College students today already know the importance of internships and their direct correlation to good career prospects.
Work experience abroad stands out on your resume and demonstrates that you have been willing to take on the challenge of working beyond your comfort zone alongside people with work styles, values, and a culture that are different from yours. Interning in a non-English speaking country also provides an opportunity to practice a new language, a skill that is valued by prospective employers, especially those with a global presence.
Types of International Internships Available
Internships are available to American students across the globe — in Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and throughout Africa. The OpenDoors report published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, shows that 15,089 U.S. students participated in internships, non-credit work, and volunteering abroad in 2012–13. This is an increase from the 2011–12 academic year, when 12,758 students were similarly engaged.
The most popular destinations reported for this group are Mexico, the U.K., China, India, Italy, Germany, Spain, and France. Initiatives like the 100,00 Strong Foundation, which seeks to expand the number of Americans studying Mandarin, as well as the growth of U.S.–Chinese trade relations, has led to an increase in the number of U.S. citizens who go to China for both study abroad and internship programs.
Students can find international internship opportunities in a wide range of areas. GoOverseas.com, a website that lists international internship opportunities, reports on the most popular fields for international internships, which include business and finance, engineering, tourism, marketing and PR, development and NGOs, law and human rights, environmental and conservation studies, medicine and global health, fashion, and architecture.
Internships abroad can vary in duration, from as short as one week, say, if you are teaching English in the Himalayas, to an eight-week summer program working on a rain forest project in Costa Rica. Some may even be longer than two years, depending on the needs of the host organization.
Searching for an Affordable Internship Abroad
Many foreign internship positions are unpaid, due to host-country regulations. In addition, providers may charge a significant fee, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, in exchange for finding and facilitating an internship tailored to individual student requirements.
American students are often able to receive academic credit for internships or work abroad. Credit-seeking students need to pay an additional amount to cover administrative and academic supervision costs. Students may need to communicate regularly with an academic supervisor, maintain weekly journal entries, or write a paper to receive credit, depending on the program.
To manage expenses, you can look for a lower cost or paid internship through one of the sources described below. You can also look for fellowships and scholarship programs, both government- and privately-funded, available to students interning abroad.
Contact career services or a college advisor.
Most colleges have a study abroad office that may be able to assist you with arranging an internship related to your field, help you gain academic credit for your experience, and apply for financial aid from your school.
Seek out opportunities from the U.S. government.
The U.S. Department of State offers fellowships and internship opportunities in foreign and civil services. To find out more, visit the U.S. Department of State Student Programs page. International Organization Careers offers global internship programs across the United Nations system and with other inter-governmental organizations (IGOs).
Arrange an internship through a nonprofit organization.
Nonprofit organizations arrange internships for lower fees than private companies.
AISEC is a worldwide student-run organization with chapters on many college campuses. Their internship opportunities are often paid, and AISEC members located in the host country are available to help new interns.
For students with a STEM major, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experiences (IAESTE) is a nonprofit that offers paid internships in more than 80 different countries. The internships include a stipend, housing, assistance with visa processing, help from local student volunteers, and cultural activities for interns. IAESTE is administered by Cultural Vistas, a nonprofit with several internship-abroad programs and fellowships for students.
Other examples include the American Scandinavian Foundation, which arranges internships for engineering and natural sciences students in Scandinavian countries, and International Cooperative Education, which offers lower cost and paid internships in a variety of fields.
Do it yourself.
You can apply directly to international companies with global internship programs. While a lot of effort is involved in doing it all yourself, you can save on expensive provider fees. Contact companies that you admire and ask if they are open to arranging an internship opportunity. In addition, reach out to contacts you may have who live in the country you wish to intern in — they may have connections they can put you in touch with.
Making Your Internship a Success
Here are some tips to ensure your internship is a success professionally:
Prepare before you leave.
Research basic facts about the country you will visit, such as languages spoken, size of the country, population, main cities, and cultural values. Moreover, look up cultural differences from the U.S. in both workplace and social situations.
Depending on the country you wish to intern in, you may need to make visa arrangements. Contact the country’s embassy 2–3 months before you are scheduled to leave to inquire what this process will be like.
You may have difficulties adjusting to a new culture and workplace, but demonstrate enthusiasm for the work and your responsibilities, coupled with an eagerness to learn about the organization. Your positive attitude will show your coworkers that you are serious about succeeding, and they will, in turn, be more likely to share their time to make that happen.
Save all the contacts you make.
Use this opportunity to expand your professional network. When your trip is over, be sure to send thank-you notes to supervisors and host families. Stay in touch.
Advice From a Student
I spoke to music major, Nicole Vilkner, who participated in a combined study abroad and music performance summer program in Siena, Italy. Here are her words of advice to achieve a culturally-enriching experience:
Connect with people locally.
Get up the nerve to reach out to locals during your trip if you don’t have a local contact. The best and most lasting memories (and possibly friendships) will grow from this.
Consider the dress codes.
I am uncomfortable if I don't feel like I'm properly dressed for something. It's probably worth it to either read up on local dress or do some Google image searches to get a sense of how people dress wherever you are going.
Practice the language.
As English-speakers, it is often easy to find someone who can communicate with you in English. Resist this. Again, it takes some guts to blurt out something terribly mispronounced, or even terribly wrong. But, even with the mistakes, people appreciate the effort, and you reap the benefits of the language's practical use. I was a regular at the local gelateria in Siena, and many times got my order wrong — once I ordered fish (pesce) ice cream instead of peach (pesca). The owner had a good laugh, and I will never mix up those words again!
Still considering your options? Follow this link to find further advice about finding a study abroad program.
Americans Training in Scandinavia. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from The American Scandinavian Foundation. Cultural Vistas Programs for Students and Young Professionals. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from CulturalVistas.
International Cooperative Education. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from International Cooperative Education.
International Internships, IAESTE. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from IAESTE United States.
Internships, International Organization Careers. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from IO Careers.
Non-Credit Work, Internships, and Volunteering Abroad, 2011/12-2012/13, Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, Institute of International Education. (2014). Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from International Educational Exchange.
Southwick, N. Most Popular Types of International Internships (and Where to Find Them) (March 20, 2013). Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from GoOverseas.com.
Student Programs, U.S. Department of State. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from U.S. Department of State.
Taft, R. 10 Paid Internships Abroad in Summer 2015. Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from GoOverseas.com.
Taft, R. Scholarships for Interning Abroad (April 4, 2013). Retrieved on April 24, 2015 from GoOverseas.com.