What is the Difference Between Studying Abroad & Interning Abroad? 

by Dominic James Fusco

So you want to go abroad, but are unsure what is the best way to fit travel into your busy schedule? These days, students are under a great deal of pressure to perform academically, and at the same time, internships have become somewhat of a prerequisite of obtaining a job after graduation. So how can one make the time to travel the world amidst this competitive juggling act of expectations and career needs? We have the answer!

Students in Jerusalem
Both studying and interning abroad are fantastic ways to combine opportunities to travel, experience in-depth cultural immersion, and gain impressive global experience to enhance your resume.

These program types are similar in that they provide an outlet for meaningful travel, that won’t cause you to fall behind schedule for your post-graduate or professional aspirations. Yet, studying abroad and international internships will provide you with very different experiences, so it is important to know what you are up against when entering each. When deciding whether to study or intern abroad, here are some major points to take into consideration:

Learning vs. Doing

Let’s begin with the basics. When studying abroad, your goal is to learn, grow, and experience life within another culture. The lessons you learn inside the classroom are important, yet you will find that the adventures you encounter and relationships you build beyond the walls of the classroom are what make study abroad so valuable.

The focus may be on academia, but in a larger sense studying abroad is the opportunity to embark on a journey and learn more about the world around you. 

Girl enjoying the view of a city in Europe

An international internship is more directed. While it is also a great opportunity to mature by immersing yourself in another culture, during an internship abroad you will have specific goals in regards to gaining professional experience in your field of choice, whether that be film, hospitality, marketing, or anything in between. You’ll be learning practical job skills and you’ll have a more rigid work schedule, making an internship abroad less of an open-ended experience than studying abroad. Yet, the lessons you will learn by working abroad and engaging with locals in a professional environment every day will bring about a whole new type of growth.

Play vs. Work 

Building off the previous point, this is another major difference between studying and interning abroad. When you study abroad, you will be among peers who have taken a similar interest in your destination of choice, and having fun is also often a major mutual priority. Most study abroad programs make it a point to not require students to work too hard, so that they will have the freedom to fully explore their surroundings, immerse in the language and culture, and build their own experience in the way they want. This sense of freedom is often what students praise most about the study abroad experience. 

Internships abroad have an added layer of professional responsibility, which comes with pros and cons. While you will have the opportunity to hit the town and interact socially with your co-workers, cutting loose and having fun is undeniably less of a priority than while studying abroad. At the same time, this added responsibility can be well worth it; during your internship abroad you will ingrain yourself more intimately in the local culture and earn valuable global job experience to advance your career prospects.

Students in Limerick, Ireland

Paying vs. Paid

Shifting gears to a more practical matter, money can be one of the most important deciding factors for students to consider when deciding whether to study or intern abroad. When you incorporate the costs of travel, housing, tuition, and other every day expenses, studying abroad can mount up to be quite a costly venture. Precisely how much studying abroad costs will depend on the program you choose, where in the world you go, and what kind of lifestyle you choose to lead while abroad. But the tale of the tape remains the same, while scholarships can help ease the financial burden, you certainly won’t be making money by studying abroad. 

Interning abroad is a different story. While not all internships are paid, you will often at least be compensated in alternative ways, such as by having meals or housing included or travel costs reimbursed. Your compensation will depend on the location and profitability of the industry you are interning in (ex. interning in London’s financial district will obviously pay more than a community development project in Central America). Still, you will almost always come closer to cutting even financially by interning abroad rather than studying abroad. 

The Best of Both Worlds

And finally, for those of you who are still undecided about which route is best, there is an alternative option. You may have guessed it by now, studying abroad and interning abroad at the same time is a very real possibility!

There are many program providers that allow students to live in a foreign city while both taking classes for academic credit and engaging in a part-time internship on the side. This may seem like a lot to handle, but bear in mind that the organizations who provide this option are very experienced and will ensure that you are not overworked. For particularly ambitious students who want to supplement their studies abroad with practical work experience, these hybrid programs can truly be the best of both worlds.

Check out program opportunities that combine internships and study abroad from the following providers: