The Pros And Cons Of An International Internship

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By now, you’ve already heard from other students about some of the benefits of having an international experience.

For one, going on an international internship or exchange can benefit your education.

Some students and recent grads also head abroad to gain work experience when local prospects are hard to find.

“Local employers value international experience because companies are becoming more international. The workforce is becoming more diverse. An international experience is becoming more and more of an asset.” —Amy Lee, Co-ordinator, Simon Fraser University International Co-op

Clearly, going on an international internship provides many benefits for students. But do employers place a high value on an international experience?

Amy Lee, Co-ordinator for Simon Fraser University (SFU) International Co-op, says she believes so.

“Local employers value international experience because companies are becoming more international. The workforce is becoming more diverse. An international experience is becoming more and more of an asset to local employers.”

Of course, going abroad is even more valuable for international employers.  “International employers are looking at experience. Many students have the skills and the knowledge that employers want. In certain industries, the academic knowledge and skills students obtain from their SFU programs are more sought after by some companies.”

Students also benefit from experience abroad

Going abroad may help you attract employers but there are even more benefits for students. Students mention that going international has allowed them to grow personally.

Ellen Law, who went on an AIESEC internship to Padang, Indonesia, says that going abroad has broadened her horizons. “I got to experience a different lifestyle, culture and environment in a new country and see how young people in Indonesia develop their careers.”

Lee also points that you can expect to gain marketable skills because it is a work term.

Reflecting on her own experience, Law says, “As a physical geography major, my placement at Mercy Corps gave me valuable insight into the work of an NGO in an earthquake-prone developing country. My task in mapping the tsunami evacuation hazard zone rekindled my interest in geographic information systems (GIS) and gave me job satisfaction because I did something that could save lives. Previously, GIS work discouraged me because it just seemed like another computer office job.”

Be aware of the challenges

If you’re thinking of going abroad, there are some common challenges. Lee points out motivation as a common hurdle. Going international takes more work than interning locally. You need to think about additional things such as visas and relocation issues.

There’s also culture shock. Even if you’ve travelled before, you still might experience it. Lee explains, “It hits people different ways. You can’t identify upfront if someone will experience it and to what extent.”

Preparation will help. At SFU, interested students have a checklist that they need to finish to be eligible. Doing an internship with an international organization such as AIESEC may also help because local members from these organizations can help with transition.

Lee also suggests doing a lot of research and getting support, especially from friends and family. “Generally, fellow students, co-op staff, and the faculty may motivate students to go abroad. But from what I’ve seen, the enablers are usually the parents. In many instances, parents fund the student’s education. Also, often the parents’ opinions matter to students,” she says.

Going abroad is NOT a money-making venture

When asked about the disadvantages of going abroad, Ellen mentions the lack of money to explore even more places. This is a common trend and, in fact, Lee advises that you shouldn’t look at it as a money-making venture. Students are usually paid in the currency of the host country, and will also need to pay for accommodation and transportation.

To resolve this issue, she encourages students to be creative. Look into any bursaries or awards that your school offers. SFU, for instance, provides awards that may help offset some of these relocation costs.

“There are rotary groups out there who may be giving away money. See if your university may have partnered with companies who provide discounted airline tickets. We even have partnered with hostel organizations that provide students with memberships so that when they arrive, they are not homeless.”

Look at the big picture

Despite these challenges, going on an international exchange may be worthwhile. “Some students may feel that they already have a sense of cultural awareness because Canada is so diverse. You may think that we do it this way, so it must be right. Students have learned that because of history, cultural norms, different communication styles, and degrees of decision-making, that assumption may not always be right,” Lee says.

Law says encourages students to find the time to do go abroad. The cultural awareness that you gain, in addition to an unforgettable experience, can become the valuable edge that you need to succeed in the workplace.

AIESEC is currently accepting applications for internships in Brazil, China, India, Turkey and Ukraine. For more information, check out AIESEC’s profile on TalentEgg or visit www.AIESEC.ca.

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About the author

Kelvin (KC) Claveria is a Marketing and Communication student from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC. Originally planning on an accounting degree, KC discovered his true passion after briefly taking a break from school. A self-professed social media junkie, KC enjoys meeting new people and getting wowed by amazing ideas. He is also an active volunteer and is currently involved with AIESEC SFU, the SFU Communication Student Union, and SFU Peer Programs. You can visit his blog at kcclaveria.com.