Why Your Next International Adventure Should Be Interning Abroad

When you first consider going abroad again, you may think that studying abroad is the only option. It’s true that studying abroad is a great introduction to a host country and learning abroad, but you may be surprised to learn that there are also many well-established internship abroad programs. They offer a unique perspective on a different culture — even by building upon a previous study abroad experience!

Many students utilize the language skills they acquired studying abroad by doing an internship following their program. It could be an extension of study abroad growing into a work abroad experience, or a great opportunity to return to the country once you’ve grown accustomed to the culture and language. These additional opportunities can boost your resume and lead to a more independent lifestyle abroad. Either way, interning abroad is a great way to add a new facet to your love and passion for another country and culture — one that may even get you your dream job in the future.

As study abroad alumni and working professionals, we’d like to share a few of our favorite reasons for interning abroad from both an exchange enthusiast and professional perspective.

Gain Industry Specific Language Skills

No matter what field you enter for your career, you will discover that each industry has its own unique vocabulary — specific computer programs, acronyms associated with different organizations, terms referring to specific documents and forms, and even the language in your specific office culture. By interning abroad, you have the opportunity to learn this vocabulary in a different language as well. This skill set can be a major asset for translating documents, understanding articles in different languages, and even just speaking on the phone or emailing with business partners based in other countries. An internship abroad is the perfect place to develop essential language skills through immersion and daily contact with a culture. Learning the lingo in a different language can give you a major leg up when applying for jobs in the United States and is essential when applying for jobs abroad.

See a Unique Aspect of the Host Culture

By interning abroad, you have the opportunity to get some much-needed professional experience under your belt while experiencing life in a new country and culture. You will still get to experience the same sights and sounds as when you studied abroad, but you will also learn the ins and outs of a unique part of the host culture that you would otherwise not see: the workplace. Just like in your home country, people tend to behave differently at work than they do in their free time. If you’re at all considering an international career, getting a glimpse of how you will need to behave at work in another country could help you avoid potentially embarrassing situations.

Combine Important Internship Experience with the Opportunity to Go Abroad

Building a strong resume and professional background is essential in any field. By interning abroad, you not only have the opportunity to add a unique experience to your portfolio — which can help you stand out from other applicants — but can also enjoy the benefits of living abroad. While you could certainly find a marketing internship in the United States, you probably won’t be able to find one within walking distance of an ancient castle or a 14th century cathedral. By working abroad, you are able to gain the practical experience of an internship while spending your free time exploring a new culture and place.

Go Abroad Despite Your Schedule

The four years you spend in college go by quickly. What’s more, students are asked to fit more and more into those years. Between double majors, required co-ops, minors, certificates, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities, you may find yourself wondering when another experience abroad would even fit. Many specialized programs and STEM majors, especially in engineering, are not allowed to replace credits at home with credit abroad. Transfer students sometimes also struggle to fit study abroad into an already tight class load. Adding extra semesters to a school year can get costly, making studying abroad again nearly impossible. Many internship programs take place during the summer and have flexible start and end dates throughout the year to accommodate even the most rigid academic schedule.

Globalize Your Network

Globalization has been a buzzword for years and while social media makes it easier to connect people all around the world, nothing quite compares to fact-to-face interaction. Working with individuals from a different country allows you the opportunity to make an impact that lasts far beyond an email or phone call. Attending conferences, events, and professional gatherings in a host company will allow you to meet exponentially more contacts in the country than you could at an international event in the United States. While many people have attended conferences or traveled in other countries, you’ll have an established network of people you have personally worked with abroad.

Differentiate Yourself

With an ever-increasing number of students in the United States attending college, standing out in the job market after graduation has become an even greater challenge. Internships are one of the best ways to gain relevant experience in your field and to differentiate yourself from your competition. However, several degree programs require students to complete an internship prior to graduating. If everyone in your field has also interned, how can you distinguish yourself? The answer may be an internship in another country. In addition to the career-boosting benefits of an internship at home, you can add increased independence and confidence, foreign language skills, and insight into a foreign culture, to the list of skills you will have gained from a single experience.

Enjoy More Independence

Working abroad is a great way to delve deeper into a host culture and take greater command of your time abroad. Many study abroad programs today help students with all aspects of the life abroad experience: finding housing, submitting paperwork and forms to the authorities, providing day trips, and much more. While this makes for an easier transition to living abroad, it also means that students have less independence. Tasks like finding your own apartment or walking into a government office in a different country can be intimidating at first, but the sense of accomplishment and independence is well worth the challenge. You’ll be able to experience a deeper degree of true immersion while surrounded by coworkers and friends who are native speakers rather than finding yourself surrounded by fellow students. Plus, making your own arrangements can end up saving you a lot of money on costly add-ons in comprehensive study abroad programs, and once you get back to your home country, almost everything will seem like a piece of cake.

Enhance Your Knowledge Through Experiential Learning

After returning from study abroad, you may be eager to head right back out into the world. Being a student does not necessarily mean that you love studying, and the thought of incorporating more academic work into an experience abroad may leave you wanting. Interning abroad is a great alternative for those of us who may not excel as much in academic life, but instead thrive in a practical, experiential learning environment. For those of you on the other side of the spectrum, interning abroad can be a great first step out of the classroom and into the professional world.

Learn Unique Aspects of Your Field

Not only does an internship in another country allow you access to a part of a host culture that many never see, it also affords the opportunity to gain unique insight into your field. Your supervisor may bear the same title as her American counterparts, such as mechanical engineer or tax accountant, but the way in which she works will likely be quite different. Does the Japanese workplace offer a more collaborative environment? What role does classroom technology play in the day-to-day work of an English teacher in Spain? Are German employees expected to work overtime? The answers to these questions will provide you with a new set of tools for approaching problems in your field. Once you start applying for jobs in your home country, these are questions that you will be able to answer and experiences from which you can draw that your competition may not have.

Independence Doesn’t Mean You’re Alone

Interning abroad is an excellent option for those who crave a more independent experience. However, the job hunt, search for housing, nuanced insurance regulations, and bureaucratic red tape can make even the most self-sufficient among us understandably nervous. Fortunately, an internship abroad does not have to mean fighting these battles all alone; program providers are available to provide you with as much or as little support as you need. Going through a reputable program provider can ensure that students find an internship, a place to live, and all of the necessary legal documents without stifling their autonomy. Finally, many programs that assist students with interning abroad are far more affordable than the average study abroad program.

Amanda-Daquila-&-Jessica-TackettAuthor: Amanda Daquila & Jessica Tackett

Amanda Rohm Daquila is an Assistant Program Officer for Internships Abroad at Cultural Vistas. After studying in Freiburg, Germany during her junior year, Amanda taught German for a few years at various levels. In an attempt to cure her wanderlust, she returned to Germany on a fellowship as an English Teaching Assistant. Since then, she’s been working at Cultural Vistas to help American students realize their dreams of living and working abroad.

Jessica Tackett is a Program Assistant for the Internships Abroad department at Cultural Vistas, focusing on internship placement programs in Germany. She graduated from Northwestern University with a double degree in German and Creative Writing. After studying in Germany twice on scholarship opportunities, she wants to create the same opportunities for anyone else interested in expanding their world and learning a language abroad.

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