So, to be honest, I did end up doing an internship abroad, but only years later after I’d finished my studies. I wanted a full-time job, BUT the internship was the best way for me to test the waters and see if I was ready to dock in a foreign land. The internship also helped me discover what I wanted (and definitely didn’t want) in a job and future career.
All in all, internships are a fantastic way to figure out what you want to do, gain experience, and develop your hard skills and soft skills, all of which will land you the job you want one day. Internships, especially ones abroad where you learn to adapt to different cultures and ways of working, often provide routes towards a particular profession, so they are definitely worth the investment of your time. (And heck, even if you do an internship in marketing and end up studying Medicine, you still would’ve gained invaluable experiences and skills you can apply to anything in life!)
5 Reasons Why You Should Do an Internship Abroad
So, are you ready to leave your safe harbour and embark on a working adventure of a lifetime? Here are five reasons to convince you you’re making the right decision to do an internship abroad!
Port of Call 1: Your CV
Take it from me, when applying for jobs, you’re competing with A LOT of people, so the more unique your CV, the better.
Employers love to see internships on a new graduate’s CV because it demonstrates two main things:
- It shows that you’ve already gained some workplace experience and observed how things are done. It also indicates that you were able to handle the responsibilities given to you by your employer.
- It speaks of your motivation and desire to work in the field and learn new skills.
These two factors become even more impressive if the internship listed on your CV is international.
Also, with an international internship, you’ll be closer to landing any job that requires an awareness of the global context or knowledge of international affairs. Plus, working abroad shows that you are capable of working in an international team with different cultures and languages!
It’s All about That CV!
So, the key takeaway from this section: if you want an internship to stand out on your CV, make it international. And above all, make it good. Writing a CV is easy. Writing a great CV is another matter.
‘Thoughtlessly listing past experiences in a chronological order simply won’t cut it anymore,’ says Lukas Richthammer, Senior Client Consultant at Graduateland. ‘Your CV is the one place where you can put your skills and motivation into context. Don’t jot down generic responsibilities when you can tell a story about a project you worked on, how you contributed, and what the outcome was.’
And if your stories are international, even better.
Port of Call 2: Your Skill Set
Listing international work experience on your CV demonstrates to recruiters that you take your career seriously. It also tells them you have more to offer than the average candidate.
In some industries and fields, internships may be the norm, cancelling the competitive advantage interns hoped to get in the job market. This won’t be a problem for those who have taken an internship abroad.
International experience implies the candidate can (humbly) brag about a different set of abilities, qualities, and interpersonal skills, which are all highly valued in the workplace:
- Communication. One of the significant difficulties of going abroad is communicating with locals, which can be challenging both linguistically and culturally. Your ability to make yourself understood will get a major boost by living and working internationally. (Also, you’ll be impressed at your ability to make yourself understood with hand gestures!)
- Personal confidence. The ability to self-motivate and be productive when working independently is increasingly important in the modern workplace. Rising to the challenges of working abroad will give your confidence a big lift.
- Adaptability. Working abroad entails making sacrifices and stepping outside your comfort zone. Moving to a new country teaches you to be resourceful and make the most of positive change.
- Resilience. Taking the plunge and setting off for a new country will not come without a few difficulties. Taking these head-on and coming out the other side will prove an invaluable quality in the future.
These skills won’t just be handy when looking for work; they will help you succeed as a student and will be valuable to you in many ways throughout your life.
Port of Call 3: Your International Network
As a student, you might not be interested in building your ‘professional network’, but the cool thing about doing an internship is that you get to build one automatically and easily. Plus, all the relationships and friendships you forge in your studies will grow your network, which could present you with precious opportunities one day.
When working abroad, you won’t just get to know the locals – you’ll probably also find yourself part of a community of ex-pats brought together by a shared experience as ‘foreigners’. As of 2016, there were over 50 million ex-pats worldwide, with the figure growing year on year. This ex-pat community is likely to be very international, meaning you’ll get to know people from various countries beyond the one you’re working in. United by a common experience of living and working in a new country, these friendships can be some of the strongest you make and may last you a lifetime.
Also, a quick tip: create your LinkedIn profile so that you can connect with people (who aren’t necessarily friends) along the way. You never know what opportunities or jobs might present themselves through LinkedIn (seriously, that’s how I got my job writing for StudySmarter!).
Port of Call 4: Broaden Your Horizons
Travelling the world may sound romantic and exciting, but one of the downsides of being a traveller is that you’re always on the move. As a tourist, you can never really get to know a place. You turn up, see the sights, spend a few nights in a hostel or Airbnb, and then move to the next destination.
The only way to truly get to know somewhere is to live and work there, doing as the locals do.
By forming part of a different society – instead of just observing it – you’ll gain another valuable skill: cultural fluency. Your future employers will be attracted to your ability to get on well with others, no matter who they are. Plus, demonstrating cultural fluency shows that you can be trusted with foreign stakeholders and clients. Exposing yourself to a foreign culture forces you to learn more about yourself and increases your empathy, tolerance, and sociability.
In short, you’ll come home a better person than the one who left.
Port of Call 5: A New Profession and Country
One of the best reasons to take on an internship abroad is that it gives you the chance to try out a profession before you commit to pursuing a career in it. There might be several different directions you can take after you graduate, and it’s certainly worth trying one out before you find yourself navigating the job market. More than that, an internship gives you a taste of the world of work, allowing you to steer your future career in a direction that interests you and suits your skills.
If there’s something you love (or something you loathe) about your chosen field, you’ll soon find out. The same goes for where you work. By going abroad, you will experience working culture and different social norms. You might like it so much that you stay, and if not, you’ll know what it takes to find work overseas in the future.
An internship abroad will teach you a lot about what you want from the world of work. Living abroad will teach you a lot about what you want from life.
The Big Question: Paid Internship Abroad or Free Internship Abroad?
OK, I’m going to be straight-up real with you: I’m absolutely not a fan of unpaid internships. I don’t think it’s fair, and internship ads from companies that say, ‘We’ll pay you in experience!’ really get my hackles up. Yes, you may be getting awesome experience and learning new skills, BUT you’re still doing work for the company, and you should be compensated for that (otherwise, the company, in my humble opinion, is just taking advantage of you). Also, I find that not getting some sort of salary limits many people who simply cannot afford to do an internship without financial help.
Remember: you are NOT volunteering (you can check out our post, voluntourism, for more info on this) – you are there to work like a professional, gaining the necessary work experience and its accompanying skills to help you figure out your next career move. So my advice is to seek an internship that is paid (it doesn’t have to be the greatest salary, but it should help you pay for some necessary expenses).
Internship Abroad Scholarships
Before embarking on an internship, try to see if you can find some funding that could potentially cover flights/living costs/transport, etc. Your first port of call should be checking what your university offers. A quick Google search will also give you some good sources, but ALWAYS do your due diligence and make sure the sites you’re visiting are legit! Unfortunately, there are scammers out there, so trust your gut (especially if someone is asking you for a hefty sum of cash to help you find an internship). Another option is to check your government website for any opportunities.
To get you started, here are some reliable sites you can check out to help you find financial support for an internship abroad:
- Diversity Abroad can help you find programs abroad, internships and jobs, and scholarships. It is specifically geared towards young people from traditionally underrepresented and marginalised backgrounds.
- Erasmus Intern (Erasmus+ Mobility for Traineeships) supports students wanting to do internships (from two to 12 months); however, students need to apply for the grant through their university. Any students going abroad with the Erasmus+ program can also receive an Erasmus grant, which will help you cover your expenses when living overseas.
- Fund for Education Abroad provides scholarships and support to students, particularly those who are underrepresented, in the US. You need to be a citizen of the US or a permanent resident to be eligible.
- The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. This one is only open to citizens or nationals of the US and provides opportunities to students to study or intern abroad.
- The National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) targets high-achieving students, and international students are welcome to apply.
- The Studyportals Scholarship is awarded to two international students who can prove that they have the potential to transform the world into a better place!
You can also check out the European Funding Guide, which shows you available internships. Additionally, the InterExchange site offers a list of funding sources available in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
How to Find an Internship and Internship Abroad Programs
As I mentioned earlier in this post, create a LinkedIn profile and use LinkedIn to find internships. You can filter what you’re looking for according to job type and location. And, of course, a Google search is also your best friend. I found my first internship in Germany by typing ‘internships in Germany’ – no lie! You can also check out job search sites like GraduateLand, Glassdoor, indeed.com, StepStone, and monster.com. But the first stop is your university or government websites!
If you’re looking for some internship programs or companies offering you some packages, you can try the following:
- AIFS provides internship programs, including international internships (Australia, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the US) and study abroad + internship programs. If you opt for the study abroad with an internship program, you can study, do an internship, and enjoy excursions and cultural activities. Bonus: they also offer scholarships and grants, so check that out!
- BUNAC helps you find internships in Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. You’ll need to set up a consult, and they’ll take it from there! Note that you will need to be able to finance a large part of your trip.
- CulturalVistas also offers fully-funded virtual fellowship programs to underrepresented students in the US. They also offer other programs and funding opportunities, including the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, which is a full-year, combined work-study program for American and German young professionals. There is also the Professional Fellows Program Oceania for emerging leaders from the Pacific Islands and the US.
- GVI offers many different internship programs, including virtual and online internships. GVI is focused on the environment and conservation, so if you’re specifically interested or studying in this field, this is a great site to check out. You can also apply for a scholarship.
- The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) is a fantastic organisation that facilitates the exchange of students and researchers worldwide. You should check out their website for more info and opportunities (I was awarded a six-week scholarship to Germany in 2012 thanks to the DAAD!). If you’re in Science or Engineering, you can apply for the RISE program, which offers undergraduate students from North American, British, and Irish universities the chance (including funding!) to do a summer research internship at top research institutions in Germany.
- Worldwide Internships helps you find an internship that’s the best fit for you. You need to be enrolled at an educational institution, speak conversational English, and prove that you have enough funds to do the internship. Please note that these programs do cost quite a bit of money (although your internship will help you cover some expenses), so you need to be financially stable if you choose to go through Worldwide Internships.
Lastly, the TUM (Technical University of Munich) offers super helpful tips on finding an internship abroad (no need to be a student of TUM to check this resource out!).
An Internship Abroad: Time to Set Sail!
Taking on an internship is a big decision. Deciding to do that internship in a foreign country is an even bigger one. But it’s not something you’ll regret, no matter how challenging it may be. We hope this post has shown (convinced?!) you how an internship abroad has the potential to be a lot better than doing one at home. In truth, the biggest regret you’re likely to have is not doing one.
By doing an internship abroad, you’ll be able to stand out from the crowd, while many of your fellow students might not even be gaining work experience. What’s more, it’s easier than ever in our global, interconnected world: simply browse a career platform or internship programs where new internship opportunities in countries across the world are posted all the time.
So, it’s time to set sail, broaden your horizons, make new friends, and learn some skills that’ll last you a lifetime!
All aboard for your first internship abroad!