For aspiring social workers, an internship abroad can be a truly invaluable experience for myriad reasons: it provides the intern with an immersive cross-cultural experience and helps develop better cultural awareness and sensitivity (as well as honing of foreign-language skills, if applicable) and gives a real-life comparison of systems, policies, and techniques to those of the intern’s home country. I feel strongly that my experience as a social work intern in Jerusalem, Israel while in university really helped shape my passion for working with individuals with special needs.
A social work internship in a variety of fields in a different country can be a life-enriching experience, as well an excellent experience for your resume, the best way to get the most out of your stay and your internship is to do careful research beforehand. Do you speak another language fluently enough that you would feel comfortable working with people in an often intimate setting? If not, then choosing an English-speaking country will likely be a priority. Both urban and rural settings have their pros and cons for an internship; a lower cost of living and a more relaxed pace may be the reason to opt for rural, and a larger community and ease of getting around for urban.
Be aware that sometimes doing an internship in an unfamiliar setting may have its challenges; the bureaucracy, for instance, may be somewhat different from what you are used to. For example, though I enjoyed and benefited greatly from my internship in Israel, it was largely unstructured and I had to use a lot of self-initiative to get what I wanted out of it. It’s helpful to ask in advance about these types of things, like how structured or guided the experience may be.
Germany is an ideal destination to do a social work internship in fields such as special needs, refugee work, and supportive housing.
Many excellent social services organizations in Germany are already accustomed to having volunteers and interns, as a great deal of young Germans do a “freiwilliges soziales Jahr” -- a social volunteer year -- and others are required to do a year-long internship as part of their studies to become a social worker or therapist.
You will find diverse populations in Germany’s major cities, and organizations are often appreciative of an outsider perspective and experience. Be aware that many of these internships will have a German language requirement.
Though small in size, New Zealand is an excellent choice for English speakers to do a social work internship abroad in due to both the language and possibilities for a variety of experiences within the social work realm such as domestic violence organizations or working with at-risk youth. Opportunities to network, work directly with NGOs or governmental institutions, and carry out research are some of the possibilities available in New Zealand.
Its laid-back atmosphere often popular with younger travelers can provide a good expat base community, as self-care and support are critical factors when working in an intensive social work environment. Organizations such as Intern NZ can help facilitate internship placement throughout the entirety of the country.
With a wide variety of opportunities for social work interns including a number of unusual cross-cultural organizations to intern for (working with immigrants and interreligious conflict resolution to name a couple) in an intense, vibrant young country, Israel is a great option to experience social work in a Middle Eastern environment.
When living abroad in Israel for a semester in college, I interned with Alut, an organization promoting inclusivity and support programs for children and adults with autism and their families. My role was being a classroom support in an integrative elementary school for both autistic and neurotypical children and it was an amazing experience that solidified my passion for working in the special needs field. Currently, one can volunteer with Alut as an intern in one of their adult residential homes in Israel. Many social work internships in Israel do require Hebrew or Arabic, or sometimes both.
Friendly and fascinating, Ireland offers a slew of social work internships in many fields- drug addiction, employment placement and counseling, hospitals and many more. For those also interested in the administrative and activist career paths in social work, Ireland is also an excellent choice. You can opt to be in a busy urban hub like Dublin or one of the smaller towns throughout the country for your placement.
Learn International provides the unusual and immersive opportunity to live with an Irish family while pursuing your social work internship, which can help further provide a hyper-local perspective on your locale of choice.
South Africa’s turbulent and multi-faceted contemporary history makes it a powerful and life-changing location in which to do a social work internship. The Masambeni organization in various locations throughout the country offers opportunities ranging from interning in HIV/AIDS centers and other relevant centers, orphanages, community and youth development projects, working specifically with women.
The majority of available internships in South Africa take place in townships or settlements, which often face many issues due in part to lack of infrastructure and high unemployment rates. Your time here may be challenging, but it will be unforgettable and give you fresh nuance and perspective when entering the employment field as a social worker.
If you have the opportunity as a budding social worker to do a semester abroad or a post-grad internship, I strongly recommend a social work internship in a different country. I found that the challenges I faced in my internship in Israel prepared me really well for future career and academic challenges: facing cross-cultural misunderstandings and unfamiliarity, learning to self-advocate and how to teach others to self-advocate, and immersion into both a field of work and a new country.