How to Make a Lasting Impression at Your International Internship

by Danielle DeSimone

Scoring an international internship could be the first step to getting a job abroad, but don’t let your weeks, months, or years of earned professional experience just be another bullet point on your resume. Take the time to really make an impression at your internship, and you’ll create lasting relationships that could be the key to your future dream life, living and working in another country.

Thank you card with envelope and hand holding a pencil

Send a personalized thank you after your interview and again after your internship. Bonus points if it’s handwritten!

Before the Internship 

Before you’ve even started your internship, you should be putting on the moves to impress your potential employers. Put on some Barry White, turn the lights down low, pour a glass of…wait, what? Only kidding! Jokes aside, not only will these tips (hopefully) get you the internship position you want, but you’ll also stand out from the rest of the crowd when you arrive for the first day on the job. 

Prep like you’ve never prepped before. You should prepare extensively, not just for the company you’re interviewing with, but for the country you’ll be interviewing in. When interviewing for your internship, sounding well-informed about what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be living will show your potential employers that you are serious about this opportunity.

Manners matter. After the interview, send a thank you letter! This can be hard if you were interviewed by a company across the pond, so it’s absolutely appropriate to send a thank you email instead. This also saves you the cost of international postage. However, if you really want to make an impression, invest in some international stamps and send a handwritten thank you note. The extra effort will really make you stand out to your potential employer.

Not quite sure where to start with your thank you letter? Try this: 

Woman with a cup of tea working at a laptop

Work hard. Go above and beyond assigned tasks.

Dear Mr/Mrs._____,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I enjoyed our conversation and am excited for this potential opportunity. If you require any other information from me, please let me know. 

Thank you again for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

If you can write the letter in the native language of the host country you’ll be interning in, even better! 

During the Internship

So you rocked your interview, sent a professional thank you letter, got the internship (heck yeah!), and successfully moved yourself to your new host country. What a whirlwind! Now comes the fun (and hard) part: having a successful internship.

How you approach your internship will determine how much you will get out of the experience. Be ready to put your best foot forward; in some cases, quite literally (pack some killer stilettos if you’re interning in Milan!) with these important tips: 

Hand holding a smartphone

Put your phone away, your snap story can wait.

Be Ready for Anything. You prepared extensively for your interview, but guess what? After you’ve arrived, you’ll still have to continue to prepare every day of your internship (we know, we know, the homework never stops!). Coming to the office every day ready to work and having completed your assigned work, will show your employer that you are committed to this internship for the experience, and not just the bragging rights on your resume. 

Learn the Lingo. If you are interning in a country that speaks a language other than your native tongue, make an effort to learn the native language. Not only will this help you in your day-to-day work, it will also show your coworkers and bosses that you are making an effort to get to know them not just as coworkers, but as a part of their unique culture as well. It also doesn’t hurt to know how to order your own meals and drinks at office happy hours!

By learning the language, you’ll be able to explore your new home much more deeply than before, and what you learn in your adventures outside of the office will shine through in your work, making you an even better addition to the team. 

To Infinity and Beyond! Do more than what you’re told. In some internships, your boss might take on a very strong mentorship role, guiding you through your entire experience. However, employers abroad might take less of a hand-holding role with you than bosses in your native country, so you’ll have to take initiative and work on your own. Do even more than what is expected of you and you’ll really leave your mark. You will demonstrate that you have skills that can carry beyond the end of your internship and into the professional world, and that you don’t require someone to constantly direct you in order to get the work done. 

Group of young people around a table with laptops and notebooks

Make friends outside your fellow interns

Slow Down on Social Media. It’s completely natural (and encouraged) to document your time abroad through photography, blog posts, and social media. You’re in another country, learning both in the office and outside of it, so it’s natural to want to share your adventures with your friends, family, and the world. However, it’s important to not let your sharing consume you.

Unless you’re interning for a digital media or marketing company, put the smartphone away. Constantly using your smartphone isn’t a good idea in most professional settings, but especially when working internationally since many countries abroad do not use smartphones as often as you might in your home country. Aside from the fact that it’s not very professional to always be Snapchatting in the office, every moment you spend distracted by the world inside your screen is a moment you could spend befriending your coworkers, learning a fun new slang word from your boss, or simply exploring this new world around you. Take your photos with intention, not with the goal of Instagram likes. 

Expand Your Squad. If you intern in an office that has other interns, or if you decide to go abroad through a third party provider, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of only spending time with your fellow interns. Living and adjusting to a new country can be difficult, and it’s only natural to bond with people your own age who are going through a similar experience. However, your international coworkers are the ones who can give you a glimpse of what it’s like working in an office abroad. Spend time getting to know them by proposing lunch, drinks, or maybe (if you’re lucky) dinners at their home. What better way to get to know the local office culture than to get to know the local office? 

Corner of a letter with blue postage stamp

Keep in touch after your internship is done; it might turn into your dream job!

After the Internship 

After working and exploring your way through your time abroad for the past few weeks, months, or a year, you might not want to immediately jump right back into work-mode. However, in order for your internship to really have been a remarkable one, the work doesn’t necessarily end when your days in the office do. 

Send a Thank You (Again). Another thank you letter, really? Yes, really. You can always give your coworkers and employer the letter before you leave, to save more on that international postage, but writing a formal thank you letter at the end of your internship shows professional know-how and genuine gratitude. 

Ask for a Letter. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor/boss/mentor for a recommendation letter either before leaving your internship, or immediately after. If you’ve done a good job and believe that your organization is happy with the work you performed, getting a recommendation letter from them is crucial! Not only can you provide this letter to future employers or graduate schools, it also is physical proof that you completed your internship with X amount of work and X amount of hours. Employers juggle a lot of interns, and if you ask for a recommendation letter a whole year later, your mentor might not remember the details of your work as clearly as they do right now. Lock down that letter now while you still can!

Stay in Touch. Try to stay in contact with your mentor, coworkers, or internship provider after you’ve completed your internship and returned home. You can do this by mailing them holiday cards, connecting with them over LinkedIn, or, if you feel comfortable with it, other social media platforms, and just periodically checking in with them every few months. Keeping these connections is so important if your ultimate goal is to pursue a career abroad. You can use your relationships with your former coworkers and internship mentors to network your way into a future job! After all, they’re the ones on the ground, who know what the job market is like. It’s absolutely appropriate for you to reach out to them a year later and ask them for help in getting you employed, as long as you’ve maintained those relationships!

The most important thing to remember when navigating the internship waters is to work hard. Yes, international internships come with a lot of perks and activities, and living in a new country is an incredible adventure that you should take advantage of. However, don’t forget why you’re there: to gain professional experience in the global job market. Work hard, play hard, and you’ll come home ready to get right back on a plane again, headed to your shiny, new international career.