5 tips for interning abroad
There are so many incredible experiences you can have when going abroad, it’s almost overwhelming. All the places to travel, the food to try, the museums to visit, the people to meet—there are seemingly endless possibilities.
If you have the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in another country, you want to make sure you get as much out of it as possible. One of the best, and underrated, ways to maximize your time abroad is to get an internship. Not only will you build your resume, but an internship will throw you into the heart of the place you’re living. But how exactly do you make sure you’re doing your best when interning in another country? Follow these five suggestions for being the best ex-pat intern ever:
1. Learn at least a little bit of the native language.
Chances are, unless you’re pretty confident speaking another language, you’ll be interning somewhere where you can speak and write in English. And while you can probably get through your entire day solely speaking English, it’s important to branch out. I currently intern in an office where people speak Spanish, German, French, and Italian, and while I don’t speak any of those languages well, it’s been fun to pick up a few phrases so I can at least pretend to fit in. Even something as small as saying “bon appetite” before lunchtime or “ciao” when you leave will make you seem a little less out of place.
2. Observe, understand, and adapt to your country’s work culture.
We know that all cultures are different, but we rarely think about how those varying cultures carry over into the workplace. Foreign workplaces are very different than American or English ones and shouldn’t all be treated the same. Even small things, like lunchtime, can be vastly different depending where you are. When I interned in America, lunch was usually a salad or a sandwich eaten in front of my computer and lasted about thirty minutes. At the European office where I intern, everyone takes about an hour and it’s totally okay to go meet a friend or go home for lunch. This distinct break from work is important to them and while I still sometimes sneak off to write emails while I chow down (bad habits die hard), taking the time to eat with everyone else has been a vital part of adapting to the office culture.
3. Prepare to be humbled.
Working in a different country sounds exciting and fun, which it is, but it can also be quite difficult. You may not be familiar with the country’s political situation, current events, cultural differences, or even email etiquette. All of these little things can make every day work tasks just a little bit harder, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not a rock star intern at first. It may take time to adjust, but you’ll learn the ropes and get back to being your amazing intern self.
4. Reach out to coworkers.
This one has been especially hard for me, as a self-proclaimed introvert, but it’s one of the most important things you can do at your internship. Living abroad can be hard and having a place where you feel comfortable will only make it easier. Not only will your coworkers give you great tips on where to go in your city, but having consistent people to talk to and see every day will make the adjustment ten times easier.
5. Network, network, network!
In the weirdest turn of events, I found myself at a Paris Fashion Week cocktail party where I got talking to another American college student. She told me that she cold-emailed every Paris designer showing at fashion week and ended up getting to “intern” backstage at a few shows, handling invitations and guest lists. (She also got to see Kanye, but that’s a different story entirely.)
If there’s anything to learn from this awesome, proactive girl’s story it’s this: Make the most of your time. Interning abroad will open up so many new doors for you, and you should run full speed through as many of them as possible. Email new people, network as much as possible, and take any and all opportunities that come your way.