Health & Safety
Working vs Learning Abroad
Submitted by Anthony - University of Utah | August 09, 2017
Generally reviews talk about how going abroad changes your life and include experiences most people never have. While this is completely true and has occurred on each of my abroad experiences sometimes everyone needs a bit of reality. That isn't to say I am some millennial ungrateful or complaining about the opportunities I had but rather explaining how understanding an abroad program is crucial to finding the right fit.
The first two study abroad's I embarked on were, as the name indicates, centered around going to school. My third, most recent, was as an internship, working 9-5 everyday. The biggest difference between the two is the time you spend outside school vs. work.
When you study abroad, lets be honest, the school work in most education institutions outside the U.S. is minimal. You can choose to attend class and you're pretty much studying for one final test or paper at the end of the semester. There generally isn't hours of homework every day. So you spend the majority of your weeknights going out and your weekends traveling with the group of friends you've been going out with (largely other students studying abroad).
For those who do internships it's a completely difference experience. You work all day and are pretty much expected to be in Monday-Friday. You come home from your commute and if you're like me fix dinner, go the gym, and before you know it it's time to fall asleep and do it all over again. On top of that is your social surrounding. When attending school you meet other local students and those studying abroad who pretty much have the same time schedule as you. When you work you may or may not be placed with other people your age. Additionally if you live with people your age they all have different work schedules that generally don't line up with yours. So out of a 7 day week maybe two of those nights your house/friends all free from work but there is a good chance a few already planned a trip that weekend and thus everyone is doing their own thing solo.
On top of that my program had both gap year students and a handful of us doing internships. During the summer interns rule the program and their social interactions together are much greater. When you go during the fall and spring you are interacting with others who have nine additional months to see everything versus the three you have. More so no one is arriving at the same time when you have a mix of gap years and interns during the fall and spring. As such by the time you build a rapport with someone over two months you only have one left to enjoy others company.
That lengthy explanation is simply to help you characterize how you'll feel on an internship within the first month possibly two depending on your personality and the people you meet. The first month I kept asking myself "why am I here?" I simply woke up went to work, commuted home, ate, went to the gym, and did the whole thing all over again. Not because I didn't want to go out and experience the rest of the city but because of the reasons I explained above. Your day is filled with work, your housemates are on different schedules and due to the lack of interns and plethora of gap years they have different priorities and don't feel the urgent need to get to know interns. Additionally my placement didn't put on that many events for all of us to meet and interact (as we all lived throughout the city). I was told summer interns have programing at least one every two weeks if not more. However I didn't meet others in my program for over a month and it wasn't for a lack of trying.
Lastly be ready to spend money. My second biggest fault with this was money. I studied abroad for almost 6 months and it cost me half what working abroad for three months did (despite being in the same general area). I had to pay not only for school credit and school learning abroad fee, but the internship program fee, on top of housing that was incredibly expensive. Luckily I applied for multiple scholarships that helped cover the majority of this as I am a lower middle class student with no access to parental funds to pay for this. As such any marketing of this program as available to all students is a bit far fetched. I was simply lucky that I was able to receive multiple scholarships from my school. But the average student could not afford a private internship program (vs. a sister school study abroad program).
At the end of the day though, similar to my other learning abroad experiences, I will say I miss my program and the friends I made there everyday. My supervisor was incredible and I lucked out with the relationship I formed with my company. While I am privileged and given more opportunities than most of my fellow peers, I worked hard to get to do these types of programs and they are ultimately amazing.