Internships Abroad

What Are the Benefits of Study Abroad Internship Programs?

Lisa Saltagi
Topic Expert

Lisa studied in Ascoli Piceno, Italy in 2010 and since has always needed to have a flight booked somewhere. After failing at office life, she flew to Italy and became a European tour-guide for a year.

During my own experience studying abroad in Italy, I didn’t participate in a dual intern-study abroad program per say, but I did have work-study. Or, rather, they created one for me because I was in such a small program, and I got the chance to both work and study abroad during that semester.

A dual study-intern program is a program which allows you to study and intern abroad at the same time.

Thinking of doing this yourself? Read on to find out what my experiences were like and what the benefits are for participating in a dual intern-study abroad program.

What Were My Experiences Like?

During my work-study, I would take an hour or two out of my day to teach the secretary of our school English. Although this was minimal compared to some internships abroad that I have gotten to learn about abroad, it still took me away from my roommates and my classmates and brought me into another world that I so desperately wanted to be a part of -- the culture of Italy.

When we had our lessons, we would sometimes stay in the classroom and her coworkers would wander in and out. I got to know a few of them and even on a few occasions manned the front desk of the school and (why, yes, I did almost die with nervousness) even answered the phone and took messages in Italian. On days when Diana didn’t need to be in the office, she brought me to her favorite lunch spots where I met other locals, attempted Italian conversations, and saw how daily life is for those in the Italian workforce.

If I had had the opportunity for an internship while studying, I know for a fact that I would’ve been farther along in my current career. The benefits of getting out of the study bubble and into the work one can sometimes be difficult, but life outside the bubble has a bit more space, a bit more fresh air, and the opportunities are quite possibly endless.

What is a Dual Study-Intern Abroad Program?

This may be intuitive, but a dual study-intern program is a program which allows you to study and intern abroad at the same time.

Though it varies from program to program, you'll likely take several courses at a locally run university, then get set up through the program at an internship with a local company. Often, these programs are also set up so that the academic and internship sides of things compliment each other -- whether through language or other topical subjects.

Okay, so why should you do a study-intern abroad program instead of a regular ol' study abroad program?

Get a Different Perspective on Your Host Country

As I stated in my own story, when you get out of your comfort zone you are able to see your abroad experience in 3D instead of 2. Instead of simply going to class, going to your apartment, and the regular hanging out and strolling around your town, you'll have an outlet that little or no others in your class have and it may quite possibly become your favorite place!

You'll get academic context for your internship in your studies, and a chance to apply what you're learning in your studies through your internship.

The internship side of your study-intern program will allow you to see how the locals of your town go about their daily lives, but you will also be following in their footsteps, and even making friends that could prosper even outside the confines of the work day.

If you wanted to learn a new language, of course your lessons are necessary, but they usually don’t allow you to use your newly learned skills in real time conversation with native speakers. Having the option to work in a foreign language and form a little community outside of your study experience will allow you to further your language skills exponentially.

You Can Apply Academic Learning Immediately

Though you could absolutely get an internship in addition to studying abroad, a dual study-intern program will have more compliments and links between the two. You'll get academic context for your internship in your studies, and a chance to apply what you're learning in your studies through your internship.

As any college-grad can tell you, those experiences actually working were essential to contextualizing and making sense of academic studies, and helped them grow professionally so much more quickly than simply sitting in a classroom. Why not get an extra leg up and do this abroad?

You'll Make Valuable Professional Connections

If you're simply studying abroad, you'll get an education and still meet some excellent people in your school within the faculty and staff, your fellow students, and the community of your study abroad city. But to truly use study abroad to get ahead in your career, you want to push yourself to the extremes and get the most out of the months you’re in your soon-to-be new favorite home.

Finding and snagging up an internship while abroad will not only help your fluency levels in a new language or help you find local friends, but it will also allow you to meet people that have the ability to help you get a job or start a career.

The difference? If you’re a fashion student in Milan, you can absolutely participate in field trips to visit the Ferragamo outlet and get a private tour – but if you intern while you study, you may just be the person that gives that exact tour. How much stronger is that on your resume?

The possibilities are out there if you want to put in the work for it, but the reward will pay off in paychecks and new job opportunities down the road. When heading into your internship, aim to make lasting connections with your coworkers and supervisors. Allow them to see your work ethic, make them realize how dedicated you are to your future position in their field, and work on those connections.

Down the road, you'll be able to count on them for recommendations or just a friendly connection on LinkedIn. It'll be a connection that get you started doing work you love -- whether it's researching sea turtles, tourism, or international shipping companies... just to name a few!

Resume Boosters?! More Like Rocket Fuel

It’s a wild world out there and resumes of recent grads are in surplus. It's in your absolute best interest to figure out how to make your resume shine out above the others without literally bedazzling it with glitter.

Though simply putting your study abroad experience on your resume will definitely up your chances of getting your dream job, being able to slap down your details of actual work experience in an international setting through a dual study-intern program will blow your future employers brains.

When you work and study, you’re fulfilling all aspects of your life and studying abroad will become living abroad.

According to NAFSA, there's only a small percentage of the 1% of American students that study abroad that also use this time to gain workplace experience. Did you hear that? If you have success in holding down a study abroad semester and an internship abroad, you are a percentage of the one percent of US college graduates.

In a world that is growing rapidly to better appreciate international business and cooperation, having international experience is an incredible step in the right direction, regardless of where that direction is taking you.

The benefits of being abroad are not only for international exposure in general, but many employers view studying abroad as a personal growth for individuals as well -- I've have personally been told in an interview that the company believed if their new-hires were “international citizens” who have traveled and studied abroad, they'd be better able to adapt to new challenges and work well with different genres of people. A study-intern program only enforces that.

Employers Are Looking For These Experiences

Still need more persuasion? This study titled Employer Attitudes toward Study Abroad by Frontiers Journal was completed in 2007 and they still, almost a decade ago, concluded that employees take study abroad into high consideration. From 2000 to 2013, there was a 72 percent increase of US students studying abroad -- which means more promotion of this incredible opportunity, and more employees looking for your diamond in the rough resume.

Be a Person Abroad Instead of a Student Abroad

When you work and study, you’re fulfilling all aspects of your life and studying abroad will become living abroad. This will help with your language skills as well as your international relations and beyond. Your connections will be life-changing people who you will never forget and the skills that you learn throughout your internship will only assist you in your future career, but studying and working in a foreign country will de-bubble you.

While I sit in Florence, Italy I sometimes chat with the students here, and you’d be surprised how many tell me they haven't made a single Italian friend, nor learned a lick of Italian. They went to “American” style bars with beer pong on Wednesdays and went home with beautiful pictures of the place they got to “live” but I sometimes wonder what their memories are, and what it would be like for them to return without their classmates years down the road.

Of course, it depends on the person -- I've also met many who've made the most of their semester, but when you have resources, you should use them; and interning is one that can be essential. When you have a work schedule, your down time will be working towards creating something while your friends may be wasting away their Fridays hung-over in bed.

Post-going-abroad, while your roommates post their old abroad cities as their cover photo in memory, you'll have the local friends and coworkers you made while study-interning, writing to tell you to come back as soon as possible. When you come back, you won’t have your student life, but you’ll still have your work life. Being a student is temporary -- make a lasting impression on your host city by interning, and you'll have a place abroad forever.

It's More Immersive

Yes, study abroad is an immersive experience and will give you the chance to intimately get to know a new country. But, remember those students who never made a local friend? If they had participated in a dual study-intern program, that likely wouldn't have been their case.

If you had work experience with a country in your study abroad city, the odds of you being able to become officially employed overseas rises dramatically.

Some dual study-intern programs are set up to live with local roommates. Most set you up to work independently in an internship (re: without your fellow American classmates... or any foreigners at all) and truly dive head first into the local culture.

We've touched on this point a few times so far, but we can't say it enough: signing up for a dual study-intern program is even more immersive than a regular ol' study abroad program.

You Can Test Out Working Abroad While Still in School

Though I’m biased, I can say that a large percentage of us that study abroad, get the travel bug, and start looking for the next opportunity to back overseas the minute we get home. If you simply studied abroad, you might have a few professors that you can email abroad, but they certainly can’t help you with the international regulations of work visas and legalities of moving abroad for work.

However, if you had work experience with a country in your study abroad city, the odds of you being able to become officially employed overseas rises dramatically.

International companies that you interned with are looking for students with the drive to step out of their comfort zone and you will absolutely be doing it. The companies that take on international students as interns will be more likely to hire you with a work visa -- or at least put you in that direction. Did I mention it’s all about connections?

Chase Your Travel Dreams

By studying and interning abroad at the same time, you'll get thrown into situations you aren’t ready for -- for me, it was anything from answering the phone in Italian to single-handedly leading groups of fifteen to fifty students as they tour Europe. My confidence levels have soared, my resume now allows me to stand out, and I even just accepted a position in a study abroad office here in Florence.

Choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

When you’ve put this much focus and determination into your career goals, while also chasing your travel dreams, you'll see that opportunities will come more easily, and your network will be far larger than anything you can find on your campus. If you're having fun with what you’re doing, and -- as the quote goes -- “choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

I agree with this. Though I didn't study and intern abroad at the same time, I interned after college, and it's what got me to living abroad today. Now, I don’t work. I stroll along the Arno river to a Florentine palace-turned-office building and help students do exactly what I and you love to do -- study, travel, work, and live in the world as an international citizen. I don’t think I’ll ever have to work again, and after you finish that dual study-intern program, I hope you never have to either.