Interning abroad is always touted as an “amazing opportunity” that not many people get the chance to do. And it’s true because there’s so much to learn, see, and do when you intern abroad. However, in the midst of researching an internship abroad and deciding what to pack, some things slip through the cracks. You may feel so many emotions, including excitement and nervousness, that it’s hard to keep your focus. Bracing yourself for possible ups and downs while interning abroad can help level your expectations. This post is meant to do just that and let you in on everything you need to know before interning abroad.
Finding an internship abroad takes time
When you broaden your horizon, you extend more than your geographical opportunities. You may need to apply earlier and/or apply to more organizations than you normally would. Start early and utilize all of your networks (career services, Google searches, LinkedIn, etc.). Leave no stone unturned and no application without a follow-up or two. It may be a lot of work on the front-end, but it will pay off when you get that acceptance email. Be patient, yet persistent.
You will probably be unpaid
Internships abroad are cool…until you realize many are unpaid. This not only limits who can and cannot intern abroad, but it puts an already struggling student in a financially unstable position. Being broke and/or unpaid is stressful. Pursuing an unpaid internship abroad is ultimately a class issue, as it’s a privilege to afford to not be paid. While money isn’t everything, it is something to think about and the biggest factor as to why people cannot intern abroad.
If you are a student, seek out fellowships and scholarships to pay for your expenses. Your university may have connections via your global programs and/or fellowships office. Or, your institution can reroute you to external opportunities that focus on international work. People pursuing non-academic internships abroad can choose from various funds or even an opportunity like this one from InterExchange!
Build time in to travel (and down time)
Because this is a travel blog, you know I had to include this. When booking your flights to and from your internship location, build in time for a trip or two. Maximize the experience. Seriously, you will deserve it. While I interned in Berlin, I went to Paris, London, and Amsterdam. I decided to go after my internship completed as a gift to myself. Since you will already be abroad, you might as well enjoy the travel opportunities!
Just remember that upon your return home, you need to build in time for rest! Jet lag is real any time you travel, including after interning abroad. I’m all for travel, but I was also extremely tired post-internship abroad. You need that time to explore and time to rest up before your post-internship life. Balance y’all, balance!
Brace yourself for cultural differences
Stepping into the unknown and learning from a new culture are two strengths of interning abroad. At the same time, navigating cultural differences are occupational challenges of international internships. You won’t know everything about a culture coming into it, that’s a fact so don’t attempt it. However, you can make yourself more aware. Listen to podcasts, search for blog posts (*cough, cough*), read books, and utilize that Google search engine.
And when those cultural differences arise in real life get ready to learn! Whether you find them out from a co-worker or random local on the street, note the differences in your head. Part of interning abroad is stepping into and working in the unknown. Differences will arise and you need to rise to the challenges too.
Be prepared to make mistakes
If an experience isn’t challenging you it’s not changing you, right? Everything you want is on the other side of fear, right? So if you’re not making mistakes, sitting in the discomfort, learning, then striving to be better, interning abroad isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. No one is paying to go around the world to stay the same.
You will make mistakes and fail or do tasks incorrectly. It sucks, but life goes on. Do not let a mistake or challenge deter you from your goals interning abroad because those mistakes are part of the journey. We are all bound to make a mistake eventually. Seek guidance from your supervisors and co-workers when necessary.
It’s fulfilling and tiring at the same time
Though an incredible experience where you learn and unlearn every day, interning abroad can be satisfying and exhausting. There is community and emotional strain being away from loved ones, as you are literally moving away from your home. Then you’re on-boarding at the internship, adjusting to a new office and work culture, figuring out a new language, and even deciding the best route to work.
On the flip side you’re meeting new people at work, acquiring new skills, and living in a new culture which gets your adrenaline pumping. Outside of the internship, you are trying all the different food, exploring a new city, and planning weekend trips. Battling the fulfillment and exhaustion of always being “on” and “ready” can take a toll. To remedy this try to pace yourself. Some ideas are not traveling every weekend, sleeping in every Saturday, or taking a day of rest at a park or at home.
As I mentioned many times before, interning abroad is an amazing opportunity. It is a privilege that should not be taken for granted if you pursue it. I have completed internships and a fellowship abroad, and while they were full of fun times they weren’t always easy. Some work days were tough and less rewarding than others. Most days brought cultural differences I didn’t expect, yet helped me grow and learn. Knowing it won’t be positive vibes 24/7 doesn’t negate its importance, it just humanizes the experience back to reality. So do the research, complete the paperwork, and see what the world can teach you as you intern abroad.
What would you do if you interned abroad? Where would you go?