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Summer or Semester: When's the Best Time to Intern Abroad?

When's the Best Time to Intern Abroad?

There are many epic questions in the world. Inside or outside? Ketchup or mustard? Paper or plastic? Should I intern abroad for the summer or a full semester?

We can't necessarily help you with all those questions (though we'd suggest... Outside, ketchup, and neither -- reusable bags all the way!), but we can help you figure out what's best for you in choosing a time to intern abroad.

Speaking of spending more time overseas -- that is just what most students wish they had had when they go overseas, especially those on summer or short-term programs.

There's a number of considerations to take into account, and you can cover them all by asking yourself these six questions to help you decide whether you should intern abroad for a summer or semester:

Do You Have Schedule Restraints?

If you're involved in a club or sport that requires a yearlong commitment, you may find summer to be your only option. Summer is also often the most rational choice for students who have demanding majors or can't afford to miss a semester's worth of credits.

That being said, there's also always the option to study and intern abroad at the same time. This way you get to spend more time overseas, earn the credits you need, AND gain practical experience.

And of course, interning overseas isn't an experience relegated only to students. Many young people end up in internships after they graduate, so why not do that internship abroad?

Post-college or even in your mid-to-late twenties are great times to intern abroad, as you have more knowledge and more time to devote to experience -- go for that 3-4 month "semester" long internship (or even longer!). You may even have an easier time finding a paid internship once you have a college degree under your belt, or using that internship to get an entry level job abroad.

How Much Time Can You Spare?

Speaking of spending more time overseas -- that is just what most students wish they had had when they go overseas, especially those on summer or short-term programs. After four or six weeks, you're just getting used to things and coming to understand the people, customs, and culture of your host country... And then it's time to leave!

If you're able to spare the time of a full semester, this is definitely something to consider. If summer is your only option for interning abroad, opt for a longer internship (say, 8-12 weeks versus 4-6 weeks) to get the most out of your experience.

What Are Your Goals?

Are you mostly seeking out something that will look good on your resume? Or are you just looking to dip your toe in a foreign work environment, or brush up a little bit on your language skills in a professional context? A brief summer internship may be sufficient for you.

Summer internship abroad

If you're serious about building and improving your professional and language skills, or if you're hoping to use your internship as a stepping stone to a job abroad, a semester or longer summer internship should be in your sights.

Longer internships give you the opportunity to thrive in your internship -- getting the hang of your required tasks, building skills, and forming solid relationships with your colleagues -- while also allowing you to have more time to immerse yourself in the local culture and perhaps do some traveling.

Tip: You may even find a local internship with a global company that has a brief international component in the summer, such as Deloitte's Global Internship Program or KPGM's Global Internship Program.

Where Are You Going?

If you have a specific destination in mind for our internship, then that could be a huge consideration in deciding when to intern abroad. First, look at weather. Remember that if you're looking at somewhere in the southern hemisphere (say, Argentina or Australia), it'll be winter there if you go during your summer.

Another consideration is national holidays and vacation times. For example, some cities and countries in Europe practically empty out for a month or so in the summer (usually August) when everyone takes off for the holidays. This could leave you feeling pretty lonely and useless in an internship (or, on the flip side, with a lot of work to do in your internship!) Basically, be conscious of your timing.

What's Your Budget?

Often times the net difference in cost between summer and semester-long internships abroad are negligible, but it can be a factor. In general, your biggest expenses are the same either way: return flights and basic program fees.

In fact, sometimes summer programs can be more expensive at first glance because they typically include things like accommodation, which is not necessarily the case as often for semester programs, where students are left to find housing independently.

That being said, you can often find accommodation on your own for cheaper, but that's often easier to do when you are going to be in country for a longer amount of time. And of course, the longer you stay, the more months you have to pay rent.

Then again, if you are going to a less expensive country, you may actually be saving money by staying abroad longer -- spending less money on things like food, rent, and transportation.

Overall, if money is your biggest concern, it doesn't necessarily have to affect how long you intern abroad. There are ways to cut back on costs and budget well for your internship abroad regardless of the length of internship you choose.

What Are Your Limits?

Even more importantly: Are you willing to push past them? Interning abroad is a challenging experience, plain and simple. If this is your first time abroad, and you're feeling very nervous about it, you may want to opt for a shorter summer internship. It's important to know yourself and what you can handle.

Semester long internships abroad

However, going overseas is one of the best ways to realize that your limits aren't actually your limits. There are going to be tough times, but the worst thing would be to experience the peak of your culture shock right at the end of your overseas experience and then leave believing you don't like or can't handle spending time abroad.

From personal experience, and from working with a lot of students going overseas for the first time as interns, that rough patch does not last forever. And the best part is when you get past it and learn to love your experience -- and the things it has taught you about yourself.

Of course, that can't happen if you don't give yourself enough time. Keep in mind all of the new things you will be experiencing -- working in a new environment with new people while living in a new place with a different culture, different people... It may even be your first time living in a city (or somewhere rural), which could be a shock to your system in itself. Make a list of these challenges you might face.

Do you feel prepared to handle these things? Do you want to tackle them and try? Go for a semester. Would you rather just test the waters and learn what it's like to live abroad? Then go for a summer.

Make The Call

Take some time to really reflect, then choose your internship length based on your answers to these questions. After you've asked yourself the tough questions, make the call.

Chances are you felt yourself leaning one way or the other for most of this article, and it's important to listen to your gut. Just making the decision to intern abroad at all is a great call, and you'll surely have a memorable experience no matter which option you choose.

Photo Credits: Clara Matthhesson, Kelsey Mirehouse, and Anna Morris.
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, worked abroad in Australia and Fiji, and traveled to 30+ countries, including backpacking solo across South America. In addition to working in international exchange, Rachael obsesses over all things her blog Girl, Unmapped.