“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” –Lao-Tzu
Why intern abroad? My cultural studies major requires that I both study abroad and find an internship, and a big factor into choosing CEA Prague was being able to do both simultaneously. Those are the practical reasons I pitch to prospective students, but the opportunity is so much more than that.
International work experience looks great on a resume. There, I said it. It’s a big reason many students take this route. But if you’re interested in working abroad later, it’s an absolute must. The expectations are different for employees across cultures, and being able to navigate these differences means you are better suited for success upon arrival. An internship becomes an easier way of testing the waters: are you sure this is what you want to do? What is an average day like? How intense is the work load? Is it really for me? And if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world, which takes half the stress away from the whole concept.
I was skeptical about an internship at all, as I’m not really a business-minded person. My academic concentration is foreign languages, and all I heard about was students working at tech startups or big financial businesses. Not my cup of tea. So I was concerned about my placement even as I decided applying was the most practical thing for me. Luckily, CEA offers a wide variety of industries, and upon voicing my concerns to them, I was able to land an internship at an independently owned multilingual bookstore, which, unbeknownst to them at the time (and to myself as well), is exactly what I want to be doing with my career down the road. Though it was not the internship I would have chosen, it did give me a good understanding of what it may be like if I were to take a similar route, which ultimately was the goal I had the whole time.
During downtime I was even introduced to the inner workings of their online inventory system, which the owners built themselves. They patiently indulged my questions about the process of building a small business like this and even provided insight I never even thought to ask about. I had dinner with visiting and local authors, worked at the famous Prague Christmas markets, and got to speak my second and third languages every day.
While not being at all what I expected, my Prague internship was the best possible thing for me and exactly what I needed at that time. Not only was I able to gain valuable work experience in a small industry I love, but it guided and helped solidify my career path after being ambivalent for so long. That, to me, is the most valuable thing.
Michelle Robins is an Alumnae of CEA Study Abroad, she studied and interned abroad in Prague, Fall 2015.