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A Guide to International Internships

Pssst…we’re going to let you in on a little secret. Did you know there are ways to go abroad and earn college credit that can ALSO double-whammy as an internship placement? Never mind the simple fact that you’ll have secured international business experience under your belt, killing two goals with one adventure is just plain efficient! If you’re a student who is drawn to sharpen your soft skills, but also wouldn’t mind coming home with some new professional skills in your repertoire too, then interning abroad is the international experience for you. Ready to learn all you need to know to secure an internship abroad?

Step 1: Find a Program

Interning abroad is sort of like the more-exotic-with-less-baggage has-their-life-together cousin of study abroad, who shows up at a family party and totally rocks your world. The benefits of international internships are unique and, while not as prevalent as study abroad, very versatile. Due to the direct correlation that internships have to potential career paths, these opportunities are considered to be a better fit for students who want to maximize their investment in an experience abroad.

Intern abroad programs can be searched based on a specific destination, a field of work, a length of stay, or a general region. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the paradox of choice, holler at one of GoAbroad’s expert Online Advisors for a short list of suggested internships that match what you’re looking for.

Take advantage of resources:

  • People. Key people to talk to as you plan to develop your intern abroad action plan include your study abroad advisor, your campus academic advisor, your financial aid office, registrar or department heads, and of course, Mom and Dad (for that check, #nawmean?)
  • Online. Do real research. Consult the GoAbroad Online Advisor, read articles about interning abroad, compare program reviews, and pour over interviews with program alumni and staff.

Keep in mind:

  • Payment. You may be wondering if you can find an internship abroad that’s paid. While it is possible, this is never a guarantee. Inquire with individual employers to see what compensation packages, if any, are available to you.
  • Scholarships. Intern abroad scholarships exist! Ask your host organization, the company organizing your internship, or your university contacts to learn about available funding options. Apply early and apply often!
  • Timing. Many students opt to do their internship abroad in the summer for a multitude of reasons; this is a great way to fill your precious time off!

Questions to ask:

  • Can I chat with an alum? Getting first-hand, direct feedback on an internship program or placement from a previous intern is your best best for factual information.
  • Will I get credit for my international internship? This is by no means a guarantee, but a potential option. Chat with your university advisors to see if you can score college credit for your internship abroad.
  • Can I intern abroad for free? Well, it never hurts to ask (after all, it is possible!). But don’t be disappointed if you get laughed at or shunned, maybe not literally though.

You can choose to find an internship program based on where you’d like to live or be in proximity to. Gain access to special collections, specific experts in your field of study, or unique and relevant environments you can’t get back home.

On the flipside, you can choose to find an internship abroad based on your field of interest. If you know you want to do a research internship abroad or find an internship in civil engineering or marketing for example, be open to traveling to a destination that will give you the best professional development experience possible.

Step 2: Figure Out How to Pay for It

Getting an internship abroad may be the easy part. But then the bill comes in the mail, your first thought might be: “Uh, can I take a couple 0’s off the end of that price?!”

Keep in mind that while any international adventure may cost you a considerable sum of money, it does not have to be expensive or financially infeasible. There are internships abroad for every budget, and if you can accurately portray the value of international work experience to your parents, we have a hunch it will work out.

Financial aid may apply. If you are currently receiving a grant or scholarship (especially if it is supplied by the state or federal government), chances are it can be applied to your internship abroad. Your campus financial aid office will be your best bet for accurate info on this front.

Other potential sources of funding to help lessen the financial burden include:

  • Scholarships. As mentioned earlier, scholarships and other monetary awards are the golden eggs of diminishing overhead.
  • Crowdfunding. If a random guy can get perfect strangers to finance his potato salad dreams, then funding your internship abroad should be a breeze. Websites like FundMyTravel make it easy for individuals to fundraise for meaningful travel experiences.
  • Get a job. Start saving your money to put toward the grand total needed. If you’re not willing to work for it, then interning abroad might not be a good fit for you anyway.

You should look at your international internship as an investment in your future, one that will continue to pay off dividends, from intern to potential candidate to new hire to employee of the month. Keep in the mind the benefits of interning abroad; you can’t put a number or dollar amount on this kind of experience!

Step 3: Apply & Prepare

Sometimes the most daunting part of the process is hitting the “submit” button on the application page. How can you submit your virtual resume with confidence?

Don’t get lazy with your cover letter. Make sure it is hyper relevant to the position you are applying for. State your goals clearly. Be concise and avoid flowery language. Commit to connecting your desired experience abroad with your life back home or future career.

The organization handling the logistics of your internship abroad will be able to provide the most helpful, extensive advice for your application. But it’s not a bad idea to be one step ahead of the game with general preparations:

  • Get your travel docs in a row: Be sure you have a valid passport and visa for your destination of choice.
  • Memorize some words in the local language. And we don’t just mean “beer” (even though it may be helpful in your after work happy hours!). Commit general greetings to memory, and make a pocket list of emergency phrases just in case.
  • Do you have a heartbeat? Double check that you’re alive and well by getting a physical prior to departure. Double check your destination country to ensure you don’t need specific vaccines or immunizations.
  • Prep for jetlag. No yawns allowed during your first week of work! Learn ways to combat relapses from hopping time zZzZones.
  • Pack appropriately. Research your destination before tossing your yoga pants or basketball tanks into your shiny new suitcase. Even outside of the office, you should be prepared to dress properly and respectfully.

Proper planning and preparation is the first step to avoiding regrets when doing an internship abroad.

Step 4: Kick Butt at Your Internship

Before you embark on your big trip, take some time to sit down and think critically about what you hope to accomplish through your internship. Outline tangible goals that you can work towards daily, and keep your list as a working document. You can modify your list the more comfortable you get in your role, the more you recognize parts of the job you’re jiving with versus parts you aren’t, and as you learn what is reasonable to accomplish instead of far fetched.

Don’t have a starry eyed view of what your internship abroad will be. There will be time for fun, for laughter, for adventure. But it is ultimately your job, and should be treated as such. Be patient with yourself as you are combatting not only the culture shock of a new country, but potentially the culture shock of a 40 hour work week. Trust us, both are tough.

It’s important that you over communicate with your supervisor or ground staff. If you are unhappy with an element of your internship, no one can do anything about it if you don’t vocalize your frustrations. On the flipside, recognize that adjustment takes time and your petty issues may be just that: petty. You didn’t buy all of those adorable professional clothes so you could whine à la high school self.

Step 5: Return Home & Launch Your Career

While it would be great if your internship abroad could seamlessly turn into the fabulous expat life abroad, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to return home at some point (besides, we’re sure you’ll miss Mom’s cooking and dollar menus).

Now that your resume sparkles with international street cred, brainstorm new career paths or activities that will allow you to continue building on the skills you started to uncover while you were abroad. Get involved in mentoring future students weighing the choice of studying or interning abroad, or start planning your next trip!

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