A Guide To Interning Abroad in the United States
The United States is one of the most powerful and diverse countries in the world. It has a strong work reputation, safe work environments, and internship opportunities in almost every sector, from film production to scientific research. Interning in the United States will look incredible on a CV or resume after graduation, give you a chance to perfect your English skills, and build a powerful professional network. People from other countries often find American’s friendly and personal demeanor off setting, but after completing an internship in the United States, you’ll understand why Americans are so happy.
Where you choose to intern in the U.S. will be a determining factor in many aspects of your stay there. There are 48 continental states, another in the middle of an ocean (Hawaii), another branching off Canada (Alaska), and then the District of Columbia, which isn’t a state at all, but the nation’s capital city. Each state is incredibly different and where you want to pursue an internship in the USA should be something you seriously consider and research. Take some time to really examine a map of the United States and become familiar with the regions before choosing where to complete your internship abroad.
Washington D.C. The national capital is where all the political magic happens. The city itself isn’t densely populated, but such an incredible number of people commute into the city you would think it was one the most densely populated cities in the world. The District of Columbia is on the east coast, at a crossroads between Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.
The U.S. may seem like a baby to many countries that have been established for thousands of years, but this is where international interns can learn about American history. The city is filled with internship opportunities in politics, diplomacy, administration, law, nonprofit work, and tourism. On the weekends, you can walk The National Mall to see the most famous monuments in America, like the WWII Memorial or the Lincoln Monument or spend hours wandering the Smithsonian or Holocaust Museums.
You can also see the inner workings of the United States government by visiting Capitol Hill and maybe even watching the Supreme Court is session. Some internships in America will house you just blocks from the White House too! The area is naturally a swamp so be prepared for hot, humid summer months (which is the most popular time for internships in Washington D.C.).
New York City. The Big Apple, is known for good reason as the greatest city in the world. With a population of nearly 9 million, it is home to Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, and the location where droves of people, both from the around the U.S. and every corner of the globe, go to make dreams come true. It is an international city that will have everything you could imagine for your internship abroad, at any time of day. There is public transportation within the city and the surrounding area, so you won’t have trouble getting around. NYC isn’t like any other city and not necessarily an accurate portrayal of the rest of the United States. If you intern abroad in New York City and then visit Phoenix, Arizona you will wonder if you are really in the same country. This international urban jungle is intoxicating and full of internship possibilities!
Chicago. This is one of America’s most loved cities. It is famous for its downtown, frigid winters, enchanting summers, and walks along the Chicago River (which they dye green on St. Patrick’s Day). It has good public transportation within the city and can really provide a unique experience. The Midwest is primarily agricultural and sparsely populated. Towns with populations below 5,000 are common in the Midwest, as are dairy farms and cornfields, and its reputation is accurately a friendly and predominantly rural area, so Chicago is the exception.
English Skills. You will need to prove sufficient English language skills to be successful in the work environment for internships in the United States. There may be a test to prove your language skills beforehand, but additional language skills, especially in Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese, can be useful in different areas too.
Eligibility & Laws. There are strict laws for those who intern in the United States, especially regarding unpaid internships, set in place so that interns are treated fairly. For instance, an unpaid intern in the U.S. must be able to illustrate how the internship will help them grow and what benefits they will gain from it. In other words, they must have tangible take-aways. This is often tracked in the form of portfolios and skill tests.
If you use an internship provider to help you secure an internship in the U.S., you should expect fees for matching you with your ideal position, processing your visa, etc., so having a good savings is necessary. Internship placements in the United States can last anywhere from two to 18 months and can be focused on just about anything. Fees for internship programs may also include housing, professional seminars, and excursions.
Business, Marketing, & Finance. English is the language of global business so gaining experience in the field in the United States can really set you apart from the crowd. Marketing and advertising firms are located across the United States with some of the world’s most well known companies and campaigns originating here. Interns will find a range of internships in business and marketing in the U.S.
Hospitality and Tourism. Many internships in the U.S. are available in the hospitality industry and positions will be in hotels and resorts. They range from work at the front desk, concierge services, food service or preparation, public relations, and even hotel management training programs.
Agriculture. This is a highly respected and evolving field, and internships in agriculture could include scientific research, learning about sustainable practices, or working on a farm. Many agricultural and farm-based internship programs are located in Hawaii, but there are also opportunities throughout the Midwest.
Media, Film, & the Arts. Media channels and film and television production internships are particularly popular in the United States. With the media powerhouse of New York on one coast and the most famous film production city in the world, Hollywood, on the other, there are placements in radio, television, film production, performance, and more.
The cost is another greatly fluctuating factor that will be determined by your location. For example, New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. It is right up there with London and Sydney. Rent for even a one bedroom apartment close to the city center can be close to $3,000 and a meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost close to $15. There are always ways to make this cheaper, for instance, group or campus housing, and living outside of the downtown area, will cut your costs almost in half! Then on the other hand, if you intern in a smaller area (especially a little more inland), rent for a nice two bedroom apartment could be as little as $600.
Most internships in the U.S. will include a stipend to help cover living expenses. Wages can range from $1000 to $2000 per month. This will vary depending on the hourly wage in the area. To complete an internship in America you typically need some sort of savings in place to help you live comfortably, unless you find an internship at the highest end of the pay range.
You will almost always need to pay a fee to the organization arranging your internship, to pay for placement, processing of paperwork, and other arrangements. This can be priceless in terms of making the process easier, but be aware that there may be a large start up fee of $500 to $1000 if you take this route.
Health Insurance is required of those who intern in the United States, and you should become familiar with the healthcare system. Your insurance will dictate which clinics or hospitals are best for you to visit in case of an emergency or any medical situation. Once you have chosen your insurance be sure to review it so you know where to go should you need to see a doctor. It is also important to carry your insurance card with you at all times. You will need to show it if you visit a clinic as proof that you are insured, otherwise you may be faced with a large bill immediately.
Internship programs in America are created for students and young professionals. International interns must usually be enrolled in a degree program at a recognized institution in their home country or have graduated less than 12 months prior to the start of their internship in the U.S. You will need to secure a J1-Intern Visa or J1- Trainee Visa which are created specifically to help foreign applicants participate in education or technical training within the United States (ex. International internships). You will need to provide some sort of “proof” that you will return to your home country after you have completed your internship program, such as a family, property, or even bank account information.
You can expect a high standard of living in most areas of the U.S. and many times your internship provider or the company that you intern for, will help you find accommodation. Housing will typically be fully furnished, meaning it will include a stove, refrigerator, and sometimes a washer and dryer. There will be reliable electricity, running water (potable), and Western style bathrooms. Studio style apartments are common in urban areas and are more economical. This means the bedroom, living room, and kitchen won’t really be separated, but part of an open floor plan.
Take Initiative. Stepping forward and volunteering to take the lead is highly respected in America work culture. Your boss will be impressed if you take ownership of a project or volunteer to help with something. Speaking up and contributing will be encouraged by your internship provider.
U.S. Workforce. The office culture in America can seem straight forward and rigid to many cultures. Your supervisor will probably expect you to arrive promptly, if not a bit early everyday. Breaks are structured and lunch time is usually 30 minutes.
The Sites. Take it all in while interning in the United States. There is a lot to see from the Grand Canyon, to Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the Great Lakes, and endless fields of corn.
Public Transportation. This may come as as a shocker to many, but the U.S. is not well equipped when it comes to public transportation. Many of the larger cities will have public transportation within the area and connecting the nearby suburbs, but getting across the country or from city to city can be difficult. Depending on where you live during your internship in the U.S., you may need to buy or rent a car.
How are you? This is something that shocks and confuses many international visitors. Americans say this as a greeting and in passing without actually expecting an answer. Don’t feel like you have to give an extensive portrayal of your emotions when the stranger in the grocery store smiles and says, “How you doing?” but continues walking before you say a word.
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