International Internships: A World of Career Possibilities
One Student’s Experience
When Jen Williams reflects on her 2006 internship abroad in Australia at a wetlands conservation center, the 26-year-old from Lancaster, Pa., is certain the experience played a pivotal role in her decision to earn a master’s degree in social work and begin a career in public child welfare.
“The personal growth that I experienced during my time abroad instilled confidence and self-esteem within me that I have carried over into all aspects of my life,” says Williams, reflecting on her 10-week internship through GlobaLinnks Learning Abroad (then AustraLearn). The internship included creating a marketing plan for a canoe trail through the ecologically diverse Hunter Wetlands in Australia.
“Completing an international internship helped me see the world and its social problems in new and diverse ways, which shaped my understanding of the global community,” she says. “Spending time in Australia and learning about the vast social programs in the country provided me with new perspectives and ideas for helping disadvantaged populations in the United States.”
Now, Williams has finished her master’s degree in social work and moved to Detroit, where she works in foster care helping foster children and their biological parents address the issues that separated them. Besides her internship in Australia and an Americorps position in a remote village in Alaska, Williams completed two field placements in public agencies working with children in foster care and a child protecting services unit.
“I still believe that the self confidence that I gained from studying abroad has helped me,” she says. “Living in a new city and trying to get my bearings while working at a new job is exactly what I dealt with during my internship abroad. I am using the same skills to adjust to Detroit that I used to adjust to Australia – keep an open mind, explore the city and don’t be afraid to try something new.”
During her wetlands center internship, “I gained a new appreciation for conservation while personally witnessing the therapeutic effects of nature,” she says. “Eventually, I hope to obtain my license in social work so that I can provide nature-based therapy to children who have experienced significant trauma.”
With so much work experience, she felt well prepared to find a great job in a major metropolitan area.
In short, she says: “My experience and internships abroad led me to where I am today.”
International internships: A birds-eye view
Internships are an increasingly viable way for students to test career interests against job realities, and ultimately, gain real-world job experience to not only build a resume, but also launch a fulfilling career.
Internships, in turn, serve business and industry by providing a pipeline of the best and brightest young talent for assessment and training for full-time jobs, and ultimately, help organizations build the best possible skilled workforces.
As the world becomes “smaller” due to improvement in global communications and transportation, businesses are becoming more internationally invested and their workforces more diverse. This means the need for graduates with international work experience is likely to grow.
Internships abroad give students career experience in a foreign country so they are more marketable for jobs in the global economy. They also cultivate well-rounded citizens with solid foundations of career-specific skills.
Only 1-2% of college students have any international experience, but those numbers are expected to rise, especially as more students recognize how interning abroad helps their resumes stand out from the crowd.
In fact, the number of students participating in practical work experiences as part of their study abroad rose 37%, according to the (2008/2009) Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education. Specifically, 18,715 students received academic credit at U.S. colleges and universities for internships or work abroad.
“College graduates need an international perspective to be competitive in today’s job market,” wrote Cindy Chalou, director of the Office of Study Abroad at Michigan State University, and Charles Gliozzo, director emeritus of the Office of Study Abroad at Michigan State University, in a Feb. 24, 2011 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Many will have to negotiate foreign cultures whether they work in the United States or abroad. As part of this continuing change, international college internships should now be viewed as steppingstones to career success.”
Excerpt (“Why International Internships Are Key to University Global Engagement, Feb. 24, 2011, Chronicle of Higher Education.)
“Several trends have fueled the growth in international internships over the past decade. For one thing, more students and graduates are pursuing opportunities in Asia, given the weak economy in the United States. …
“In addition, international internships are increasingly becoming integrated with college service-learning programs. Student interns now work abroad in hospitals, orphanages, clinics, and schools. One Michigan State University student interned with Mumbai Magic Bus, a charity in India that mentors impoverished youth. Her experience assisted her in later working with a similar American nonprofit.”