As today’s young people begin launching their careers, they can find themselves faced with plenty of options and not a lot of time. Many industries are more competitive than ever and even an entry-level job can require years of internships, fellowships, and possibly research experience. In the midst of all this, many people who are passionate about global issues have a hard time finding the time to step away from their studies and careers to volunteer abroad. They fear that a year or even a few months away from the competition will hurt them later on. While I’d argue that volunteering abroad is incredibly beneficial to personal and professional growth, I understand why young people would be worried, because I was too. Luckily for me and luckily for you, there is a third option: interning abroad, which are essentially short to long-term work abroad programs.
In this article, I’ll do my best to provide you with an understanding of how internships abroad work, why they are beneficial to you and your cause, how to find an internship opportunity, and a little bit about how to prepare for your internship.
The Intern Abroad Experience: Everything You Need to Know about How to Intern Abroad
In many ways, interning abroad is the best combination of two experiences—volunteering abroad and an internship. International internships include all of the novelty and unique opportunities for service and growth that volunteering abroad does, but also has all of the structure and in-depth learning of an internship. Additionally, overseas interns are able to work towards the mission and good work that their organization does at a level even beyond that of the volunteer. Since overseas internships often include teaching the intern how to perform tasks that are vital to the life of the organization, interns play a key part in contributing to excellent causes and solutions.
Interning abroad doesn’t just benefit the organization or the cause that you care about though—it also benefits you. Interns are an important part of the project team and the knowledge that comes along with this is astronomical. International internships also incorporate experience that will benefit your later career and can be easily explained on a resume or cover letter. International internships convey to employers that you are serious about your career and contributing to solutions for causes that you care about. Overall, internships are often a perfect next step for someone who is serious about making a change while also growing professionally.
I had the opportunity to pursue work on an educational project in Malaysia after I graduated from college. Although the fellowship was not technically an internship, it functioned in a similar way in that I spent a year working abroad as a teaching assistant. Before my year in Malaysia, I knew that I was passionate about education and community service. However, it wasn’t until I spent a year in my Malaysian classroom that I realized that the best way for me to serve my community was to be a teacher. Now, as a first-year Teach for America Corps Member, I am so thankful that I stuck through the long application process to take a step that would lead me to find my passion and career.
So, now that you’re sold, and you’re ready for your international internship, what comes next? I’m here to help you with that.
How to Apply for an Internship Abroad
Getting an internship in another country can seem complicated, but there are a number of resources that can make your research much easier. As you begin looking for potential internship opportunities, you should know that application processes vary greatly and that you may be required to fill out an application, write entrance essays, provide references, submit resumes, or a number of other things. Some internships even like to have their applicants create videos about why they’d like to intern at the project. So, as you move forward, realize that applying to multiple internships can be a large time commitment. Below, I have detailed a few ways that you can find out about three major types of international internships.
Interning Abroad with Government Programs
If you’re an American citizen, there are many internship opportunities that are provided through the United States State Department and other government-led programs. These internship opportunities can range from diplomatic internships in embassies and consulates across the world to project-based internships with any of the many American government-led ventures. You can also browse internships on the government’s job posting website.
Interning with International NGOs
If you’re looking for an internship with an international NGO or similar organization, internships can usually be found through their hiring portals or through other job listing sites. If you don’t find any internships listed online, but have a hunch that they probably do have interns, just give their human resources department a polite call. Some organizations have relationships with universities or other entities that place their internships for them, but are usually willing to pass along any information. If you want to generally view international internships by field or by location, Volunteer Forever’s new intern abroad section is a good place to start.
Interning with Small Projects
If you’re looking for an internship with a small project, an intern placement agency might be best for you as they can connect you with small projects while also providing the support and community of a larger internship. One such placement agency is Work the World, which specializes in placing interns with all kinds of medical internships in small hospitals and clinics in Africa, Asia, and South America. If you’re interested in an environmental internship, The Foundation for Sustainable Development has a competitive internship program that places interns with over 300 of their community partners around the globe. Finally, many volunteer abroad placement organizations also provide placements for international internships, so as you research, be sure to take a look at some of our highly rated volunteer abroad organizations.