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4 Reasons Why Your First Trip Abroad Should NOT Be An Internship

international internship
Megan Lee
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Published on January 27, 2015

It is easy to understand why you might try to leverage your first international traveling experience as an internship abroad. You have convinced Mom and Dad it is a good idea, and are willing to pay the (sometimes hefty) program fee in order to get the “leg up” you need in your career. Not only will you be exposed to the complex and interconnected globalized world of your industry, you will also meet interesting foreign peers, perhaps work in your second language, and have an adventure to boot.

While you may think your internship abroad is a step ahead of your classmates who are simply studying abroad, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Don’t believe me? Read on.

1. Traveling abroad is hard.

I know your friends make it look like living abroad is all fun and games, but pictures of the consulate, that time they got lost, the long line at the bank, and their horrid apartment hunt just don’t seem to earn enough “likes” to make those memories worth posting.

Since functioning in a foreign environment is difficult in and of itself, you will have less energy to devote towards kicking butt at your internship. This has a serious potential of compromising your learning potential as well as your overall work performance.

2. You’ll want to play.

You’re in a new country!! Why spend 40+ hours a week sitting behind a desk doing professional development? If it is your first time in destination X or Y, you should spend time getting to know the place instead. Visiting another country is exciting, and it will be hard to focus at work if your mind is wandering to the list of landmarks you want to squeeze in on your precious weekend hours.

If you haven’t spent enough time taking in the sights and sounds and smells of your new country, you might be overly tempted to ditch work a few days a week. Not only is this extremely unprofessional, it reflects poorly on your work ethic and dilutes your intentions for interning abroad.

3. You won’t have a holistic understanding of the country.

Unintentionally or no, it will be difficult to empathize and understand your coworkers if this is your first time in a country. Their workplace behaviors or attitudes may seem weird, frustrating, or deferential when in fact they are quite normal in this culture. Unless you have familiarized yourself with the city, country, and region’s recent history, politics, economics, and contemporary issues, you will spend more time trying to survive instead of thrive.

4. You might offend your co-workers.

You wouldn’t want to accidentally offend a co-worker by making them lose face in front of the boss, would you? If you are new to a country and aren’t tapped into their business cultural nuances or social norms, your regular ol’ behavior may fluff a feather or two. Not a great start to asking for that recommendation letter!

In short, oftentimes people intern abroad with honest aims of getting to know a foreign culture while also gaining some advantageous career skills. This method may seem like a great short cut and provide excellent ROI, but you are inherently discounting the benefits of learning in an international environment, and limiting your ability to enjoy those benefits.

Once you nail that job op or score that internship, commit to spending a few weeks before your start date getting to know the country. You might opt to sign up for a language class or do some independent cultural exploring. You might even opt to spend one summer studying in your country of choice and the next donning your suit and tie for your work week.

Megan Lee

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