5 Internship Tips For International Students

Last year when I moved to the United States to pursue my Master’s degree, everything was new to me. I didn’t know which brand of cereal to buy, how much a nickel was or where I could get a straw in Starbucks. The little, everyday things and the inconvenience my newness caused to others made me cripplingly anxious.

One time I brought a Chipotle rice bowl to class and ate it with my hands because I didn’t know I have to get spoons and forks myself. Luckily I’m Indian so eating with my hands is not a problem, but my point remains! When simple things like grocery shopping come with a set of challenges, imagine how difficult it is to get an internship. So here are a few things I learned the hard way.

  1. 1. Be patient

    American students can apply to any internships they like, if they get selected they can start working immediately. Nobody keeps a tab on them about what they are doing, where, for how long and for how many hours. International students, however, have to get permissions from their student office for everything. Since these are rules we have to follow there is no point complaining, so just stay on top of all the long procedures. Talk to your advisor and figure out whether you are allowed to intern at all, for how many hours, is location an issue, is compensation something they need to be informed about and all the documentation you need to prepare.

  2. 2. Start early

    Since the procedures for international students can take up some time, I advise you to look for internships from early onwards. Last year, I started looking for summer internships in the spring, don’t do that. Keep an eye out for interesting opportunities all year round. Bigger companies also start their application and hiring processes earlier, some even a year in advance.

  3. 3. Let your professors guide you

    During the two years that I’ve spent in the US, the faculty from my school has been really helpful and supportive. Most of the teachers want to work with you and help you grow, so get to know them and let them know that you’re looking for internships. For my last internship, I worked directly with one of my professors and I had an incredible experience.

  4. 4. Save some money beforehand

    Internships can get quite expensive, especially if you’re planning to intern in a huge city. Most internships are notorious for paying next to nothing. So it’s best if you start saving some money in advance for your summer expenses. All the money I earned from my internship went into paying my rent and summer tuition, so you might not make a lot either.

  5. 5. Don't be disheartened

    It might seem like everyone in your class is scoring an internship in San Francisco or getting an exciting summer job. Don’t let that get you down, for most international students it is very hard to score good internships. Not only are American students better-equipped at navigating this internship circus, but they might also have contacts that we as complete outsiders don’t. There are several socio-cultural factors involved so if you don’t get an internship, don’t assume it was because of your lack of skills or talent. Just find a summer job on campus and try again next year.