5 Tips for Making the Most of Your International Internship
Today, my best friend Jules (we met living abroad in Ireland!) is back on the blog to share her international internship experience! She literally just landed home from Paris (v. jealous) and is here to share her tips and tricks. Enjoy!
Greetings from Paris, blogging world. Or should I say Bienvenue? Bonjour? Pass the bread and cheese?
About six months ago, I had to make a decision about where I should do my summer internship, a requirement for my Master’s degree in Buffalo, NY. I could choose to go just about anywhere, but as an advocate for International Education and all-around lover of travel, I knew that I wanted to go abroad. After using my resources and connecting with international partners, I landed an opportunity working with international students at a summer academy in Paris!
It was honestly a dream come true, but of course, it did not come without it’s challenges. If moving to Paris alone without knowing anyone wasn’t tough enough, having a very small grasp on the native language was an even greater challenge. In addition, navigating a foreign work environment poses several other challenges that you might not foresee (i.e. switching from a French to a US keyboard every day).
Regardless of any challenges, I’d say the journey is certainly worth it! Navigating the obstacles and facing difficulties is an invaluable experience, and working internationally is an incredible way to build your skill set and resume. So, if you’ve got the itch-to-ditch the normality of home and explore another country for some time, I hope you venture out! And I hope that my tips are helpful. Merci, mes amis!
1. Be in it for the right reasons
Okay, this is soooo important. You cannot simply just buy a plane ticket to Italy because you want to eat fresh pasta daily and meet tall dark and handsome Italian men (I mean… you can, but not for the purpose of an internship). There has to be some motive behind your coming abroad. Why are you going, and what will you get out of this? For me, my students are my inspiration. They make this experience incredible and they amaze me every day. Some of them speak 3 or 4 languages, and they all bring a unique culture and background to our group. Plus, I love meeting new people and hearing about their lives and cultures. Whether I am in Buffalo or elsewhere, this has always been incredibly important. However, I knew that the immersion in Paris would be heightened because I am also an international student! Even though I am their coordinator, I am navigating new challenges right along with them, which has been incredibly enriching for me.
2. Respect the culture
If there’s one thing I learned about the French, it’s that they intend on preserving their culture in every way possible. From their food and language to their history and so much more, you do not come to France without a French experience. And you know what? There really isn’t anything wrong with that. I don’t want to come to France and mistake a café for an Applebee’s. It makes adjusting a tad more difficult at first, but you have to learn to respect it. So, wherever you are working in the world, make sure to absorb and respect the local culture. Know a few phrases in the local language and eat all the popular local foods and snacks. If there is a custom you learn about- follow it. Before you know it, you’ll be back to your own reality, so why not participate fully while you’re abroad? Your local friends and coworkers will respect it, too.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help/ be vulnerable
This is the classic “don’t be stubborn” tip, but trust me, it is incredibly relevant here. I can just about promise you will get lost at some point, or get confused in the metro station. There are a number of things that will be incredibly different from what you’re used to, and this carries over into your work environment abroad. So do not be afraid to ask questions! Be diligent and take notes as you learn things, and rely on your coworkers for help. Eventually you will get the swing of things, and you wont need assistance. In the beginning, you should know that people are understanding of your “new gal” status and will be glad to help.
4. Make the most of it
While it might feel like you’ve been away forever, especially on tough days when you’re a bit homesick, you won't actually be away very long. Most internships are short term, and they may only last a few weeks to a few months. Take advantage of being abroad. Go on weekend excursions and mini trips. Try out that café you pass every day on the way to work that you thought was too expensive. You will be home before you know it, so make the most of your experience. Oh, and journal! Journaling is a great way to remember everything you’ve seen and done. You’ll thank me later.
5. Listen to everyone's story
This one is huge. We all come from different backgrounds and we carry different stories. Even back home, we’re different from our peers. Thus, you can imagine the vast differences among people who have grown up in different countries with different cultures and customs. One of the best gifts you can give yourself on your internship abroad is getting to know other people’s stories. Keep an open mind and an open heart; it will be the best thing for you. Suddenly you realize how big the world is and how much there is to learn. It is incredibly rewarding and enriching to learn about other people who come from worlds you might not even imagine. Share your story, too! Your lifestyle and upbringing is equally as foreign to them, and they may be intrigued to hear about it. This is also a great opportunity to network, especially in the workplace. Be open-minded and express interest in others, and be sure to listen to their story. You never know where it will lead!
Well folks, that’s all for now. I have some bread, cheese, and wine to finish before I head back to the US in just over a week. I hope you’ve enjoyed my blog! Please feel free to leave feedback below and do not hesitate to ask questions. Bon voyage on your journey!