International Internships | Make Your Dream a Reality

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Do you dream about traveling to far off lands? Do you want to be immersed in another culture? And do you want to build up your resume and network while doing it? Then an international internship might be for you.

And despite some common misconceptions, they are easier to obtain then you may think. Read on for tips on how to make your dream of working abroad come true.

There are so many options

Whatever your passion—teaching, community health, working with children, or advocating for international human rights—there is an opportunity for you. If you’re thinking about applying and don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. There are tons of resources out there to point you in the right direction. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Conduct a search on Idealist to see what’s available. You can search based on location, and whether or not you’re interested exclusively in a paid (or unpaid) opportunity. There are opportunities all over the globe, from Mexico to Peru to Thailand to Italy.
  • Sign up with an international volunteering organization like Cross-Cultural Solutions or Globe Aware. The International Volunteer Programs Association is a clearinghouse of these types of programs, so check out their site for more information about specific volunteer placement nonprofits. You will have to pay for these, but because they are nonprofits your contributions will likely be tax deductible.
  • Check with your college career services office, or someone in your specific department. Your university may have connections with public impact employers abroad.
  • There are also companies that specialize in international internship or volunteer placements. Jessica Burns, Vice President of Global Programs at Global Experiences, says that they work both directly with students as well as with more than 50 universities to help students find and land internships in cities across Europe, Asia, Australia, and the United States. Global Experiences is structured almost like a study abroad program, except it provides internships instead of classes. Note that with this company, students pay tuition to cover the cost of housing, insurance, career coaching, and emergency response.
  • Visit sites like Go Overseas and Go Abroad, which have numerous articles, reviews of programs, and other resources to help you get started.
  • Check out the United Nations. Several programs that work with the United Nations offer internships in places like The Hague, Netherlands, and Geneva, Switzerland, among other global locations. And you can apply directly.

You can afford it

Paid international internships in public interest are hard to find, but not impossible. If you do some searching on your own, you may luck out; some government internships offer stipends. For example, students from the United States and Canada can get paid internships with a German state parliament through a program at Cultural Vistas. You can also try applying to the Pamela Harrington Foreign Service Fellowship to intern at the U.S. Embassy in Paris or London.

Another set of internships that sometimes pay are those teaching English in schools. And, of course, on Idealist you can search for paid internships only.

But if you can’t find a paid gig, this doesn’t mean it’s an impossible arrangement to afford. There are a variety of scholarships to help cover the cost of living abroad. And if you can obtain academic credit for your internship, then you can often apply your school’s current financial aid or scholarships to the program.

You can combine an internship with a study abroad program

If you are already thinking about studying abroad, try combining it with a part-time internship for additional experience, says Johnathan Pierce, Curriculum Coordinator for the University Study Abroad Consortium. USAC is one of a variety of study abroad programs. Based in Reno, Nevada, USAC works with students who attend universities in all 50 states. Combining an internship with study abroad is a great way to immerse yourself in another culture and explore your new city, he says.

USAC has partnerships with organizations across the globe and help guide students to the best match. Some typical public-impact internships he has worked with students to obtain include working at local health departments teaching community health, at environmental organizations conducting ecological tests, and at charities working with the elderly.

Another benefit to combining an internship with study abroad is that whatever funding you are receiving for your academic credits and living credits can also be applied to credits obtained for your internship. Johnathan says that in addition to a student using scholarships or grants they already have, there are a slew of other options for scholarships just for studying abroad.

You don’t need to know the language

While it definitely helps to speak Spanish if you want to work in Spain or Costa Rica, or French if you dream of going to Paris, it is not a requirement. There are plenty of internships out there for English speakers. Johnathan says he places students in English speaking internships frequently.

There are often internships for teaching English, either in schools or in the community, he says. For example, in Costa Rica he has helped students get internships teaching English to fisherman so they can get work on tour guide boats. Other types of English speaking internships could involve creating marketing materials or working on websites for organizations who want to have presence in English-speaking countries.

But, he adds, if you do speak the language fluently, you will be more competitive for a variety of internship opportunities. Make sure to include any language skills you have on your resume.

An international internship will not only be an eye-opening experience, it will help you build up your skills and networks to advance your career. Whether you decide to work abroad or stay stateside, future organizations will be impressed with your diverse experience.

If you want more tips about working abroad, be sure to check out “Applying for International Jobs? Keep These 8 Tips In Mind” right here on Idealist Careers.

About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.

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