When it comes to employment opportunities in our competitive world, practical experience is an invaluable addition to classroom learning. One way to gain practical first-hand work experience while also reaping the benefits of studying abroad is through an internship abroad program, which combines academics with real-life work experience at an established international company or organization. Internship abroad programs provide global experience, practical exposure to the demands of specific jobs and development of professional and personal skills, which in turn lead to career opportunities. That’s right—turning an internship into a job isn’t rocket science.
A study abroad internship is one of the most exciting and challenging experiences you will have during your college years. Like a standard study abroad program, it may be the first time you will live in another culture, travel internationally or learn a foreign language – but interning abroad adds substantial benefits. If you’re planning to work for an international NGO or a multinational corporation, your international experiences may well be part of the job description and overall requirements for employment. Regardless of the sector or field, your internship abroad experience will make you a more attractive candidate to employers.
Here’s how to turn internship into a job or career you LOVE.
Why international internships can benefit your career
Interning abroad gives you the opportunity to learn and develop a wide range of skills that employers value, such as communication skills, creativity, and adaptability. Engaging with a different culture, possibly in a different language, in a professional work setting will challenge you and prepare you to join a diverse and fast-paced workforce at home. Exposure to global trends in your industry may also give you an edge over your competition, as will developing a professional network with international connections.
Taking an internship abroad also has the potential to provide you with a fresh outlook and unique perspective on a career you’ve been thinking about after graduation. Even if your career goals are not clear, studying abroad can help you to clarify the direction you’d like to take, give you a new perspective on your academic work, and strengthen skills that will benefit you when you begin your job search in your senior year.
What’s more, it is also viewed as an extremely valuable experience by the vast majority of employers—particularly if you understand how best to market your skills and competencies. Employers are more apt to hire candidates who can articulate the lessons they learned and the intercultural and interpersonal skills they strengthened as a result of studying abroad. In short, your experience specifically abroad can really give you the leg-up when it comes to turning an internship into a job or career!
5 pro tips to turn your internship into a job
Here are some tips to help make the most of your time interning abroad and to translate that experience into career opportunities:
1. Networking is key.
It’s important for you to keep in mind ways in which you can build career connections throughout your time interning abroad. Identify contacts who you believe can contribute to your knowledge and understanding of the local job market or sector you are interested in. It will also help you to learn and practice the art of discussing your career interests with others. By developing a global network of contacts, you will expand your future career opportunities.
2. Be informed about the local culture.
If a homestay is part of your program, use this opportunity of living with locals to learn about the culture, economics, and politics of your local community. Chat with colleagues, shopkeepers, and anyone you can in you host country to gain different perspectives and insights into your environment. Conducting these conversations will make you a better informed person when you’re meeting with other professionals.
3. Utilize your on-campus resources.
On many campuses, there is increased collaboration between career services and education abroad offices, and an increased focus on helping students articulate transferable skills developed while abroad.
Take advantage of the resources at your disposal and work on your resume, interview skills, and contact-building with your career services advisor.
4. Bring your internship experience to life within your résumé.
Work with a career services advisor to highlight professional experiences and new intercultural competencies, and be prepared to describe them in your résumé. An employer will not automatically “see” what may be very obvious to you about a skill or an experience you had while you interned abroad.
5. Practice highlighting your internship abroad experience in interviews.
When applying to a job, do not assume that the interviewer will realize how your international experience is relevant to your candidacy. Address the value of both the general and specific skills you developed during your internship abroad.
6. Translate your lessons from abroad into helpful career insights.
Do you hate commuting? Do you love working in teams or prefer to rock a work project solo? Did time just zip by when you building that digital asset—so much so that you forget to eat lunch? All of these seemingly innocuous events all point to something new you can learn about yourself, your preferred work environment, and the types of positions and companies you need to work for to truly thrive.
Do some self-reflecting on what you learned about your professional self while interning abroad, then ideate ways those can lead to new insights that will influence your future job hunt.
7. Lay the groundwork now if you want to work abroad full-time someday.
You might love your internship supervisor, team, and company culture so much that you want to someday continue as a full time employee at your internship host company. Or, perhaps you’re not set on the company itself, but have fallen head over heels for expat life. If this is you, start laying the groundwork now for a future trans-oceanic move. Get involved in online expat communities for your chosen destination, talk IRL to other foreigners working abroad, get the inside scoop on the visa situation.
Any collecting of info or ideas you can do while abroad the better—but it’s not impossible to sort once you return, either! Turning an internship into a job abroad is a fun and exciting path that many program alumni decide to take.
8. Create a credible brand.
Your “personal online brand” is not some catchy buzzword used to increase the number of vanity URLs in the world. It’s a helpful framework for you to establish a digital, memorable presence. If you want to truly see the big picture and build your career overtime, you need to unforgettable. You need to be known for you, not for your job (pro tip: don’t let a position ever define you!).
Remember: Your reputation will follow you pretty much forever. So don’t only create a brand, create a credible one—one that establishes you as a niche expert in your chosen topic. Then run with it.
9. Use career counseling resources.
Your internship program provider or your university might offer free coaching for career development to students or participants. Use these resources! (We can’t stress this enough). The more people that you talk about your career aspirations with, the more people can help you carve out a role, path, or position that is best suited for you. And let’s face it—they know what they’re talking about, and will probably have some gems of wisdom for you!
You’re ready to turn your internship into a job you love
Do internships turn into jobs and careers? Heck yes! Given the widely accepted impact of globalization on the U.S. economy and in light of the new skills in demand by businesses, nonprofits, and government, it’s to your advantage to consider the career implications of what may be a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience.
Interning abroad will provide a singular opportunity for you to set yourself apart from other job seekers and to build valuable new intercultural skills and competencies, leading to more and better career opportunities in your future. Turn your internship into job or career now!
This article was sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). Since 1964, AIFS has been the choice for over 1.5 million students to study abroad. With year-round programs worldwide, AIFS has a program for every student.