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Study Abroad Internships: How to Find One

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been accepted into your school’s study abroad program or are considering taking the leap. But before you pack up your suitcase, enjoy your last authentic McDonald’s cheeseburger and bid bon voyage to the land of the free and home of Bradley Cooper, consider one last addition to your to-do list: finding an internship. Her Campus writer Gennifer told us in five steps how to land a summer internship, but what if you want to do one while abroad? HC gives you the low-down on how you should go about deciding if an international internship is right for you and if so, how you can truly get the best of both worlds.

Why participate in an internship abroad?

  • Gain exposure to real-world problems and issues not necessarily found in textbooks.
  • Cultivate adaptability and creativity in a dynamic world.
  • Ease transition from being a student to entering the workforce.
  • Increase self-confidence in the workplace and develop an expanded network of associates and professionals.
  • Have hands-on opportunities to work with equipment and technology that may not be available on campus.
  • Evaluate specific companies or specific careers prior to committing to full-time employment—a “try before you buy” type experience.
  • Learning a new language or brushing up on the language skills you already have!
  • Immersing yourself in an entirely new culture. University of Connecticut Program Specialist Lisa McAdam Donegan says, “When you combine an internship with study abroad you get a much more complete package of educational enhancement. You are able to become more acclimated into the culture and develop deep relationships.”
  • Connecting with the native residents on both a personal and professional level. Vassar College student, Marie Dugo, studied abroad in London during the Fall 2009 semester. Through interning at Solar Associates, a media arts consultancy that works with artists to help bring their art to the public, Dugo highly recommends an internship while abroad as it enables you to “connect with indigenous residents of the country you are visiting who also happen to share your career interests and have a lot of wisdom to bestow.”

According to the University of Connecticut’s Study Abroad Center, there are three important questions to consider before deciding if an internship while studying abroad is right for you.

  1. Are you willing to put in the time and effort into finding this opportunity and completing the required paperwork (visas, passports, etc.) to make this study abroad dream a reality? It is important to know that deciding to do an internship abroad takes planning ahead. Not only will finding an internship likely be trickier, but prospective applicants should be prepared to do a little extra work. This may entail taking steps to obtain appropriate visas and work permits, arranging special travel plans, getting a passport, and getting certain immunizations (depending where you are traveling), among others. Your abroad program should tell you specifics such as immunizations that are required, but you can get ahead of the game by applying for a passport here.
  2. Will you be earning academic credit for your internship? Most internships require that you earn academic credit. If you are able to receive credit, who will be giving you the credit and who will be responsible for evaluating your internship experience? It is also imperative to find out if you need to find a faculty member (whether it is abroad, in the states, or both) who will supervise your experience and can attest to your work. Find out if communication will need to be made with a supervisor at your school in the states and how it will be maintained (via e-mail, telephone, etc.). Contact your school’s study abroad office or look on its website to learn your school’s specific policies.
  3. Do you speak another language? If you’re planning on interning in Japan, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on a few key phrases (and not just “pass the sushi, please”). But if being in a work environment where English isn’t the primary language makes you wary, your internship experience might be a more positive one if completed in an English-speaking country such as the United Kingdom or Australia.

Tips Before You Go:

  • Adjust your resume if necessary. Every country has different information that should be on a resume. For example, in Europe, resumes typically include information such as marital status, number of children and a picture (something that would never be seen on an American resume). By making changes on your resume that tailors it to the country, it will show that you took the time to research aspects of the country’s culture and that you are highly interested in the position. Check out goinglobal.com for tips on catering your resume to various countries as well as eurograduate.com for sample resumes and CVs.
  • Network with professors and students. There may be professors right on your campus who have connections with people, programs or companies overseas, who could help you secure an internship abroad. If you’re looking for an internship in the communications industry, hit up professors in your school’s journalism department to see if they know of any opportunities or even if they just have advice for your search. Likewise, talk with students who participated in the internship program that that you’re interested in. They may have good advice and can provide you with the “insider’s” glimpse to see if the internship is something you truly want to do.
  • Do your research. If you want to do an internship while abroad, do your homework and start weighing your options at least a year before you set sail. Give yourself enough time to research the different internships available, actually apply to the internships, and ultimately seal the deal. Dugo says, “We were able to give our preferences from the pre-arranged internship opportunities, so I sat down to do some online research on the companies and decided that Solar Associates would be the best fit for me.” By giving yourself enough time, you won’t have to rush to complete paperwork, find a place to live, and make travel arrangements.

Here’s a tentative timeline to help guide you through the process:

1 year (or more) before going abroad: Decide if studying abroad is an experience you would like to have at some point during your college career. Begin looking online at your options to see what programs are available. McAdam Donegan says, “Don’t expect to find any internship in two weeks. Have a fall semester plan if you want to do something in the summer.” 10 months before going abroad: Make an appointment to meet with someone to discuss your plan of action at your school’s Career or Study Abroad center. Find out if there are any prerequisites that you must fulfill before leaving the states, such as language requirements. Ask an expert at your school if there are any specific courses that you must take or skills that are mandatory to acquire before setting sail. For example, if you’re a Marine Biology major, will you need to know how to swim during your internship? For those in the medical field, will you need any Red Cross training? Double check what is expected of you now, to ensure that there won’t be any surprises later. After your study abroad acceptance: Begin networking by contacting professors in your major’s departments or students who can give you an insider’s glance concerning what an internship in your country of choice is really like. One month before your internship deadline: Start asking your professors for any necessary letters of recommendation. Begin talking to your professors in class now, so you can start building a relationship with them, and in return, they can have the chance to get to know you better.

Ready to start? Begin by checking out these websites:

  • Idealist.org
  • Internabroad.org
  • Transitionsabroad.org
  • Iaeste.org
  • Aiesec.org

Good luck and bon voyage! Sources: Office of International Programs at Colorado State University (http://wsprod.colostate.edu/cwis30/2007/international_ed/index.asp?url=i…) Study Abroad Office at the University of Connecticut (http://www.career.uconn.edu/docs/AppendixIIIInternationalInternships.pdf) Brigham Young University (BYU) Internship Office (http://webpub.byu.edu/internships-byu/html/Benefits2.html) Marie Dugo, Vassar College student Lisa McAdam Donegan, University of Connecticut Study Abroad Program Specialist

Taylor Trudon (University of Connecticut ’11) is a journalism major originally from East Lyme, Connecticut. She is commentary editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Campus, a blogger for The Huffington Post and is a proud two-time 2009 and 2010 New York Women in Communications scholarship recipient. She has interned at Seventeen and O, The Oprah Magazine. After college, Taylor aspires to pursue a career in magazine journalism while living in New York City. When she's not in her media bubble, she enjoys making homemade guacamole, quoting John Hughes movies and shamelessly reading the Weddings/Celebrations section of The New York Times on Sundays (with coffee, of course).
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