Benefits of interning abroad, straight from the students' mouths

By Rachael Kroot
Published March 20, 2012

Internships seem to be all the rage these days.  I myself had two during my undergraduate career… and if I go back to graduate school, I will likely get a third.  For students, it is a great way to take initiative, make contacts and gain experience (especially in an economy where a paying job is hard to come by).  For employers, it is free labor!  It seems like a win-win.  While any internship can add credibility to your resume, some may prove more worthwhile than others.  Have you considered the idea that maybe the best internship opportunity for you is waiting outside the boundaries of the United States?!

Benefits of an international internship

  • First, they provide contacts and experience with a multinational twist.  In our growing international economy, employers often like to see that you are comfortable communicating across cultures.
  • Second, internships abroad take you a bit further out of your comfort zone than an internship at home would.  Again, employers like to see that you are willing to take on a challenge.
  • Third, in terms of subject matter, it is always helpful to expand your viewpoints by learning things from a new perspective.   A business abroad may have different best practices, for example, while a political organization abroad might take a different stance on the issues.  When you return home, you bring those ideas back with you.
  • Fourth, if you want to really immerse yourself in the local culture, what better way than by working with the people?  Interning abroad is an amazing way to make local friends, learn the local language (or slang) and feel a part of the local community.  It can enhance your overall experience and make you feel more at home.

For these reasons and more, an internship abroad can be both personally rewarding and beneficial to your career.  Although both of my internships were in the United States, I have some friends who interned abroad, and below they share their experiences about interning abroad.

Emily's internship in Madrid

Emily, who now has a B.A. in Journalism, interned at her foreign university’s press office outside of Madrid, Spain.  She says:

"It wasn't highly intensive journalistic work, but it was still incredibly difficult because of the language barrier. Starting a new internship is extra nerve-wracking when you can't speak in your mother tongue."

What did you gain from the experience? 

"I practiced journalistic skills I had already learned, but more importantly I learned how to function outside of my comfort zone."

A big part of working outside of her comfort zone was being forced to use the local language; and the best way to learn the language was to practice speaking it!  Emily must have done something right, because she currently has a job back in Madrid.

Luke's internship in London  

Luke, who now has a B.S. in Government and Politics, interned in the office of Justine Greening, a Member of Parliament representing southwest London in the UK.  His internship in London did not present him with a language barrier like Emily’s, but don’t be fooled; an internship in an English speaking country can still be a unique challenge.  In many ways, Luke was able to focus on more advanced work because he was already fluent in the language.  He says:

"Early on, I was compiling health survey information from a questionnaire Justine had passed out to all of her constituents.  When I became more familiar with the office, they gave me legislative research to do on upcoming issues.  I also read and responded to constituent letters… and followed up with the Home Office to see if the government could help with [their inquiries]."

The best part about his internship was arguably the relationships he built with local British citizens.  Luke says:

"It made my time in England more authentic as I worked, studied, and lived for a whole semester with the local British population.  More than the daily work was the experience of working side-by-side with the parliamentary staff and breaking down cultural barriers to achieve common goals.  I became very close with my primary supervisor and he and I are personal friends to this day.  Often after work we would have a pint of lager at the local pub and talk about many things - including the unique differences and similarities in American and British societies."

In terms of his career, he believes gaining an international perspective on politics was invaluable when it comes to the field of government and foreign policy.

Could interning abroad be for you?

You might be wondering how you can sign up for an international internship like Emily’s or Luke’s.  A great starting point is to talk to an advisor at your university’s study abroad office or an advisor from a study abroad program provider.  They will be able to point you in the right direction and may even be able to put you in touch with the proper contacts to find you a good placement.  They also know what paperwork needs to be filled out so that you can legally work abroad.  Remember, in many countries you need the proper visa documentation to be able to work, intern or even volunteer.  You may also want to participate in a program that allows you to receive academic credit for your internship.  Make no mistake about it, an internship is hard work, but also very rewarding and fulfilling. 

Learn more about interning abroad.

Rachael has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and studied abroad in London during the Spring of 2009.