9 Tips for Finding an Internship Abroad Summer 2016

by Charleen Johnson Stoever

So, you want to find an internship abroad in the summer of 2016? Finding an internship takes time, but you are headed in the right direction by starting your search early. The more you prepare, the more likely you are to land that internship you’ve always dreamed of, whether it’s at an NGO in Cambodia or at a national park in New Zealand. 

Finding an internship also takes work. In college, I began my search in the winter for a summer internship. I applied to several different internships in many different countries, sent out countless emails, and only heard back about 50 percent of the time. Finally, I landed an unforgettable summer internship on the beaches of Ecuador. I took Spanish classes and mentored high school youth enrolled in a short film program. At the end of my internship, all of the time and work that went into my search was worth it. I went for early morning runs on the beach, stood up on a surfboard, and ate delicious shrimp ceviche with crushed plantain chips sprinkled on top.

An intern talking with a local

Ready to wipe the drool off your chin and sign up for an internship abroad of your own? Summer 2016 doesn't have to be full of average hangouts in your old haunts; it can be an incredible international adventure (one that comes with college credits and a resume beautifier!). Here's how to score an internship abroad this summer (or next): 

1. Ask: “Why?”

Why would you want to intern abroad instead of at home? Is it to immerse yourself in a new culture? To expand your comfort zone? To intern for the third time in Belize? Your reasons may be very general, or they may be very specific. No matter what, just know that you will have a unique experience. It will be different from interning in the states, especially if you’ll speak a different language. Your opportunities will also be different, so keep an eye out for them. There’s nothing worse than regretting missing out on opportunities. Playing it safe is a common intern’s regret.

2. Narrow your search down to a handful of countries.

First, focus on the type of internship/field of work that you’re into. Then, choose the location based off of your interest. If you already speak your host country’s language, you may have more professional goals when it comes to finding an internship abroad. If you already speak English and are interested in conservation, you could do great work and build your resume with an environmental internship in South Africa. If you hope to intern while learning a new language, you may seek a more culturally immersive experience. Choose a location based on your ideal field of work, but be open to other options.

3. Find a focus, and shop smart.

Check out GoAbroad’s list of internships and narrow down your search by country and field. Overwhelmed by the vast amount of internships in Spain? Narrow it down to a city, like Barcelona. Then, narrow your search down by field, whether it’s accounting or zoology.

Still overwhelmed? No sweat. Use the Go Abroad online advisor tool to find a match. If you are stuck between different countries, make a pros and cons list. For example, what are the pros and cons of environmental internships in Peru versus environmental internships in New Zealand. 

4. Consider language barriers.

Language barriers will differ depending on your location, of course. If you hope to intern abroad to learn a language, great then follow these tips to prepare. There are free websites out there where you can turn language learning into a game, and earn points instead of grey hairs! Watching foreign language films, first with the subtitles, and then without them, will also help you become a language savvy intern. Even if you are an English speaker moving to another English speaking country, different words may be used to describe the same thing. In England, apartments are called “flats,” for example. Research these linguistic differences so you know what to expect during your internship abroad.

Taking a selfie with friends

5. Make connections.

Are you a part of an online travel group? Did you like your school’s study abroad page? Just by asking on a group discussion forum if someone has any leads in your country of choice can be a great start to finding an internship abroad. Be professional, yet direct. Don’t just say “Hi, I’m Matt and I’m looking for an education internship in Finland. Thanks!”. Lean more toward “Hi, I’m Matt. I’ve been studying education in Kansas. I’m seeking an internship in a university in Finland because I want to learn how I can apply my skills in a new context while learning about teaching strategies in one of the world’s best educational systems. If anyone has any leads, please message me. Thank you!” 

6. Review visa requirements.

Always see if you can even enter a country before planning to intern in it. There are different kinds of visas you can travel with for an international internship. You may be traveling on a work visa, or a student visa. When preparing for your internship abroad, find out how much your employer will help you through the process and how much of the work you will do alone. Visit GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more information on visa requirements.

7. Weigh the financial implications.

So, your friends already have paid summer jobs lined up. Why would you give up a paid job for an international internship? Because you are still investing in your future. Whether you aim to work abroad forever or to gain new skills in an unfamiliar environment, it’s worth the investment. Money can’t buy the skills that come with working in a different country (with potentially a different language). If money is an issue, look into financial aid opportunities. Your university may even offer summer internship stipends. You could also start a FundMyTravel page to solicit donations. Your loved ones may already be looking for a noble cause to donate to anyway. Take advantage of this, especially if you are looking into internships abroad in social justice or education.

8. Convince your parents this is a good idea.

Your parents just want you to be happy. This can sometimes manifest itself into strange looks from them when you tell them that you want to go to remote Saharan Africa for four years. Then, you could follow up with "Fine, fine. I guess I will just do a short term internship in England this summer instead." If you want a pony, ask for an elephant. There are plenty of honest tactics you can use to persuade your parents to let you go abroad.

Once that’s settled, let your parents know how you plan to stay in touch with them. If you agree to email them a weekly update, for example, then your parents will breathe a sigh of relief. Last, explain to your parents why an internship abroad is such a good resume builder. Mention someone they know who has interned abroad and how their travels helped their career. 

An intern discussing with a local

9. Check your inflated expectations at the door.

When looking for an internship abroad, it’s important to be realistic in terms of what you can actually accomplish in one to three months. Don’t be disappointed if you feel like you aren’t being productive enough. The very idea of productivity can differ from country to country. Generally speaking, your country back home might value punctuality and organization as essential, productive traits. Elsewhere, it may be a different story. In countries many Latin American countries, like Nicaragua, meeting times are assumed to be approximate. When you schedule a meeting for 2 p.m., people may show up late and it’s not considered as offensive as it would be in more fast-paced countries. As long as you see these cultural differences as learning opportunities, then it will make your time interning abroad less stressful and more rewarding. 

You will never know how your internship will unfold until you see for yourself. If your instincts are telling you to intern abroad rather than at home, then trust yourself. Working so far away from home may sound intimidating, but just think of all of the amazing stories (and resume builders!) you will return with. Eating hand-made tortillas or bungee jumping over Victoria falls may not be in your official internship description, but that’s the beauty of it-you won’t know what unexpected memories you will make until you take the leap. You’ve got this!