Unlike studying and volunteering abroad, interning abroad can oftentimes feel pretty lonely. It is always difficult to bridge the gap between coworkers and friends, and that’s before you throw in a big dose of culture shock. However, the other interns in your program or company are probably just as nervous, stressed, and lonely as you are, so don’t hide yourself away because you feel like you’re the only one.
More than just potential drinking buddies, your internship program members can be your biggest support system during (and after) your time abroad. Just because you’re technically coworkers doesn’t mean you can’t be BFFs. So, break the ice!
If you’re feeling nervous about being shut down by the Regina George of your internship program abroad, we recommend using the following tips to bond with your fellow interns.
1. Local sports (a love or hatred of).
Are you totally into sports and super amped to have a new team to cheer for? Or maybe you’re more Team Broadway and view “sports” as a mythical hobby? (We all know running is only for when someone is chasing you). Whatever position you take, there will definitely be other interns who feel just as passionately about it as you do.
If you’re the athletic type, get some of your other interns together and join an intramural or community team. Extra brownie points if it’s for a sport that none of you have played before. All of you sucking at learning cricket will give you lots to laugh about, plus you’ll all feel so rad in those sweet outfits (#squadgoals, am I right?). When your muscles need a break, go cheer on your host region’s fútbol or polo team to bond even more. The mutual laryngitis you’ll all get from screaming ¡GOL! so much will make for great memories in the future.
For those interns who prefer Lionel Richie to Messi, get your non-sports crew together (though the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive) and check out the local music, theater, and art scene. If you’re interning in a big city, there are probably tons of non-athletic ways to spend your free time, including live theater performances, concerts, operas, historical or cultural centers, and museums. Having an excuse to get all dolled up and hit the town or laughing over that horrendous painting in the art museum will ensure fast friendship.
2. Food, food, & more food.
If there’s one thing that brings people together, it’s a mutual love of all things tasty. One of the best parts of being abroad is having the chance to try a new culture’s food and beverages, so make sure you take advantage of these face-stuffing opportunities with your fellow interns. Who knows, maybe you and another intern will both fall in love with the same type of kebab in Berlin and you’ll develop a beautiful friendship from your unspoken need for one every day. Or perhaps you and a fellow intern both share the same dietary need and the search for the best vegan burrito will turn you into best friends. After all, the easiest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach!
3. Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Everybody!
Just kidding. Well, sort of. We all know you’re going to indulge in some bevvies while abroad, so why not do it with the other interns? Organize a pub crawl around your host city to kill two birds with one stone; get to know the local area and make some new friends. Make sure to really mix the selection up to maximize the experience, including a standard bar or pub, a fun nightclub, and even somewhere more unique such as an underground salsa club or themed club.
Understanding how your host culture kicks back and relaxes is just as important as understanding its professional world, and it’ll lead to some fantastic friendships along the way. Prost!
Another low-key way to accomplish these things is to get your fellow interns together to do a wine or beer tasting at a local vineyard or brewery. Better yet, is the region you’re interning in famous for a specific type of drink? In Ireland, for example, you’d be crazy not to call up some other interns and go whiskey distillery hopping. Or maybe you’re working in Russia and there are a ton of vodka distilleries around. Don’t be afraid to make a day trip out of this, as there are always tours you can sign up for to make this easier. That way, you’re incorporating regional sightseeing with experiencing the local drink of choice. Cheers to that!
4. Venting sessions.
Interning abroad is really a wonderful thing, but that doesn’t mean it goes without its frustrations. Between living in a new region, probably struggling with a language barrier, and just working in general, there is always plenty of potential for meltdowns.
Your fellow interns are the only other people who will truly understand the struggles (and successes!) of interning abroad, so it’s important to lean on them when you need to. The bond that’s created from these types of situations is one that will last forever, so don’t keep your stresses or homesickness bottled up all the time, because you’re definitely not the only one feeling them.
Trust us, if you want to stay semi-sane during your time abroad, you’ll need a DIY therapy session every once in awhile. Your weekly after-work wine-induced vent sessions will be something you can treasure forever, and not just because the cocktails are so much better with free aperitivos. Gives a whole new meaning to “happy hour,” eh?
5. Book or movie clubs.
This might sound super lame after talking about pub crawls and shots, but you’ll find that even the coolest kids get jazzed over intense series like The Hunger Games or Divergent. If you’re amped to see a new movie coming out soon or are wanting to read the book that the movie is based on, you’re probably not the only one.
Start an unofficial book or movie club with the other interns so you can all enjoy a slice of home together. We all know that homesickness is real while interning abroad, so why not use some pop culture to make each other feel better? For book lovers, pick a series to get engrossed in, have different people buy different installments, and then rotate! If you’re more of a movie buff than a reader, organize times to check out the latest films so you can all get hepped up on candy and popcorn together (or sometimes even wayyy better foods depending on your host country!).
This not only helps with bonding with your interns and decreasing homesickness while abroad, but it also lessens reverse culture shock after you return home. It is all too common for people spending extended periods of time abroad to feel very disconnected when they come home, especially for those who really prioritize immersion. You will definitely feel uncomfortable when you’re at a friend’s house after you return home and everyone is raving about the latest Batman movie that you didn’t see. While one missed movie or book won’t break your spirits, it’ll really set in if it’s the fourth or fifth time that day you’ve been made to feel like you “missed out” on everything back home.
6. Local explorations.
If you’re interning in a hoppin’ area, there is probably a lot to do when it comes to local activities. Get your interns together and check out the fabulous weekend markets, attend any and all events or festivals, and make your own walking tour of the top sites.
Don’t be afraid to get outside of your city and check out all that your region has to offer. If you’re interning in a coastal city, call up a few people and find a beach to relax on. If you’re close to a rural area, go for a hike or explore a nearby countryside town. Take advantage of the unique things you’re close to and make some friends while you’re at it! You’ll all be cursing each other’s names as you’re huffing and puffing it up that huge mountain, but the stories you’ll have from getting lost in the woods in the Alps will definitely ensure BFF-hood for life.
7. Weekend adventures.
If you’re feeling particularly gutsy and really want to test the boundaries of your intern friendships, head out on a weekend excursion or vacation together. Traveling with other people either makes fast friends or fast enemies, so why not put it all out there?
If you’re interning in Madrid and you and a bunch of your intern friends have always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, grab a cheap flight using Ryanair or EasyJet and head out to Paris for the weekend. We promise you that the tiny seats and semi-sketchy landing will have you and your friends laughing for the rest of the weekend. Or maybe you’re interning in an area like South America that has huge countries. Take an overnight bus from one side of Brazil to the other and spend the weekend lounging on the beaches of Ipanema with your friends. The options are endless and the memories will be forever!
8. When all else fails, make fun of your boss.
We all do it. Your fellow interns know you do it. Might as well get together for a drink and do it together. A shot for every time your boss used the word “synergy” today is always the best drinking game.
Interning abroad is an amazing way to get solid work experience and a very concrete idea of how the global business world works.
Don’t forget, though, that meeting new people and getting outside of your comfort zone can teach you just as much as your office can! You will learn a lot from that report you’re working on for your boss and those presentations you give to your department, but you can learn just as much from the other people you’re interning with and exploring what is going on around you in your host city. After you’ve put in a solid day’s work, all that’s left to do is kick off your heels, loosen your tie, and go make some friends that will last a lifetime!