hobbies on the side by taking photographs, starting a blog or volunteering. Having extra downtime while interning abroad may not be a bad thing -- it will give you time to explore your new surroundings and travel.
Internship Work Culture Varies Between Countries
Likewise, work culture varies across the globe, just as it does in the United States. If you are interning in Australia, for example, you may find that the work environment is more relaxed and social gatherings, such as happy hour, are common among your colleagues. However, if you are interning in a country with a more conservative culture, such as Japan or Germany, you may find your colleagues to be a bit more buttoned up, and the office culture reserved.
Along with the office culture, dress code can also vary. Before you travel abroad for your internship do some research on the dress code to ensure you are packing the appropriate attire in your limited luggage allowance. It is always best to air on the side of looking "too professional" at first rather than underdressed.
For the best shot at success in adapting to the new office culture, hang back your first few days and observe the culture around you to see how you can mesh your personality, professionalism and the culture around you. You may also want to have a conversation with your mentor or leader to make sure you get on the same page early on. Invite one of your peers for coffee and lunch if you have more specific questions you don’t feel comfortable asking your supervisor. It could be the beginning of a new friendship!
Language and Communication Will Be Different
This one may seem fairly obvious, but if you are interning abroad, the language spoken in your office may be different. Interning in a country where you are studying the language is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in that language and take your skills and proficiency to the next level.
Don’t be intimidated if you find the language barrier makes your internship more difficult. As an intern, your company knows you are there to learn and sometimes that learning involves language skills as well. Put the experience into perspective and think about how you will feel a few years down the road having completed such an internship abroad.
But even if you are interning in an office where English is the primary language spoken, language can vary in a different realm. That is the business language used. Different countries use different lingo for business concepts. If you are interning in the United Kingdom or a Commonwealth country, you may even find that the spelling of the English language differs, or terms used for topics as wide ranging as marketing, data collection and office supplies are different than what you are used to.
Why Interning Abroad is an Exciting Opportunity
As Lucie mentioned, there were many differences between her internship in the United States and previous ones she’d completed in France. The same will likely be true for you when you take the leap and intern in another country.
Interning abroad is an exciting opportunity to practice and learn professional skills in a foreign setting. While many aspects of your internship overseas may be different than an internship in your home country, the fact remains that as an intern you are gaining valuable experience that will help you reach your next step in life.
No matter what challenges or differences arise during your internship, be sure to take note of what they were and how they handled them. Talking about cultural differences and how you overcame them will be a great topic for your next job interview and hopefully even set you apart from the rest of the pack. Hey, this worked out for Lucie -- she’s headed back to France for a full-time job in marketing -- so whose to say it won’t also work for you!