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Tips for Applying to an Internship Abroad in High School

Interns at IEA Bank

Internships abroad aren’t just for college kids. If you’re in high school when wanderlust hits you, don’t let anyone say you’re too young for an international internship. There are a few special considerations for the 18-and-under set, but you stand to gain just as much as college-aged (and older!) people from an internship abroad.

If you’re confident that you want to pursue a specific career path, interning can give you a leg up.

An internship in high school lets you experiment with what interests you. In some ways, there’s less at stake: you haven’t fully invested in a career, but can explore opportunities that might give you some insight into what you want to do. On the other hand, if you’re confident that you want to pursue a specific career path, interning can give you a leg up. Doing it abroad makes you that much more appealing to prospective employers or college admissions boards.

Now that you're convinced, how exactly do you go about scoring an internship abroad? Well, by following these handy tips, of course:

Research Your Opportunities

Girls in the Dominican Republic

This is usually the starting point for any big overseas experience. It’s also the part where you realize just how many opportunities are awaiting you in the world.

Narrowing it down can be overwhelming, but fun! If you have a particular type of internship in mind, make a list of the most appealing options. If you know where you want to intern, start there and find the prospects that are most appealing.

If nothing jumps out at you, be proactive. Identify some companies in your preferred location and ask them if they have an internship program. In some cases, you may be pleasantly surprised!

However, going with an established, reputable organization is often ideal, as they are experienced in helping you along the way. You should also ask plenty of questions, check reviews, and even talk to previous interns, to ensure that you know what you’re getting into.

Alternatively, you may also look in to finding a third-party provider who can help place you in an internship abroad. Although most are targeted towards college students -- go ahead and ask anyway. Especially if you're a rising Senior at the time of your internship, they may be willing to make an exception.

Follow Your Interests and Future Goals

Let’s say your parents are encouraging you to intern in an admin role in London, but you have a burning desire to work with a veterinarian in the Australian outback or intern at a fashion magazine in Madrid. My advice is to follow your instinct and your interests.

Your enthusiasm is reflected in your application and could open up more doors as you pursue a career.

Have an open conversation with your parents about your expectations and theirs, and make sure they're on board. When you go after something that genuinely interests you, it shines through in your demeanor, and your passion -- as well as a practical, well thought out argument about why you want to do that particular internship -- will help turn them around.

In turn, your enthusiasm is reflected in your application and could open up more doors as you pursue a career. Think about what you’d really like to do now and go for it.

Use Your Resources

Much like college campuses, high schools are rife with resources and scholarships for students who want to travel. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Visit your student counselor’s office to find out what he or she knows about interning abroad. Keep your eyes peeled for posters or notices about international travel opportunities. Your school should be able to point you in the right direction; they may even be able to make recommendations for you and help you through the application process.

Write a Fantastic Resume/Cover Letter

Tidy up your resume before you send out any applications. Keep it simple and easy to read while including any relevant accomplishments. Definitely include the basics like your name, phone number, and email address, as well as any previous work experience.

If you don’t have any work experience, think about your extracurricular activities. Have you done any volunteer work? Do you play sports or participate in any clubs at school? Include these things on your resume.

Depending on where you’re sending your resume, you may also want to tailor it according to the country. For example, in some places it’s the norm to include a photo or personal details, such as marital status, in your resume.

In your cover letter, you can expand on why you want the internship: maybe you’re studying French and are interested in all things Gallic. Perhaps you’re curious about the tourism industry in Peru, or business in Japan. Write a clear cover letter addressing your goals and past experience, then get someone you trust to look over the whole package. It never hurts to get a second set of eyes to check for any errors in a resume or cover letter -- no matter how old you are!

Gather Your References

Coffee and computer

Get your references in order, as you’re likely to need them when you apply for an international internship. Aim to have 2-3 referees, though your particular internship may ask for more or less. These should be people who have known you for at least a year and are not related to you.

For example, you could list:

  • Someone you’ve babysat for
  • A current or previous employer
  • Your coach
  • A teacher
  • Your school counselor

Get their contact details and -- most importantly -- make sure you verify with them that they’re happy to act as a reference (you wouldn't want to have your potential internship ambush them with a phone call, right?).

In the past, providing reference letters was common, but these days organizations may prefer to get in touch with your referees directly. This might be by phone, email, or even Skype, so be prepared with the relevant contact details.

Know When to Go

When do you want to intern abroad? The summer break can give you the longest time period, so it’s a popular one. For short internships, winter or spring break could work, too, but the chances of finding an internship abroad for a couple of weeks (and for that matter, having an internship that short teach you much) aren't very likely.

Start polishing up your application materials as early as possible.

But whenever you choose to go, give yourself plenty of time to apply. For example, if you want a summer internship, start your research in the fall and be prepared to have an application submitted by the time school's back in session after winter holidays. Consider signing up for a local volunteer gig if you need extra experience on your resume, and start thinking about who you might want to ask as a reference.

In short, start polishing up your application materials as early as possible, and submit them before the application deadline, which vary by program.

Apply for Multiple Internships

To increase your chances, also apply for multiple internships. It’s okay if there is one that you really, really want, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few backup options either. Interning abroad is a pretty amazing experience, so it can get competitive. Knowing when you want to go can help you time when to start looking and when to get your application in.

Pro Tip: Keep track of all of the internships you're applying for in a spreadsheet (create one for free on Google Docs). Create a column for company, application deadline, and materials needed. This way, you'll be able to prioritize your applications by deadline, and streamline the process. For example, if you know in advance that three of these internships want transcripts, you'll be able to go to your guidance counselor and ask them to send your transcripts over to all three in one go.

Prepare Financially

Sadly, interning abroad is rarely paid, or even entirely free (but if you find a program that is, let us know!). There’s room and board to consider, as well as program fees. On top of that, there’s regular living expenses and spending money, which may or may not be covered as part of a program.

Have a very clear picture of what your internship will cost and prepare your finances. It might mean picking up a few extra shifts at your part-time job or even pushing back your preferred internship date, but it pays off in the long run. You and your family can rest much easier knowing that you aren’t going to run out of money overseas!

Scoring the internship of your dreams is within your reach, even as a high school student. What starts as a spark of inspiration, like a wish to see the Eiffel Tower, can quickly turn into a plan that puts you smack in the middle of Paris, interning your heart out!

Before you know it, you could be living your future instead of just dreaming about it.

Draw up a clear set of goals, put together a shiny resume, and get your application lodged. Before you know it, you could be living your future instead of just dreaming about it.

Ready to start applying? Start your search with our list of internship programs abroad.

Photo Credits: Dean Calma, Smith, and Death to the stock photo.

Photo of Lauren Fitzpatrick

Writer, expat, and former working holiday addict setting up shop in Australia. Embracing surfing, reversed seasons, and cricket, but not Vegemite.