5 Questions I Wish I’d Asked Before Interning Abroad

by Dominic James Fusco

An internship abroad is one of the best things you can do in your young professional career, plain and simple. Not only is it a golden opportunity to travel the world and meet some incredible people, before you settle into a career somewhere, but it will also stand out on your resume as impressive work experience in a global context.

If you are at all interested in pursuing a job abroad in the global marketplace in the future, then interning abroad is the perfect place to start! Even if you are planning to return home after your internship abroad, the experience itself will be well worth it.

With a huge amount of internship opportunities out there, across a diversity of professional fields, the hardest part of interning abroad might just be deciding when and where to go! 

The decision-making process can be undeniably difficult. And after your internship is over, you will have gained hindsight about what you wish you would have done differently; since time travel is yet-impossible, you’ll have to make do in the meantime with advice from someone who’s already gone through it (aka. yours truly). Here are some questions I wished I’d asked before finding an internship abroad (to get you as close to time travel as possible). 

Am I interested in learning the language? 

This is a pretty big one. Living abroad in another country is the best way to improve your fluency in a different language, something that can be valuable for career and travel prospects down the line. Knowing or learning the local language can also make it easier to interact with the local population, and more importantly your co-workers, throughout the course of your internship abroad.

Being able to speak the language will immensely influence what kind of experience you have living abroad as an international intern. 

So, while it is not necessary to go somewhere where you have any training in the local language or a desire to learn it, it can be a big plus if you do make an effort to expand your language skills. The UN official languages are English, French, Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish; interning abroad in a place where any of these languages are spoken is an opportunity to develop a huge asset for your future global career. You could always intern abroad in Switzerland or Belgium too, where multiple languages are spoken throughout the country, to truly expose yourself to foreign languages. 

Could I see myself as a long term employee in the country?

Even if you are totally set on returning home after your internship abroad, take this one into account anyway. It’s hard to see that far down the line before you have traveled to the location where you will be interning abroad, especially if you are still just deciding where to go. Nevertheless, it is an important question to ask yourself before interning abroad. 

While interning abroad, you will be building both personal and professional connections that have the power to blossom into a more permanent life as an expatriate. Think about it this way: if your employer were to ask you to stay abroad after your internship, would you at all consider saying yes?

Try to choose somewhere where a more permanent job could be a possibility; after all, you never know what your internship abroad might turn into.

How difficult will the transition into the workplace be? 

Different cultures have different norms in the workplace. Think about just how different it might be conducting business in Japan versus Brazil, for example. Of course norms vary significantly depending on the field of work you are in, but the business culture remains a very important thing to consider.

Some places in the world will simply be more difficult to adjust to than others.

It is one thing to visit a country and soak it in as a traveler. It is another thing entirely to be an employee in that country with specific expectations and responsibilities placed upon you. If you are willing to put your full self into mastering the cultural nuances of professionalism, then you can intern abroad anywhere you set your mind to. Endless patience and a steady effort will take you far as a intern abroad.

How much money will my internship abroad cost (or make) me? 

In many countries, it is possible to come out of an internship in the green, while in many others, you will almost always end up in the red. Some countries have laws against paying interns, others have established minimum wages, and still others leave it all up to the individual employer. Basically, there is a whole mess of financial details you will want to sit down and figure out before deciding on a specific internship placement abroad. 

General costs of living and other forms of compensation offered, such as meals, housing, and airfare, are also big factors to take into account. Certain regions, such as Western Europe, North America, and Australia, while exceedingly popular places to intern abroad, are also very expensive. Keep in mind that interns never make too much money, so you will want to work up a realistic financial plan for your time abroad.

How much time should I allot myself to travel? 

The answer is: as much as possible. Many interns do not take into account that they will be too busy during their internship abroad to travel significantly, and so they book their flights directly to and from their destination in accordance with the start and end dates. Instead, try to leave some time on either end of your internship abroad to travel throughout whatever region you choose to work in. 

It is not so easy to find travel time once you get locked into a career after your internship, so take the opportunity to explore the world while you are young. If you’re feeling bold, don’t even book a return flight home, and see how far you can go!