5 Lessons Interns Will Learn During Their Overseas Internship

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What you’ll learn from overseas internships

The lessons you’ll learn during an overseas internship go far beyond what any textbook can teach you. As an intern, you’ll be clocking up some valuable hands-on experience in the workplace, which always looks great on a resume. However, an overseas internship is geared toward more than just making you look good on paper. What really makes a difference are the lessons that equip you with well-rounded life skills, arming you with the personal fortitude to translate goals into reality.

Here are five frequently encountered lessons during overseas internships that can build your resilience, confidence, adaptability, and professional identity.

Women interning in a medical field

1. You get out what you put in.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before! But here’s the thing - it’s easy to have a great attitude when you’re working and living within your comfort zone. However, if you haven’t had much opportunity to put your initiative and problem-solving skills to the test in diverse and challenging situations, then it can be hard to identify your strengths and weaknesses, build self-awareness, and understand how you operate under pressure.

Nothing will test your resilience, confidence, and adaptability more than being in an unfamiliar environment, away from home comforts, where you’re busy adjusting to a new diet, culture, routine, environment…and perhaps even a new language! Beginning a new adventure abroad is an exciting time and you’ll discover that there’s something new to learn from the moment you set foot outside the airport. Get ready to put your effort, motivation, and patience into practice. When you’re interning abroad, you’ll quickly learn that a positive and solutions-orientated outlook will be just an important as your talent.

[KEEP READING: How Short Internships Can Make a Big Difference]

A volunteer hugging a local child

2. You’ll surprise yourself.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is appealing because there’s nothing quite like the call of an adventure! But anything that’s new, and challenging at first, can also include moments when you wish for familiarity and home’s comforts.

Although settling into your internship abroad can take some time (and may also feel a little frustrating) it’s also wonderfully gratifying to discover new comforts that create the feeling of a home away from home. You may be surprised to find similarities (and differences) between your own culture and that of your host community, that you did not expect. Or perhaps, surprised to find a new field of interest, or to form an unexpected bond and friendship with someone completely different to you. You’ll surprise yourself by gaining insight into your own cultural quirks from another point of view, by creatively bridging communication divides, and by realizing that you’re a little braver, independent, and capable than you might have imagined.

A volunteer with the locals

3. You’ll stoke your wanderlust.

If you thought you’d sign up for an overseas internship to get travel out of your system before having to “settle down,” you may have to think again! Once your horizons have been expanded and your worldview broadened, they’re not just going to shrink back to their original dimensions as soon as you get home. Rather than satisfying your thirst for adventure, interning abroad in places like Costa Rica or Peru can encourage your curiosity and ambition. But, don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to just drop everything after your overseas internship to jet around the world - this is unrealistic for most of us!

What you can take away from your increased wanderlust is a heightened willingness to give new things a go within your own community. You may view local opportunities a little differently, with an open mind and enhanced inclination to support local volunteer projects, fundraising events, or cultural and networking activities. While it’s beneficial to have cultural intelligence and an enhanced sense of global citizenry, it’s equally valuable to take advantage of “extracurricular” opportunities in your own backyard, which can serve to boost your employability, build relationships, and feel personally rewarding.

[KEEP READING: Top Destinations for Overseas Internships in 2018]


4. You’ll learn to deliver an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a short, sharp response that you can give when you have the opportunity to introduce yourself in a professional capacity, highlight your expertise, pitch an idea, or break the ice in a new social setting. As an international intern, you’ll practice this a lot! Traveling as an intern connects you with great networking opportunities and people will be curious to learn about where you came from, what your career goals are, what attracted you to your destination, and what you’re enjoying so far the most.

Learning how to communicate effectively, speak confidently, and answer succinctly is an important skill that will continue to be useful, even after your overseas internship program is complete. Upon returning home, you can expect to be asked about your experience (whether by family, friends, a job interviewer, or an admissions counselor). Practicing to articulate your experience and summarizing what you learned (and why it was important), can make the difference between nailing that job interview…or not.

A volunteer teaching some local kids

5. You’ll find that your overseas internship was just the beginning.

Wherever your intern abroad experience takes you, you’ll learn that it’s just the beginning! Perhaps you interned to gain course credit and further work experience, or you might have used the opportunity to discover a completely new field of interest. Whether your internship experience solidified your ambitions or set you off on a new course, re-entry back into your “normal” life can feel like a drag. And this is ok!

“Post-travel blues” can hit you, reverse culture shock can be an emotional experience, and farewells are bitter sweet. However, all of these feelings are typically indicative of the fact that you had an awesome time, you made meaningful relationships, and you developed the capacity to view your own culture through different lenses. Having used your overseas internship as a springboard toward achieving other goals, you’ll find that the end of an internship means that there’s another adventure on the horizon, just waiting to begin.

Ready to learn? Find overseas internships now. 

This article was contributed by Intern Abroad HQ, an organization dedicated to building connections between young professionals and international internship opportunities. As the sister organization of International Volunteer HQ, one of the world’s leading volunteer organizations, Intern Abroad HQ offers unparalleled, comprehensive, experiential learning programs.