In an increasingly global and competitive job market, having experience working abroad can make you an attractive applicant. An international internship may be a great way to advance your career and make you more culturally competent all at once.
As you consider whether this is the right option for you, here are some questions to guide your decision-making process.
What are the benefits of interning abroad?
In the words of connect-123.com, “To distinguish yourself from others in your field, it’s hard to top a real life international internship.” Understanding and knowing how to navigate another culture is an invaluable skill today. “In a global business environment, cross-cultural proficiency — the kind gained through globe-trotting assignments — is at a premium,” according to the Forbes article “Global Mobility: A Win For You and Your Employer.”
Beyond providing professional benefits, an internship abroad can help you improve your foreign language skills, introduce you to new cultures, and expand your network.
What kind of cultural differences can I expect?
Learning the unwritten rules of the workplace in a domestic office is difficult enough without the added pressure of understanding larger cultural trends in a different country. To have a successful international internship, you must take on the responsibility of learning about your host country’s social customs and understanding how these impact workplace practices.
While experience may be the best teacher, you can prepare yourself by doing research on your destination. The following considerations can help guide you:
- What attire do people wear in the office?
- What is an appropriate greeting for the work environment?
- What expressions or types of conversations are impermissible in the office?
- What gestures or types of behaviors are impermissible in the office?
- How do people behave with their colleagues outside of work?
- What are traditions that should be respected at a professional meeting or dinner?
The answers to these questions may vary according to where you do your internship. While some behaviors are acceptable in certain regions of the world, those same actions or expressions can be considered offensive in others. In general, if you are unsure about how to proceed in a certain situation, it is safest to err on the side of humility, respect, and gratitude — these are timeless cultural customs wherever you go.
Think about how your identity may impact your experience abroad. Your gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion may affect the way you are perceived in a different culture, so it’s a good idea to research your host country’s attitude in these areas.
Follow this link for considerations for women studying abroad in a conservative region.
If you are applying to an internship through your school or an independent program provider, they should be able to give you information about what to expect in your overseas work environment. Guidebooks, such as Fodor’s, Frommer’s, or Lonely Planet, and their corresponding websites, may also provide some guidance about important cultural differences. Finally, check out the U. S. State Department website for up-to-date safety precautions for different countries.
What language proficiency will I need?
Depending on the location and type of work setting, some internships may require you to speak the native language fluently, while others may allow you to conduct your business in English. As you are investigating internship opportunities, pay close attention to language requirements that the office may have to help decide if this setting is a good fit for you.
If you want to improve your foreign language skills, taking an internship abroad is a great way to do so. The immersive environment will help you build your language proficiency more rapidly than other learning approaches.
Even if you are interning in a non-English speaking country where you are not required to be fluent in the native language, it’s a good idea to start learning it before you go abroad. This knowledge can help you better understand interactions around the office and will help you to better engage with the culture outside of work. This is also an important demonstration of your commitment to the opportunity, which may, in turn, lead to an offer of employment.
How do I find an internship abroad?
If you are a student at a university, start by reaching out to your study abroad office or your career center. They will be able to inform you about specific internships that the college offers its students, although schools often charge a fee for these programs.
Family, friends, and alumni abroad are also great resources when it comes to finding internships abroad. Your connections overseas may be able to tap into their immediate network and let you know if anyone is looking for an intern. This can be a more affordable alternative to paying a provider or a school for their program.
Finally, there are many organizations that offer students internships abroad. Some popular providers include IES Abroad, GoAbroad.com, and Global Experiences. Keep in mind that these providers will often offer unpaid internships, and in addition to their fees (sometimes an internship can cost up to $10,000), you will have to cover expenses such as airfare, visa fees, and living expenses.
If you are concerned about the cost of your internship abroad, there are financial aid options to explore. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship gives 2,300 students need-based aid, providing grants up to $5,000. While federal financial aid will not cover summer activities or those outside of a student’s intended academic field, the government can provide some assistance to students. Also, some internship providers grant scholarships to low-income students, so it may be worthwhile to ask about this option.
Follow this link for more articles and advice about internships.
Global Mobility: A Win-Win For You And Your Employer. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2015, from Forbes.
Greenhouse, S. (2015, February 7). Internships Abroad: Unpaid, With a $10,000 Price Tag. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from The New York Times.
International Internship, Volunteer and Study Abroad Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2015, from Connect 123.