We all know that before you accept that dream international internship, there’s a whole range of factors that you need to consider. A lot of them have to do with the ins and outs of the internship offer itself. What are the working conditions like in the new country? What are your rights? Will you enjoy the work and what will you learn? Will I get paid? The list goes on…
However, don’t make the mistake of only reading the fine print of that email contract. You also need to reflect and consider on things like where you’re going, what the business culture is like, how you integrate yourself in your new place of work, how likely you are to win intern of the year. These are important factors, too! So before you book your flight tickets and change your Facebook location, consider…
1. Are you where the action is?
We’ve all been there. You book a phenomenally well priced ticket to an exciting holiday destination, only to arrive and find out why your plane ticket was so reasonably priced. It turns out that the “capital city” airport you’re landing in is very far away from the airport.
This same buffoonery can be true of your international internship. It may seem like you’re being offered the dream job in a fantastic city, but do your research. Find out where the buzzing parts of your new city are and make sure that your office isn’t a four hour drive away on the very outskirts. Either you’ll be caught miles away from all the action, or you’ll be staring a long commute in the face every morning and evening (another go at the Harry Potter series, anyone?).
On the other hand…
2. Do you want to be where the action is?
Many people choose an internship abroad to feel all the feels of a different city. But equally, you might be looking to move away from the noise of a big city in exchange for a more laid back, serene lifestyle. Again, it’s time to sit down and do some research. Try and get a feel for your new home by checking out what kind of events there are. Is it more super club or jazz bar? What do people do all day? Can you get down main streets easily on a Friday night? If the answer’s yes, then you’re probably in for a much more relaxed vibe.
Try and get into contact with past interns if possible, as well as scour reviews of programs for hints and to make sure you cover all your bases (aka. avoid regret!).
3. Visa, Visa, Visa?
Don’t forget to consider whether you’ll be able to travel after you’ve completed your internship, whether you can extend the visa, or if you can change employers during your time abroad. Should you enter on a tourist or business visa? How long is it valid for? I’m sure you’ve had enough of visa talk already, so we’ll leave that there.
4. Do you want a home away from home?
One really important thing to consider before you decide to accept an international internship offer is the extent to which you want to be distanced from your life at home. If you want quick access to your favorite snacks from home and immediate circles comprised of friends that are also international, stick to a major city or a culturally similar country.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more hardcore (and are willing to give up your precious Cadbury bars for a few months), then you should opt to fully immerse yourself in a new and totally different, totally whack, totally awesome foreign culture.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to retain some of your creature comforts from home. Generally, places in Europe (particularly the UK), Australia, and New Zealand will give you the opportunity to experience a new city and different cultures, while still giving you your fill of home life (read: Starbucks).
If you choose to look further afield, particularly throughout Asia, Africa, or Latin America, you’ll be experiencing something slightly more alien. Don’t worry, you won’t be TOTALLY in the boonies. Almost everywhere nowadays has connected expat communities, and of course, this wonderful tool called the internet.
Consider whether you want to truly challenge yourself and put yourself out of your comfort zone.
5. Is this company part of a network I want to be apart of?
When you accept a job offer for an internship abroad through a provider like Volunteer Adventure Corps, CAPA, or the Intern Group, you might not have considered the world of connections you are adopting. Do some digging into their social media profiles, read their reviews, and peruse their websites to get a feel for how engaged their alumni are.
Happy past participants = strong network = increased likelihood of your international internship benefiting you in years to come.
Internship program providers with a strong online community amongst their alumni means you’ll be able to use your provider’s connections to get a leg up in future job op’s (or who knows, to find a couch to crash on when you’re visiting Sydney). Know that your internship is part of a bigger career-development puzzle, and you can start setting yourself up for success NOW by choosing a well-established internship program.
6. What’s the general culture of work?
Different cultures mean different attitudes toward work. Consider whether the country you’ll be interning abroad in has certain different work expectations (such as dress, attitude, or compliance) that are present not just at your new company, but also across many industries there, too. You might be surprised by what you find out. Some cities can have certain subtleties to their working culture that you might not have considered, particularly when it comes to the work-life balance and certain attributes expected of their employees.
For instance, interns in China will know to not let their boss lose face, and those with internships in Italy know to dress their best every day. Punctuality, in places like Germany and Japan, is taken very seriously, whereas Amsterdam generally operates on a four day work week.
Once you know what the general culture of work is, ask yourself: is this a work culture you feel you can not only survive, but thrive in? If in your research you find the business culture of your internship destination is very hierarchical, and you struggle with listening to authority, then you might be doomed before you start.
7. Is the location conducive to travel?
One of the great things about living in a new country is that you get the opportunity to visit the entire country, not just the new city in which you’re living. Use your weekends wisely and you’ll be able to visit all sorts of amazing places, you know, the kind that tourists leave regretting not visiting. If you’re looking for internships in England, for example, the public travel networks are extensive, but can be costly if you don’t choose wisely. If you’re interning in Cape Town, don’t expect to make quick bus trips to Jo-burg.
If traveling is a subsidiary goal of your international internship (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t it be), you may consider signing up for a program in a bigger or more-connected city. You can make plans for international travel to nearby countries either during or after your internship. It may come to be that you can’t find an internship offer in your dream country (<3 Ecuador <3), but maybe you can get one next door (Colombia!).
8. Will you have the opportunity to build contacts?
Another great advantage of doing an internship, in general, let alone abroad, is the opportunity to establish contacts. Make sure you use the opportunity to network like crazy, both within your new company and outside of it. By the end of your stay, you may well have established a book full of potential mentors, clients, or partnerships (or future job op’s).
If you decide after your internship that you want to stay on working in that country, this will be invaluable. The networking will help your chances of being offered a full time position at that company or gain employment elsewhere. If you want to head back home after your internship, you never know when those contacts might prove incredibly useful in your career.
9. What is your end goal?
Are you taking an international internship for adventure? To land a full time job at the company eventually? To have a cooler summer than your peers? To add some seriously hardcore “professional skills” bullet points to your resume? To become fluent in a foreign language? A combination of the above?
You're ready to rock life abroad—both inside and outside the workplace
Reflecting on your motivations for interning abroad will help you have a more fulfilling, productive experience while there. There is no point in going if your goals aren’t outlined. For example, one of the most transferable skills you’ll gain during an internship abroad is an understanding of a different market and culture. So many companies are multinational nowadays, having an understanding of not just the local culture, but specifically how business is done in those countries can be invaluable.
But you will only gain these skills if you make an action plan for it, so don’t passively waste the opportunities available to you while interning abroad.
While some might say you should be gung-ho for any offer (and accept it immediately), there are steps to take to carefully consider it, not only from an employee/employer perspective, but also from the lens of life abroad. You’re a stud, and any company would be lucky to have you; make sure they’re a good fit before you send that “Yes!” email.