Published on October 2, 2015

International internships vs domestic internships: why go the extra mile?

Adjusting to a new culture, figuring out your visa, being thousands of miles away from friends and family... there are a lot of intimidating aspects to taking an internship in a foreign country. Staying back home for an internship is the much easier choice, requiring much less risk. But what about the benefits? Why intern abroad and go the extra mile? Part of what makes an international experience so scary is also what makes it worthwhile. Taking the plunge and committing to an internship abroad takes courage and will also teach you much more than a domestic internship ever could. What makes it difficult is also what makes it an experience worth having. Don't take my word for for it - here's what U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt has to say on the matter:


“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”


Why intern abroad


So going abroad isn't that painful, but it is uncomfortable and requires a lot more effort than staying home. However, the benefits of an internship abroad far outweigh any of the downsides. Here's why:


1. International travel experience

One great perk of taking an international internship is that you'll be able to use your weekends to travel in a foreign country. Being able to travel over a longer period of time will make you value the excursions even more because you'll better understand the cultural context. Moreover, if you travel abroad while you are young you are much more likely to continue to take international trips when you're older. That's a great incentive to make that upcoming internship an international one.


2. You will learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable

And what a lesson to learn! Once you learn how to handle situations of being confused, out-of-the-loop, the odd one out, or just not comfortable, you'll be set for any type of work or life experience to come your way. Being able to handle discomfort and difference in a professional and relaxed manner will benefit you in any setting and make you a more open-minded person who is willing to try new things. Employers value this ability because it makes for a more inclusive work environment and fosters teamwork.


Why intern abroad


3. You'll have a much better understanding of how to work in an international setting

Until you step outside your comfort zone and work in another country, you won't be able to fully understand what it's like to live in a culture that isn't your own - a culture you have to learn about and adjust to. That is the kind of experience that really trains you to think critically about how to communicate with people coming from different cultures and belief systems.


4. Cultural immersion

The best way to learn and understand a new culture is to become immersed in it. You will become more worldly and cultured, less ignorant and more understanding of difference. Mark Twain said it best, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness". Moreover the kind of acceptance and adaptability needed in an immersion situation is also something that will be handy in the workplace and in life.


5. You'll meet people from all over the world

As a foreigner, it's always easier to meet other foreigners, making an internship abroad the perfect place to establish your global network of friends and coworkers. While at your internship abroad you'll have the chance to meet locals and other expats (from both your home country and other countries), chat with international colleagues and hang out with other kids interning abroad. These international professional and personal contacts will fill your phonebook and come in extremely handy the next time you're looking to couch surf in a foreign country or are on the lookout for a job. The wide circle of international friends you can make abroad just doesn't compare to the contacts you make at a domestic internship.



6. You'll learn a new language

An international experience is the best way to get from conversational to proficient in a foreign language. By using your foreign language skills on a daily basis in an international workplace, you'll get to the level where you can do business in a foreign language. Having used a foreign language in an international office is also great experience to mention in a job interview considering the increasingly global economy.


7. It’s a great opportunity to hit two birds with one stone

So you've always wanted to live and travel abroad AND you need work experience through an internship. Why not do both at the same time with an international internship? Moreover, with a longer stay in a foreign country you'll appreciate traveling in the foreign country even more by understanding more of the cultural context.



Photo 1. by The Intern Group

Photo 2. by The Intern Group

Photo 3. by The Intern Group

The author
Elizabeth Trovall
After short stints in Argentina and Belize, Elizabeth is finishing up her third year in Santiago, Chile. Elizabeth writes about international internships, life abroad and professional development for The Intern Group. She also reports on politics, business and culture in Latin America for public radio and print media. An Austin, Texas native, Elizabeth first left home to earn her journalism degree from the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Besides her friends and family, she misses live music and Mexican food the most.

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