In college, we’re told time and time again to get “experience.” Employers want to know that you have skills other than cramming for exams. So how do we get that? Internships. While there are plenty of opportunities in the U.S., some of us who can’t make it work to study abroad during the semester choose to intern abroad. And even if you have studied abroad, interning abroad can be your excuse to satisfy that travel bug. Aside from the life-changing (and maybe even career-changing) experience, why should you bother making the trip for your internship?
Kill Two Birds with One Stone
Interning abroad gives you all of the benefits of studying abroad and then some. School is obviously important, but internships give you that “real world” experience employers are looking for. And experience abroad proves that you can adapt quickly to new environments. “When you’re working, you’re really immersed in the culture, which gives you a much better feel for how people do things there,” said Austin Lanners, a previous intern at Culture Shock Media in London.
Pump Up Your Resume
You’ve probably heard this time and time again, but going abroad looks good on your resume, and for good reason. Working in another country, especially one you’ve never been to before, teaches you important communication skills and more specific skills within your field. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
Fulfill Your Wanderlust
Let’s be honest here: None of us go to Europe and plan on staying in our host country for the entire three or four months of our stay. It’s the perfect opportunity for your Eurotrip. However, interns need to keep it professional. Have fun on the weekends, but don’t go into work hungover every Monday or plan on ditching early every Friday. It’s about balance.
Become a Global Citizen
No matter what, conducting business-as-usual in a new country teaches you to be open-minded, prepared for anything and to respond to people of any background in the most polite and respectful way you can. You can (and should) do a little reading on the cultural etiquette of people in your host country, but often it results in trial and error. During my internship in Prague, for instance, it took me a little while to recognize that Americans chattering loudly on the metro annoyed Czech people. Better late than never, right?
Learn How to be Flexible
Adapting to any sort of new situation will be extremely difficult if you can’t be flexible. Many people arrive to new internships with limited expectations, so you might just have to roll with it for a while after you get there. “It opened my eyes and made me realize that there isn’t just one right way to do things,” said Lanners. “Office culture has a lot to do with how people work.”
Network, Network, Network
Whether you plan on working abroad someday or not, your boss or colleagues there could potentially point you toward your dream job. If you do want to work abroad again and you performed well at your internship, there’s a better chance of being officially hired at the company you interned for.
Be the Only American in the Office
“It was so different being completely immersed in British culture and watching people go about their everyday lives and being a part of that,” said Lanners. “I would have questions about spelling and they would make fun of me a little, or they would ask questions about football, and they thought it was so funny that we get so into it. I liked having to interact with people as an outsider.” Everyone should learn how to be confident and comfortable as an outsider at some point. Office culture will be different at every place you work, so you need to know how to handle being the new girl (or guy) in the office.
Fuse Your Interests
An internship abroad is a great way to mesh your skills and interests and grow from that experience. For example, UW Madison student Meagan Doll interned at an NGO in Uganda this summer called Save the Mothers. She’s in the journalism school, has an African studies certificate, is interested in international relations and is passionate about human rights. By reporting on issues she cares about in an African country, she found a way to combine all of her interests. The most successful interns are those who are passionate about the work they’re doing, so try to find an opportunity where you can pursue as many of your interests as possible.
See Your Field From a New Perspective
Every field operates a little bit differently in different parts of the world, so it’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of what your future job is all about. “I was a reporting intern on the ground, and when I went I didn’t really realize how many new and different things I would have to do and learn. I had to learn to interview with a translator, which I’d never done before, and that’s something I probably wouldn’t have been able to experience in the U.S.,” said Doll. No matter where you go, even in parts of the U.S., offices operate a little bit differently.
Discover Your Independence
If there’s one thing being alone in a foreign country for an extended period of time teaches you, it’s independence. During my internship this summer I had to learn how to navigate a lot of things on my own, which can be difficult in a country where many people don’t speak English. Learning how to do things as simple as grocery shopping or taking a bus can be harder than you think, but it gave me the confidence to travel without worry and feel like I can be a successful employee in any environment.
Interning abroad is definitely the most valuable, unforgettable experience I’ve had during my college career. Most universities in the U.S. try really hard to make these opportunities doable–financially and academically–for students. So go see what your study abroad office has to offer. The world is your oyster.