Ten Questions to Aks Your Intern Abroad Provider Before You Go

International internships can be a great way to gain practical career experience while continuing your cross-cultural education. It may be a much-longed-for “sequel” to your study abroad experience, allowing you to return to the host country where you’ve previously sojourned. Or, you might take this opportunity to use already-developed language skills in one country (Spain) to explore a country or culture that is otherwise foreign to you (Chile). And if you’ve found yourself unable to participate in traditional study abroad due to academic, financial, or time constraints — or would simply rather gain international experience outside the classroom — internships abroad can be great alternative option to get outside the US.

While there will always be surprises — that’s part of what you’re there for — doing some preliminary homework will definitely pay off. With that in mind, here are some important questions to ask of your internship provider:

1. What’s the placement process like?

Many providers rely on their own staff to do the “internship matching,” using their own expertise to find you the best internship for you. They might interview you and the company before proposing the match. Other providers might give you direct contact information for hiring managers or internship supervisors, and allow you to do that outreach and interviewing before finalizing anything. There is no “right” or “wrong” model, but know which templates your internship provider follows and how much of a role you’ll play in sourcing your internship.

2. What are typical tasks, projects, and schedules for an intern in my field?

Like in the US, an intern’s responsibilities, work hours, and expectations vary from sector to sector and culture to culture. Finance internships might have very set office schedules and specific “on-the-clock” expectations while social development internships might rely on weekend and evening work and assume that you’ll keep your own schedule to meet deadlines. Learn as much as you can about what the “typical” internship looks like, and assume that yours will vary to a certain degree.

3. What will the office be like?

We’re not talking — necessarily — about aesthetics here. Every company has a different set-up and cultures, and often divisions, departments, and teams vary even within those. Internship providers often offer placements with all types of companies, from large corporations to non-profits to small start-ups. Each type of internship has its rewards and challenges; you’ll want to know what you’re getting into so that you can best prepare yourself for the environment.

4. How much on-the-job support + oversight will I have from you (the provider)?

A reputable and well-established internship provider will conduct host company site visits well before placing interns there. You’ll want to ask your provider what their process is for vetting host companies, and how they expect you to handle a challenge within the workplace. While it’s important that you take the first steps in appropriately addressing any conflicts on-site, a provider should also give you a number of resources in anticipation.

5. What language skills will I need?

It’s a simple question, but something you’ll definitely want to ask. Many internship providers have longstanding relationships with international organizations where the primary inter-office language is English. However, even in countries where English is widely spoken, many of your colleagues will communicate informally in their native language. While frustrating at times, this will force you out of your comfort zone and inspire you to focus on being proactive in developing relationships and your language skills — all part of the cross-cultural experience you’re there for.

6. Where will I live?

You’ll only be in your internship for a certain number of hours per week and when you’re not out exploring or hanging out with new friends, you’ll want to be sure you know what to expect from your “home” life. Many providers contract with dorm-style housing companies for their interns within the city, allowing you to meet and mingle with other young people outside of work. Others might offer host family placements as part of your internship experience, which can be an invaluable experience. If you’re given a choice, be honest with yourself about what situation will be most supportive and rewarding to you. Just like at home, know that no situation will be perfect all of the time — working through challenges both on and off the job is part of the experience.

7. What if I get sick?

You’ve already inquired about on-the-job support, but it’s important to know about health resources, insurance, and emergency support while you’re abroad. Providers offer varying levels of support in these areas, and it’s important that you find out what is covered by the provider company and what you might want to consider planning for independently.

8. How will I be evaluated?

Interns both abroad and in the US depend on feedback from supervisors and colleagues to help refine on-the-job skills, and to broaden a professional network that might someday — fingers crossed — lead to a full-time gig. Ask your internship provider what systems they have in place to facilitate ongoing feedback between your internship supervisor and you. You’ll also want to ask if there is a final evaluation or letter of reference supplied by an internship supervisor; having a letter of reference in hand might aid tremendously in landing your next job or in applying for graduate school.

9. What are the rules?

Many international internship providers have specific rules and guidelines for their interns, which may go above and beyond your host company’s human resources manuals. For instance, for insurance and liability reasons, your provider may limit (or completely prohibit) your ability to drive a car. It’s very important for you to have a clear understanding of what’s expected, both by your host company and your internship provider.

10. What are the most common observations from US interns in this country?

Once you’ve exhausted your questions, it’s good to hear from your provider what they’ve seen in evaluations and exit interviews with previous interns in this host country. Ask your provider what they tend to hear from interns in this culture, and find out what their biggest surprises were. This might help you generate more questions on your own, and allows your contact at the provider to give you some additional feedback about the months ahead.

Lucas-BeirleanAuthor: Lucas Bierlein

Lucas Bierlein is Director of University Programs for Intrax and works with students, universities, and other groups on the East Coast. Prior to Intrax, Lucas spent nearly a decade in university administration at schools across the country in areas of career services, global education, and residence life. When he’s not traveling for work or pleasure, he enjoys exploring his home city of New York by bike or on foot, taking in live music, and unsuccessfully juggling several e-books at one time.

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