How to cope with an international internship: Part 1

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So, are you considering an international internship? Maybe you’ve heard about the endless advantages to going abroad and you’ve decided to take the plunge. Whether you’re a co-op student looking for a work-term or a recent grad looking for an internship, there are a few things you should consider before crossing the pond.

Last summer I lived and worked as a marketing intern at a large, international company located in a small wine town in the Alsatian region of Northern France. Believe me, it was every bit romantic as it sounds but, unfortunately, all travel can be fraught with some uncertainty and discomfort.

There’s nothing easy about living abroad

France can be just as foreign a country to a Canadian as India, China or Kenya. Integration can be difficult and it’s very easy to isolate yourself. Take initiative and be willing to learn and accept an entirely different lifestyle. Whether that means joining a company club or enrolling in a language class, commit yourself to social interaction outside of work.

Be willing to sacrifice money

The cost of living in other countries can differ dramatically from your life in Canada. Take into consideration country-specific taxes and laws which may affect your pay cheque. It can be expensive, but the experience is priceless.

Be prepared for culture shock

Learn about culture shock and how to recognize the signs. Culture shock can affect you in any number of ways, such as changes in your sleep patterns, appetite, mood, etc. Learn about the symptoms and aim to constructively channel your negative feelings in positive ways.

Find your sense of humour

My sense of humour was the first thing I found, after I found my shoe in the middle of a roundabout, after it fell off while biking to my first day of work. Being foreign does have its hilarious moments.

Read up

Actively read online travel communities geared toward backpackers and independent travellers. These sites became my haven and I learned so many interesting facts and tips to cope with being away from home.

You should also learn as much as you can about the culture you are coming into. In my preparation, I focused too heavily on the language and neglected to research the region. The region is what determines the lifestyle of your location. Life in Alsace differs significantly to life in Paris – and it is all very important to your integration.

Keep an open mind

Try to disregard every negative thing you’ve heard about your country of choice (with an obvious respect to safety). An open-mind is your most powerful asset during an international internship.

Lastly, enjoy yourself! Take every opportunity to grow.

Have you done an international internship? What tips would you share with students and recent grads who are considering it?

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About the author

Ashley Koen is a fourth-year Communication studies and Sociology student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She says she lives for adventure and social change, and her dream job would be a travel writer. She plans to visit all seven continents in her lifetime (yes, even Antartica) and she's almost halfway there. She spent last summer living in France, tasting wines and interning. She believes in the value of experience and her personal philosophy to live by is, "Not all those who wander are lost."